Dancer, Texas Pop. 81

He has a way with memory pieces.

If you take a look at the filmography of writer/director Tim McCanlies, three films pop out — The Iron Giant, Secondhand Lions, and this underrated tale of four recent high school grads debating moving to the big city.

Perfectly capturing life in rural America, the movie follows this pack of best friends across one weekend, as the approach of the bus nears.

Will they honor their middle school agreement to flee their small town or stay to help keep the flyspeck on a map chugging forward?

Beautifully written and acted, it’s a small gem.

Super Dark Times

Things are not going to get better.

The troubled teens at the heart of this suspenseful coming-of-age story are not necessarily in a good place at the start of the film.

And that’s before a violent, if seemingly accidental, death fractures the relationships between the survivors, sending each of them down dark paths.

Director Kevin Phillips captures a moment in time — the mid-’90s — then burrows in deep to show how alienation and psychosis form a toxic bond, sending everyone involved hurtling towards a future where they seem to have no … future.

The teen are not alright, but the film is.

Hot Summer Nights

It’s when all the action goes down.

As opposed to cold winter days, when little, if anything, gets accomplished.

Timothée Chalamet hits Cape Cod, circa 1991, forced to spend the summer with his aunt as his family deals with his father’s death.

Unsure of himself, but definitely horny for bad girl Maika Monroe, our boy Timmy quickly spirals into life as a sweaty, over-stressed, low-level drug dealer with delusions of grandeur.

There’s a hurricane just off shore, and turmoil raging in his heart, setting up a string of betrayals and blowback.

We’ve seen this plot before, but it’s slickly-made and strongly-acted.

Secondhand Lions

They come from a different time.

The ornery ol’ cusses played here by Robert Duvall and Michael Caine hail from an era where men were two-fisted titans, able to woo ladies, duel sheiks, and live life large.

Now, they’re camped out on a farm in Texas, enjoying their retirement, shotguns at the ready to plug any salesmen who come looking for their rumored fortune.

Into this world wanders 14-year-old Walter, their kin by blood but not deed.

He’s trying to find his way, saddled with an irresponsible mom, and desperately in need of role models.

We have a bingo.

 

Eighth Grade

It’s a difficult age.

Caught between the end of middle school, and the start of high school, the young woman played by Elsie Fisher is bright, talented, but struggling.

Crushed by anxiety and loneliness, she wants to set the world afire with her self-help vlogs, but no one is watching or listening.

Her father (Josh Hamilton), a good-hearted guy trying to raise his daughter alone, is trapped as well, trying to find a way to connect with her, but stumbling over himself.

Told with great sensitivity, Bo Burnham’s debut as a feature film director is a slice of pure loveliness.