Ah, summertime, when the living's easy ...
Man, I really wish that I still had summer vacations. Many a time throughout these last few months, I'd walk outside to grab a hurried lunch, and just get the urge to take off and relive the good ol'days, when summers were spent playing basketball, tennis, swimming, and spending the days in the great outdoors. And then I'd realize that I was not doing these things, but wearing khakis and a button-down shirt, sitting in a corporate office, hunched over a computer.
... dammit all ...
... the spirit of summertime lives on.
Way back at BU, I wrote an editorial for the Free Press that I'm particularly fond of. It was about, how, even as the days when we enjoyed an actual summer vacation disappeared, even as we find ourselves with little to differentiate July from October, August from March, the spirit of summertime does, indeed HAS TO, live on.
So with that said, one of the great indicators of summertime remains the Summer Blockbuster season. The time of year when Hollywood forgets about the Oscar bait and bombards us with sequels, epics, and adventures. To me, this was a summer where the usual blockbuster franchises mostly elicited a giant feeling of "meh." I stopped caring about SHREK after Part 1. I had no real desire to see a PG13-rated Die Hard after we already saw a subpar Part 3 several years back. I don't think most people saw much to get excited about in a third Rush Hour. And even some of the big movies that I was really pumped about failed to deliver. Spiderman 3 was completely underwhelming, esepcially coming on the heels of the superlative part 2. Transformers had a lot going for it, especially visually, but ultimately it was just another hackneyed Michael Bay film. Oceans 13 was a bit of a mess, another excercise in star-driven pointlessness.
Some of the big guns did prove pretty enjoyable though. Bourne Ultimatum was an action-packed film that was a lot of fun even if it missed the mark of being great. The Simpsons elicited plenty of laughs even if it was a long way from Best. Movie. Ever. And Harry Potter produced what was to me one of the best films in the series yet - still not a fully satisfying movie by any means, but a well-acted and directed film that set things up nicely for the next installment. Ultimately, I know the series has its detractors, but PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN, to me, was the one true sea-worthy blockbuster sequel of the summer. I have the utmost respect for what Gore Verbinski and his team of amazing artists and actors have done with the Pirates franchise, and I've rarely had more fun at the movies over the last few years than I have had with the Pirates films. Of all the sequels that we saw this summer, this is the ONE sequel to which I wouldn't mind seeing one more installment. The films have done a spectacular job of creating a world so visually rich and interesting that it's one I want to visit again and again.
But despite an overabundance of over-hyped blockbusters and unnecessary threequels, this was truly a great summer for movies, and a lot of that was due to the amazing quality of this summer's crop of comedies and other unlikely winners that really provided texture to the summer movie landscape. Just last week, I saw a little movie that has been slowly gaining buzz - THE KING OF KONG, which was of all things a documentary about competitive Donkey Kong players. And yet, this indie gem turned out to be an amazing film, a great capper to a summer of unlikely hits. Super-producer Judd Apatow had two hilarious comedies in Knocked Up and most especially with Superbad. As a huge fan of good comedy, it was great to see unlikely stars emerge in Seth Rogan, Michael Cera, and Jonah Hill. The first two I've been big supporters of since Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development, respectively, so it was awesome to see them step into the spotlight in a big way. Meanwhile, there were some great smaller-budget comedies out there spotlighting some of the best groups of comedians making films today. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright delivered an awesome follow-up to Shawn of the Dead with HOT FUZZ, which is destined to become a long-lived cult classic. The guys from The State brought back their trademark absurdist humor with THE TEN, and Jermaine Clement, who later in the summer would become better known as one half of Flight of the Conchords, was hilarious in EAGLE VS SHARK. Plus, we had THE TV SET, a dead-on satire of Hollywood that provides a clue, for the uninitiated, on how some of these crappy movies get made in the first place.
Rounding out the summer were some excellent films that at times got lost in the shuffle, simply because they did not have a 2 or 3 in the title. RESCUE DAWN was a mind-blowing movie, yet another Oscar-worthy performance from Christian Bale, who is quickly becoming one of THE best actors out there. STARDUST was the most unique fantasy film in a long while, a throwback to the funny and far-out fairy-tale films of the 1980's. And Pixar ... Pixar can seemingly do no wrong. RATATOUILLE was yet another A-level film from them, bursting with amazing animation and a classic story.
