As the summer movie season is now long dead and gone, it’s long past the time to praise my favorite offerings from summer ’09. I’m the sort of moviegoer who loves the whole indie world, but feels just as home in a well-crafted summer movie. However, heading into the summer I wasn’t holding out much hope for too many strong movies. It is hard to look forward to the likes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which looked awful even in trailer form. It looks like this year was going to be a jarring letdown after last summer, in which we were spoiled with the likes of The Dark Knight and Iron Man. To my delight, while this summer wasn’t crammed with goodness week in and week out, there were still some movies I fell in love with. As always, I missed a bunch of movies I still look forward to seeing, so the list isn’t as exhaustive as I’d like.
1. Star Trek
For my money, you can’t have more fun at the movies than this. Just a week after the summer got off to a dismal start with a “story” which removed everything that makes Wolverine a great character, redemption came in the form of Star Trek. From start to finish the pleasure sensor in my brain was firing with wreckless abandon, and with a few forgivable exceptions, the film doesn’t require one to check their brain at the door.
Our group on opening night included, among others, my wife, who wouldn’t know Captain Kirk if he sat in her lap, myself, I’m not a huge fan but I enjoyed Wrath of Khan and First Contact as much as the next guy or gal, another friend who is a fairly big Star Trek fan, and Brian, who couldn’t watch trailers for the film without laughing out loud. As you can see, a diverse group in terms of expectations. In the end, everyone loved it.
For me, it didn’t take very long, by the time the opening segment ended and the title and logo graced the screen for the first time, I turned to Emily and whispered, “Holy shit, that was fucking awesome.” Flat out fun storytelling, right out of the gate. It kept going strong from that point on, quickly joining Iron Man and Batman as franchises in which I am itching for the next installment.
If you haven’t seen Star Trek yet, you most definitely should.
After a few more weeks in which nothing thrilled me at the movies, the film I was looking forward to most in the early summer months came out, Pixar’s Up. I’m always impressed with how well, and how consistently, Pixar tells a great story. Up was as good as anything Pixar has done to this point. The themes of loss, aging, death, loneliness and the redemptive power of loving others and being loved brought tears to my eyes more consistently than any other film in recent memory. I cried before the film’s story was even off and running, as Pixar offered a stunning montage of Carl and Ellie Fredrickson and their life together. Pixar is just so amazingly good at what they do, if you don’t like them, I think there might be something wrong with your brain.
Plus, if all the stuff I mentioned above isn’t enough, Ed Asner voices the crotchety but lovable old man. It doesn’t get more perfect than that folks, Ed Asner just happens to be America’s #1 crotchety but lovable old man. He was fantastic.
Plus, there are dogs with talking collars who fly planes, and there’s plenty of enjoyable action and comedy. The movie has everything. Come on! How could you not love Up?
3. The Hangover
We laughed consistently and with volume, the unraveling of the mystery of what happened the night before effectively twisted the storytelling just enough to keep it from feeling like everything else out there, and we were entertained from start to finish. I don’t really ask for much more than that from a summer comedy.
4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
There was a long stretch of weeks after The Hangover just waiting for Harry Potter. During that time, yes, I did go see Transformers 2, and yes, it really was as awful as you imagined. Fortunately, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was as good as I’d hoped.
I’m excited to see that David Yates continued the brilliant film making he started in Order of the Phoenix, it bodes well for what waits for us in Deathly Hallows 1 & 2. He certainly made some changes I could have done without, but all in all it seems like he gets what these stories are about and retains the symbols that stayed with me while reading the books. The imagery pointing to love being stronger than evil, resurrection, and light overcoming the darkness was on full display, as it should have been. Obviously, I can’t wait for 7.1!
5. (500) Days of Summer
(500) Day of Summer seems to be one of those love it or hate it type films. As its presence on this list makes clear, I fall in the ‘love it’ category. It was different, quirky, and charming. I found the leads awkwardly likable in a way that made them feel like real people as opposed to the perfectly measured fake people in so many other romantic comedies, if that’s what you can call this movie.
It brought me back to college experiences where I fell into both categories on display in the film. It was everything I was hoping it would be, I loved it.
