My Top 5 of Summer '11

With the end of August we can officially say the 2011 summer movie season has come to an end. I have yet to see a few smaller films that either didn't make it to lil ol' Arkansas or were here for too short a time for me to catch in their theatrical run, most namely "The Tree of Life" that I have no doubt would be on this list if not at the very top of it. There is also the said to be lovely "Beginners" and the very intriguing "Devil's Double" that I may view sooner than later. The Summer movie season is about big, vast, epic movies though that are mainly inspired by comic books or old TV shows. They might be remakes or sequels or even re-boots but while none of the super heroes made my list this year it doesn't mean they weren't any good. Marvel turned out three solid films in "Thor", "X-Men: First Class", and "Captain America" while DC floundered with "The Green Lantern". "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" was better than "Revenge of the Fallen" but it was still a Michael Bay movie while "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" may have been the seasons biggest surprise. The feast of R-rated comedies could be split right down the middle between good and bad. No family movies made the list as Pixar put out its first critical flop in "Cars 2" and live action family films like "Mr. Poppers Penguins", "Zookeeper", and "Spy Kids 4" failed to attract audiences. There was too much 3D, not enough originality, and far too many projects that promised to be so much more than that final product actually delivered (here's lookin at you "Cowboys & Aliens). What follows is a list of my five favorite films this summer that didn't just meet my expectations, but were the exception to the rule when it came to exceeding them.

5. Bridesmaids

There have been plenty of gross out, one-note, raunchy comedies this summer. With "Horrible Bosses" coming in a close second behind my number five pick and the about average "Bad Teacher" and "30 Minutes or Less" paving the way for less successful endeavors like "The Change-Up" this summer has seen a wide variety of funny. And though I rather enjoyed "The Hangover Part II" if not just because I like hanging with those guys, I'll admit ignoring the fact it was a carbon copy of the first films story. After all the laughs (or lack thereof) have settled though, it is clear that "Bridesmaids" is the best comedy of the summer. As Annie, Kristin Wiig is a woman suffering from the effects of the recession. Having invested all her money in a failed bakey, she now works at a jewelry shop. She lives with two weird British siblings, she is nothing but a booty call to a man she really wants to have a relationship with (a hilarious Jon Hamm), and her best friend, Lillian has just asked her to take on all of the responsibility of being her maid of honor. Wiig turns in a star making performance that will make her a box office pull for many years to come, and deservedly so. Wiig is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast as well including a contender for "it" girl of the year Rose Byrne, the always endearing Maya Rudolph, and of course Melissa McCarthy who steals every scene she walks in on. If anything though, "Bridesmaids" was a refreshing break from standard rom coms flooding the cineplexes. You know what I mean if you saw "Something Borrowed" the week before this was released. It was nice to see a comedy with real women that didn't talk down to us and play out in a world where everyone wears white and has plenty of money while working at a job that clearly wouldn't support such habits. Instead, "Bridesmaids" is anything but, its dirty, honest, and rough; all of which lend to making it the best comedy of the summer.

4. Crazy, Stupid, Love

Picking up where we left off with "Bridesmaids", my fourth favorite film of the summer is the best pure romantic comedy that has come out in a long, long time. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" though essentially a story many have compared to Will Smith's "Hitch" is elevated beyond that by the incredible cast and the way in which this looks at the emotion of love as more than an object to be manipulated and one that truly defines how we want to live our lives. Headed up by Steve Carell, an actor I believe is to be truly traesured. His sincerity and understanding of what an audience based in reality wants is all the more reason to love everything about his character. No matter how big a name he becomes, we always feel a relatability to him letting us know that besides the fame, money, and comedic chops he is just like all of us. He makes us feel comfortable and that is something not too many movie stars can claim. With that everyman persona ready and set we are introduced to Cal, a man who has become set in life, relaxed in his setting and a father that exudes love and understanding with his children even if at the moment we are introduced to him we witness the breakdown of his 25-year marriage to his wife Emily (Julianne Moore). That divorce leads to the introduction of Ryan Gosling's Jacob who decides to take on Cal's sorry butt and transform him into a suave ladies man. While Carell anchors the film it is Gosling who is the real revelation here turning in a fine comedic performance that seems to have solidified his star power. Emma Stone is pitch perfect here, not to mention this is only her first of two appearances on this list, as is Marissa Tomei in a brief, but hilarious role. What is most satisfying about this film though is the fact we never feel forced into a situation the way so many romantic comedies seem to do us these days, but most importantly we fall for these characters. With multiple story lines all involving relationships and feelings at drastically different stages we get a full and satisfying picture of what a crazy and stupid emotion love can truly be.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

