37 Movies of Summer

I usually wait until the end of the year before I do any sort of movie recaps, but it’s kind of been a slow time for blogging inspiration… and conveniently, an exceptional summer. Since the deplorable Wolverine kicked off the season at the beginning of May, I have been to the theater 37 times. That’s twice as much as I’ve gone during this same May through August period in each of the last three years. And given that Inglourious Basterds pretty much marks the end of the run (I may get to My One and Only at a certain point, but we’ll see, and you still can’t pay me enough to see Halloween II and The Final Destination), it seems an apt time to look back at the summer that was.

Part I: 17 Again
If there’s one take-home message from the summer of 2009, it’s that there has never been a better time to be a teenage male. Even following the severe disappointment of Wolverine – a movie I think even less of as time progresses, Hollywood could not have done more to serve my inner teenager. Transformers 2, which I am obligated to mention is not a good movie in order to save what’s left of my dignity, was unmatched on Imax, and the fight scene in the forest (and later, on the pyramid) rendered me positively awestruck. G.I. Joe is a better movie than it has any right to be, exhilarating from start to finish, capturing that same frenetic but focused energy that made the first Mummy so great, with – bonus! – Rachel Nichols and Sienna Miller looking amazing. And, while its first half aspires to be much more (with mixed results), the most striking part of District 9 is the 20-minute mech sequence. Throw in a decent Terminator installment*, the solid Angels and Demons, and a great Star Trek thrill-ride (did you notice, though, that they used literally one set for all of the outdoor Earth-shots after the first 15 minutes – the academy next to the Golden Gate bridge?), and you truly had a Murderer’s Row of action-heavy movies.

*Digression. I really, really wish that the Marcus ‘revelation’ hadn’t played out the way it did in Salvation. If you removed the prologue (with the death row scene), make Sam Worthington’s first appearance in the desert, and very slowly reveal his past through flashback, it would have added so much more gravity to the twist – and especially to the scene where the Connors open him up. Then you also get rid of the cringe-worthy Helena Bonham Carter as the ‘face’ of Skynet bullshit. Finally, do just a little with more with Skynet ‘headquarters’ (connect it to the greater threat, remove the weird ’empty warehouse’ feel, justify the Arnold cameo beyond fan service), and you don’t have this “not really a standalone movie” vibe. FUCK, it could have been so good. And yes, I’m clearly too invested in the Terminator series. But while I’m on the topic…

Interlude: (Near-) Fatal Flaws
Just a Little Off
Gigantic: The overwhelming quirkiness (example: homeless man)
The Merry Gentlemen: The all-around circumstances… more on this later.
Whatever Works: Enough with the age differences, Woody Allen.
Moon: Clone-to-clone interaction!

Tonal Shifts
Paper Heart: The overdone fake documentary-style as the film progresses.
Away We Go: The quirk after Maggie Gyllenhaal enters the fray.
Funny People: “The Family Man” tangent in Northern California.
The Brothers Bloom: The dark add-on following the trip to Mexico.

Part II: For (Almost) All Audiences
It is extremely rare that either a family film or a romantic-comedy will be so bad as to offend me (The Tale of Despearaux is really the only one in recent memory). I’m a sucker for a couple of hours of harmless fun, with some charm, cuteness, and a sense of naïveté. By the way, this description also pretty much encapsulates every single role that Amy Adams has played to date, which has certainly not discouraged my continuing obsession. She starred in two relevant offerings – Julie and Julia, one of the strongest in the genre of the season, and Night at the Museum 2, a solid diversion with some silly laughs (despite the presence of one Robin Williams, who somehow beat out Carla Gugino in “retain them for the sequel” considerations). I would kill to have Amy play Amelia in the biopic instead of that horse-faced Oscar hound, Hilary Swank. Insensitive asides aside, an America’s Sweetheart of the past, Sandra Bullock, made a strong return in The Proposal… before, I’m sure, flushing all that goodwill down the drain in the sure-to-be-awful All About Steve. But perhaps lowered expectations is the key, because I found myself enjoying Ghosts of Girlfriends Past immensely. Matt McConaughey, you sneaky shirtless bastard.