6. Paper Heart
Like the film listed above it, this was yet another film that was either loved or hated. The fact that I hated several movies that came out this summer assures me I’m not turning into one of those guys who loves everything that comes out. I just happened to love (500) Days AND Paper Heart. Sue me.
Part documentary, part scripted awkward love story, it brought something new to the table by combining elements that already existed. A mash-up of sorts that succeeded in creating a story at once charming and knowing. Also, I loved the segments in which they acted out the stories told by interviewees with puppets.
One complaint I heard was that the fact that the portions between Cera and Yi were scripted ruined the movie because it was a lie. First, it wasn’t a lie because they never pretended it wasn’t scripted outside of the actual film. Second, that’s the dumbest accusation I’ve ever heard… all movies are scripted, why on earth is it different because this script pretended to be a documentary. Does that mean This is Spinal Tap wasn’t hilarious and awesome?!? You’d better not say yes! Why should Paper Heart be faulted because they did a great job making the scripted moments feel genuine and authentic. Isn’t that what all movies are trying to do? Ugh, what a dumb problem to have with a movie!
The more common complaint about the film was that some felt Charlyne Yi was annoying. Fair enough, that’s bound to happen. In the immortal words of Trent “Some people don’t like me, I don’t like some people.” To each their own. I thought Yi was adorable and easy to love, and I felt the same way about Paper Heart.
7. District 9
As is the case for all of these movies, to really get into all that I loved about this movie, I would need a whole blog post. As my blogging infrequency makes clear of late, that’s just not something I have time to do at the moment. However, suffice it to say that this is another film that did something for a small enough amount of money that they were actually able to tell an engaging story. Without a studio paying careful attention to where each of their many millions was going, Neill Blomkamp was free to tell a sci-fi story without worrying about Happy Meals and action figures. Thus, it was able to be all the things science fiction should be, filled with commentary on real life issues and events, along with warnings about what human beings are capable of, for good and for evil.
I know the film has gotten plenty of critical acclaim, as is evidenced by the 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but even so, Sharito Copley’s performance as the lead simply has to be referred to as underrated. It was brilliant. The way he incarnates the metamorphosis from coward to hero, the way he made me feel it as his transformation from human to alien actually made him truly human for the first time was nothing short of brilliant. I loved his performance, and I loved District 9, even if the advertising did give away the climax of the movie.
8. Inglourious Basterds
Whenever I say I have moral qualms with a movie I can’t help but feel taken back to those early evangelical days when I it was seen as sinful to watch R-rated movies (unless that movie is The Matrix or The Passion of the Christ). However, I do in fact have moral qualms with the reality that Tarantino seems to have completely bought in to the myth of redemptive violence, and more importantly, there are two key moments in the film that seem to revel in violence toward women. Maybe I misread those scenes and they are meant to be horrifying, but instead that’s not what I got at all. So, my appreciation of the film was certainly tempered a bit.
Maybe the reasons listed above should have kept me from loving Inglourious Basterds altogether, but instead they simply kept my from buying in with my whole heart. So many scenes in this film just sucked me in. Tarantino knows how to do what he does, from the tension tinged with humor of the opening moments, to the overwhelmingly cool scenes littered throughout the rest of the film, there are simply no two ways about it, Tarantino can craft a mood and a moment. The look, the feel, the remarkable grasp of how to use music to the effect he wants. That’s his shtick and he does it oh so well, for me, this may be the best he’s ever done it.
In addition to that, I love great performances, and I love great villains. I got a great performance from several different actors, while getting both the performance and the villain from the bone-chillingly remarkable Christoph Waltz. So many performances lit up the screen, Christoph, Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, even BJ Novak was great in his first big role that wasn’t on The [American] Office.
The day after I saw the film, I found myself tempted to head back to the theater to see it again. It was a great film to close out my summer.
(Movies I missed this summer, but most hope to see soon: The Limits of Control, Away We Go, The Hurt Locker, Moon, Public Enemies, Cold Souls)
The fall/winter movie season looks quite promising, so hopefully I’ll be back at the movies soon.