It’s been 5 days since the start of fall, and while the weather hasn’t made the complete shift from summer in L.A. – I can see it slowly pushing through. My air conditioner is being used less and less, I find myself wanting a sweater more often, and needing a blanket when I’m in the mood to be cozy on the couch at night. As we bid goodbye to long days of warm sunshine and the need to be around a consistent a/c source, I’m reflecting back on all things summer movies.
Though the calendar marks mid-June as the start of summer, it seems Hollywood drives when the season officially begins – the first weekend in May, releasing the first of many summer blockbusters to come for the next 3 months. I do like to indulge in many of the blockbusters, but I definitely make it a point to keep a strong connection to the smaller independent, foreign, and documentary films that also flood the market.
Let’s just say it was a busy summer. I can’t tell you how many collective hours I spent in the movie theater…well, I can. I’ve seen 28 films from May 3rd – September 21st (which I’ve deemed the end of the summer movie season for the purposes of this post, though some might argue the official “summer movie” season ended weeks ago).
It will be interesting to see how things shift as we move forward toward Oscar season where the best in cinema is yet to come.
Here are my top 10 films of the summer:
10. the great gatsby
With many people (myself included), Baz Luhrmann can be a hit or a miss. (I loved Moulin Rouge, but had a hard time with Romeo & Juliet.) I think what one must understand when approaching his material is to expect fantasy, expect extravagance, over-indulgence, knowing that your suspension of disbelief is all part of the plan. In other words, just expect too much. I went into Gatsby thinking that I might not like the film because of the buzz it was getting around the industry, and the fact that it was 143 minutes instantly put me in the frame of mind ready to not like it. I was presently surprised. I found myself easily engrossed in the screen by a very charming Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Carrie Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan – their chemistry undeniable. Aside from such precise casting, one couldn’t help but fall into the too much. The lush 1920’s costume design, the decadent art direction, and witty writing made for an enjoyable 2.5 hour experience.
9. enough said
Part of the reason that I chose to end my summer movie review season just as the calendar officially turned to fall, was because I was so fond of this film that I wanted to give it a proper salute. It won’t be one of my top ten films of the year, but Julia Louis-Dreyus and James Gandolfini had me smiling (and I mean literally) for 1 hour and 40 minutes straight. The situation our protagonists find themselves in couldn’t be more “Hollywood,” full of coincidences that make for a great comedy that would be far from comedic if it happened in reality. What the film does well is not only maintain sincere humor along with depth to each and every character, but by not falling into a complete romantic comedy stereotype. What can I say? It’s a sweet film and an ever sweeter way to bid farewell to the very talented James Gandolfini. Enough said.
8. world war z
I wasn’t expecting much from this film, and in fact, was going to skip it. Another zombie movie? After a culmination of good reviews, and the fact that it never hurts to spend 2 hours looking at Brad Pitt, I went in with a rather uncertain disposition, looking forward to another blockbuster flick. World War Z delivered. It’s naturally fun. It does a phenomenal job of building tension and taking the viewer into another world wrought with creative apocalyptic ingredients. I was completely taken in, thanking the films gods that the story got right to the point and didn’t let go until the end. I know that fans of the book were not so thrilled, but I didn’t read it. And in this case, it was probably a good thing.
7. 20 feet from stardom
Dreams lost, dreams found, dreams re-dreamed. 20 Feet From Stardom invitingly follows the unknown icons of the music industry. Those whose words we know better than the actual verse to a pop song because it’s the chorus that often sticks with us. And while it’s their lyrics and voices that melodically repeat in our heads when incessantly humming a tune, the spotlight is far from their reach. They are the background singers. They are literally steps away from the superstar, and are oftentimes more musically apt and vocally talented than the person at center stage. This touching documentary examines that 20 foot barrier that is nearly impossible to overcome. It takes a look into the lives of veteran and working background singers, whose only dream was and is the spotlight and their struggle to get there. What makes someone a star? As I walked away from this experience, I concluded that in many cases – almost all cases – simply having talent isn’t the answer.