It was hard for me to not put this at the top of the list. For the simple fact I have loved "Harry Potter" since opening the pages of "The Sorcerer's Stone" so many years ago. Growing up with these characters on screen has only enhanced my love for J.K. Rowlings world and in the summer of 2011 it all came to a crashing end with the final film adaptation finally hitting the silver screen. It was with an almost peaceful sadness I bid farewell to one of the most beloved franchises of all time. Peaceful in that we as an audience and the characters were sent off with a soft, tranquil, almost melancholy feel yet it is with deep sadness we know we will never get to visit those characters again. From the wonderfully executed Gringotts break-in sequence to that final stand-off between Harry and Voldemort, "The Deathly Hallows Part 2" hardly stopped to take a breather, but it never felt overloaded and each large action sequence was filled with more meaning and substance than any cinephile could ask for out of a big budget hollywood film. It was packed to the brim with action, loaded down with emotional punches and we mere muggles should just be happy that such credible and high quality films were made out of what is no doubt one of the best literary works of many generations. I cannot imagine the disappointment I would have felt had these film adaptations been turned into mainstream Hollywood money-grubbers, and can appreciate how lucky we are as an audience to have been given eight films that have truly been cared about enough to justify that source material to the loyal and devoted fans as well as being strong enough to convert others who would never have picked up one of the books. Harry Potter ends just the way it should, our three heroes, still friends and defining the meaning of that friendship in a touching epilogue that tells the audience things will be okay, even if we know we will never catch a glimpse of them on the big screen again.

2. The Help

I was a bit angry at myself for not reading the book on which my number two film is based before seeing the big screen version. Since seeing it though I have purchased the book and intend to read it once the memory of the movie is not as strong in my mind. That way I can hopefully appreciate the book for what it is on its own terms. Problem is, I'm having a hard time forgetting about how greatly "The Help" impacted me. I went into Emma Stone's second film on this list expecting a quality film but I didn't expect to see one of the most moving motion pictures I've seen in years. I can only hope that as we make our way into the crowded fall movie season that all the Oscar hopefuls soon to be hitting screens don't cloud our minds to the point we forget about what a great movie this is and how much it deserves serious recognition. Not just for the craft with which it was made or the skill with which it is performed but the fact of WHY it was made. To tell this story, to recognize our faults, and to feel truly inspired are traits in a movie we don't see very often and "The Help" has all of them. Much of the complaints around this film have concerned it making light of a very serious subject and to be honest with you,I simply don't see where those who think that are getting it from. Being a darker film doesn't make it more true. "The Help" does indeed evoke a lifestyle many in this country never knew existed and to tell that story from the point of view of those having first hand experience with true hatred allows the film to be, in parts, extremely moving and hard to swallow. It might offer just as many laughs as it does moments of harsh reality and moving sentiments but for me, that showed how well-rounded this film truly is. We never feel as if we are being preached to, but instead we are experiencing the strength of a select few individuals and how courage, in the most credible of ways, is something no one is born with but instead is a choice you have to make when the consequences of displaying such a trait are unknown. God, I hope Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer get some statues.

1. Midnight in Paris

I am by no means a big fan of Woody Allen films. In fact, most of the time I try to avoid them due to the stigma they have attached to them lately that is due to the filmmaker getting more attention and not necessarily the particular film he has produced that year. Sure, I will check out the ones that seem more highly praised than others. I saw "Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" as well as the under rated "Cassandra's Dream" but to mess with more recent Allen farces like "Scoop" or "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" seem like they might be somewhat of a waste of time. This may be making me out to sound a little ignorant to the ways and the reasons Allen is so beloved as a filmmaker but trust me, I have seen and do understand the significance of his earlier classics like "Manhattan" and most notably "Annie Hall". I will tell you what I do enjoy though and that is a good Owen Wilson movie. The guy cracks me up and I fell in love with "Midnight in Paris" pretty quickly and not just because of Mr. Allen's incredibly fun and creative script, but also because Wilson is pitch perfect as our main character, Gil, and delivers one of the best performances his career will likely ever see. the idea of getting to mingle with your idols in the era you wish you could have been alive is something we have all no doubt considered. For Gil, Paris in the 1920's is a period and a place of artistic freedom, the center of the world for anyone wanting to do anything associated with the arts. Though it may be disillusioned and the characters may be somewhat more creations of myth rather than what they were really like (Hemingway especially) it doesn't matter because this is How Gil sees it, this is what he wants it to have been like and we relish every sweet minute Gil gets to interact with historical figures from the past that feed his need to be a part of something bigger. I love every movie on this list, but this summer I didn't come out of a movie knowing why I indeed love movies so much as I did after "Midnight in Paris". That feeling alone makes this movie my number one summer pick.