On the family side of things, some big guns came out to play. With The Half-Blood Prince though, I might be officially Harry Pottered out. I found Luna and her ‘quirkiness’ obnoxious, the little adolescent romances horrifically clunky, and overally, an utter lack of rhythm, flow, or structure. I might be Pixar-ed out as well, at least with regard to the preachy, guilt-trip, emotional hammer that the company has been wielding. Up was all right (the exception being the amazing five minute ‘life’ sequence), but I clearly didn’t find it as emotional and beautiful as most people. Fortunately, Ice Age 3 harbors no such ambitions, and was much closer in quality to the original than its sequel. Meanwhile, concepts that have been beaten into the ground rose again, but with great success in the very funny 17 Again (my mom remarked on the looks of one Zac Efron, which was… weird; she also noted how bad Matthew Perry looked), the beautifully animated Ponyo (even if the climax was a tad lacking), and the extremely well-executed Bandslam (even with the dramatic elements! …but also featuring yet another lead actor in the Shia Lebeouf mold). Strong fluff.

Interlude: Easter-Egg Moments
Off-screen
” ‘Hwhy.’ Haha. Hwhy. Cool Hwhip.”
– Two girls, simultaneous, mocking a weird pronunciation of ‘why’ in Paper Heart

“It’s called The Merry Gentleman. I thought it was going to be a love story, not a movie about some psychopath.”
– Old guy in a bathroom, after the Michael Keaton-as-assassin movie let out

On-screen
4. The giant crab scene in Land of the Lost. How unexpected.

3. The slow-motion climax in Public Enemies, with the cop awkwardly holding his gun in front for like 20 seconds as he lumbers towards Johnny Depp’s John Dillinger. Winner: unintentional comedy.

2. A t-shirt for Zankou Chicken, Norm MacDonald, and Dave Attell all making cameos in Funny People within a ten-second stretch, which basically made my inner voice go, “Hey… HEY!… HEY!!!!”

1. The first time David Cross makes an appearance (alongside Paul Rudd) in Year One, which made me laugh harder than anything probably in the last five years.

Part III: Whatever Works
The best part of this summer has been the ability of different movies to hit different quadrants square on. There’s the lighter fare I’ve discussed, most notably Julie and Julia, G.I. Joe, and Star Trek, as well as the hilariously off-beat Land of the Lost and The Hangover (Todd Phillips is pretty much a genius in my book, with Starsky & Hutch, Road Trip, and Old School also on the resume). There’s 500 Days of Summer, which utilizes an unconventional timeline to perfection. Individual acting performances were notable in The Soloist, and even The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. Moving to more substantive fare, The Hurt Locker, while not necessarily a great coherent movie, had an unmatched intensity and gritty realism: it is a true experience. Public Enemies was Michael Mann near his stylistic and deliberately-paced best. And although the violence in the theater scene was a bit much, Inglourious Basterds had three or four beautiful scenes that formed its backbone – long, tense, and incredibly well-done.

I suppose I’m more of a movie fan than I am anything else, because I never regret seeing anything, and I don’t very often even dislike a movie. In the case of this summer’s offerings, the half-full perspective is well-deserved. The best of the best, however, is reserved for three. Not only are they my favorites of the season, but easily of the year to date. In no particular order…

  • First, Rudo y Cursi, a tale of two soccer-playing brothers, is pretty much the best piece of fluff I’ve seen all year. But not only is it exceptionally fun (with catchy tunes involved!), there are a few golden moments here and there that are absolutely devastating. There’s even one of my favorite trademarks, the callback ending. I enjoyed it in a manner exclusive to a tiny handful of movies. I can’t really explain it, but I loved it. Speaking of devastating…
  • Second. Sin Nombre (another movie in Spanish! Look at me, I’m worldly!), featuring intertwining tales of a Honduran family and a Mexican gang member. An apt comparison is City of God, but Sin Nombre is a little more sprawling than that classic. It looks at the gang culture, but weaves that seamlessly through the immigrant experience. It is beautifully shot, overwhelmingly emotional, yet feels so authentic. That’s a lot of hyperbole, but it’s well deserved. When it was over, I was drained.
  • Third. In the Loop. I had seen all the references by critics to Dr. Strangelove, a movie that I didn’t love but could appreciate. The comparison is well-deserved, and perhaps short of the truth. You will not see a movie funnier than In the Loop this year, or perhaps any other year. It is so quick and so smart… every ‘throwaway’ line elicits laughter, and there are scenes that are simply genius. Every character is well-developed and absolutely hysterical. Every single character, no matter how big or small the role, shines. And all of the humor works within the context of the story. What a movie. What a summer.
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