6. the conjuring
Four words come to mind when I think of this film: Holy. Awesome. Scary. Movie. In my book, when you’ve seen one scary movie, you’ve likely seen them all. Horror is a complicated genre to pull off and I’m not easily fooled. However, the delectable mixture of a well-crafted “based on a true story” tale, fueled by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson’s performance as paranormal investigators/real-life couple Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring did in fact get to me. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the next scare as much as I was starting to believe that perhaps there may be some validity to paranormal activity, which I’ve always been rather ambivalent about. James Wan certainly has a talent for directing the dark side and has taken the horror genre to a fresh new level. To this day, the one horror film that admittedly did fool me was 2004’s Saw.
5. the way way back
There are those films that radiate a nostalgic feeling in such a way that no matter what happens along the journey you’re going to connect. I knew this would be one of those films about 5 minutes in. The Way Way Back endearingly depicts summer in a way that any person who has survived the complications of youth would understand. While circumstances differ in every person’s journey, many can relate to being young with 3 months of too much time on our hands, the weight of the world on our shoulders, and friction with our parents. Crafted in such a way that highlights equal amounts of humor and truth, while set in the alluring backdrop of Cape Cod, the film singlehandedly captures the epitome of all things summer, celebrating its uniqueness and doing so in a way that just takes you back.
4. fast 6
Fast 6. You read that right. BY FAR, the most fun I had in a movie theater this summer was on Friday, May 24th at 8:00pm. Opening night at the Arclight in Hollywood found me among other like-minded hardcore fans of the race car driving franchise phenomenon! Pure adrenaline, completely cliché and ridiculous dialogue, along with even more ridiculous and unrealistic over-the-top action and stunt sequences had the entire audience cheering out loud. The icing on the cake was the surprise hello from Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and the entire Fast 6 cast in-person as the film credits rolled. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it again. It doesn’t get more popcorn summer blockbuster awesome movie fun than this! Yeah!
3. fruitvale station
Of all of the films I saw this summer – this was the only one that hit me in such a way that I couldn’t readily let go when I left the theater, sparking a need to really evaluate my thoughts on Oscar Grant’s story and the film that took on the complicated task of telling it. You can read my full analysis on what will likely be in my top 10 films of the year, Fruitvale Station, here.
2. blue jasmine
As far as I’m concerned, the Best Actress Academy Award winner was chosen just as Cate Blanchett disturbingly makes her way to a park bench, sits down, and starts talking to herself, a completely and utterly broken soul at the end of Blue Jasmine. I know it’s early in the year to make this assertion as we approach awards season – but I would have a hard time being as convinced of a person’s mental breakdown unless it happened right in front of me. Simply put, Cate Blanchett’s performance made this film for me. Period. And though Woody Allen’s writing and direction are to be commended, along with excellent casting of supporting characters, I cannot say with confidence that I would have such esteem for this film if it weren’t for Blanchett’s extreme and consuming immersion into the instability she created in Jasmine.
1. before midnight
Before “Sunset” (2004) there was “Sunrise” (1995) just after “Midnight” (2013). If someone where to ever ask me what film has a sequel that is better than its predecessor, I would emphatically answer that I can now name two – and they’re both from the same series. I cannot think of another series of films that so eloquently depicts a nearly 20 year journey of the complexities when building an intimate relationship with another person. These films have developed a formula, a narrative structure, and cinematic style that illicit a breath of fresh air every time. Before Midnight explores Jesse and Céline’s relationship 9 years after the last film now with 2 kids and the insecurities that come with finding your forever. I cannot find a better word to describe this film other than “poetic.” It never falls into deep cliches or loses an authentic connection to the viewer. I simply adore the dynamic of Jesse and Céline’s relationship; their intense connection abundant with humanity, open communication, and true friendship. It is that foundation that leads to some the best and most sophisticated dialogue I’ve ever heard on-screen, creating two of modern cinema’s best characters. While not impossible with three months left in the year, it would be very difficult to top this film as my favorite of 2013.
Farewell summer, hello Oscar season…