So all in all, there were plenty of great movies this summer, and many that will surely be included in my Year-End Best List. Sometimes, you just had to think a bit outside the box to find the great ones.
And by the way, in this day and age there's barely a beat skipped between Summer and Fall. I can't wait for two, count 'em two movies that hit this weekend, unofficially kicking off the Fall season at the box office. 3:10 to Yuma looks like a classic Western, made all the more awesome by its stars, perhaps my two favorite actors today - Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Talk about a dream team, it doesn't get much better than Maxiumus and Batman. And then, Shoot 'Em Up looks simply kickass, balls to the wall. Clive Owen, Monica Belluci, and the craziest action scenes this side of Crank? I'm there.
So, without further ado ...
DANNY'S TOP MOVIES OF THE SUMMER:
1.) THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS
- For more, you can read my review posted earlier this week. But to me this was, looking back, THE must-see movie of the summer. It was a classic underdog story, an amazingly put-together documentary, a hilarious character study, and a movie that introduced us to a man - Steve Wiebe - who might just be the Rocky for the digital age. I know some of you may be skeptical that Kong is truly the best movie of the summer. But do yourself a favor - go see it - you too will become a believer.
2.) RESCUE DAWN
- This may have been released in the midst of the summer, but everything about Rescue Dawn screams Oscar. Intense, you-are-there direction from Werner Herzog, another transformative performance from Christian Bale, and incredible supporting turns from Steve Zahn and Jeffrey Davies. This is one of those movies that takes you on a journey. You feel the jungles of Vietnam, you feel the suffering of Bale and his fellow POW's, you feel the rush as survival mode kicks in and every moment becomes a life or death struggle. Intense.
- Cars is still probably my favorite Pixar movie, but Ratatouille is another amazing film from the studio that is single-handedly preserving the legacy of Walt Disney animation. The CGI here takes the art of animation to a new level, with direction that is a total rush while at the same time painting a vivid portrait of Paris as seen through that classic Disney lense. Another one of the must-sees of the summer.
- High school is the perfect place to set a comedy, but few movies fully take advantage of the setting or the potential for laughs and character. Superbad, more so than most teen comedies, has both an abundance of hilarious, over the top gags, as well as characters and dialogue that feel totally authentic. It never feels like anything has been toned down for the sake of the audience, so as with movies like Knocked Up, there's a sense of the humor being genuine, which is what makes it so freaking funny.
5.) PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: AT WORLD'S END
- As I mentioned, to me this is a franchise that is always enjoyable, that earns respect for the sheer sense of fun and adventure that permeates each of the films, not to mention the eye-popping visual design that brings the fantasy world to life with style and craftsmanship.
6.) THE TEN
- Sheer hilarity from The State, and a worthy followup to cult classic Wet Hot American Summer. This is a movie that will find a second life on DVD and will be watched over and over, and quoted ad nauseum. In a summer filled with realistic, conversational humor, The Ten was a welcome return to pure random craziness as only The State can do this well.
7.) KNOCKED UP
- While Superbad has it beat for sheer laugh-a-minute ration, Knocked Up earns points for deftly weaving a rather sophisticated story into its Apatowian humor. Seth Rogan is awesome here, and the movie is a veritable love-letter to the entire cadre of Judd Apatow's Freaks and Geeks alumni club. If only more comedies could combine earnest emotion with so many laugh out loud moments.
8.) HOT FUZZ
- The genius of Hot Fuzz, is that like Shawn of the Dead, it not only serves as a brilliant parody of action movies, but is itself a pretty damn good action movie. Classic British humor, some hilarious, grindhouse-style over-the-top action, and even a dash of heart make this a bloody good time.
- This one is a little rough around the edges, but it's one of those movies that wins you over because in the end, it's just too damn likable. The movie is just really fun, funny, and features a lot of people giving great performances, especially Michelle Pfeifer as an evil witch who might just be the summer's best villain (take that, Megatron).
10.) EAGLE VS. SHARK
- A movie that got mixed reviews, but to me was just hilarious, Eagle Vs. Shark is a must see for all of you who of late can't get enough of Flight of the Conchords. The humor is deadpan and quirky, think Napoleon Dynamite meets Punch Drunk Love, and the characters are just great to watch. This is another one that I hope finds a second life on DVD.
11.) THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
12.) THE TV SET
13.) THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
14.) HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
Alright, with that I'm out. ROCK.