My Top 5 of Summer '12

Going into the 2012 summer movie season I had pretty high expectations. It kicked off with what was destined to be one of the most ambitious films ever with The Avengers. Followed up the next week by what looked to be a return to form for the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp duo and so on and so forth with the forgettable big budget extravaganza Battleship and the middling and messy Savages only sinking Taylor Kitsch's career further. There were serviceable but not great great comedies that showed up (I even enjoyed Adam Sandler's That's My Boy) but while fare like The DictatorNeighborhood Watch, and The Campaign didn't necessarily let me down, they weren't everything I'd hoped they would be either. There was a fine flush of animated films including Madagascar 3 (which I still haven't seen, but heard is the best in the series), a very profitable fourth Ice Age (another I skipped) but even the dynamic duo of Disney and Pixar couldn't drum up as much anticipation as usual with Brave. There were even a few epic action flicks I was looking forward to including Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Snow White & The Huntsmen, The Borune Legacy, and of course The Amazing Spider-Man. Most of these were fine enough films (except for Lincoln which I was really disappointed with) but none of them left real impressions on me. None of them struck me inherently as a great film. That feeling you get when you stand up after the film ends and you know you just saw something special, something different than what you might have expected going in, but in a completely exhilarating way. That is what happened with these following films to some degree. They are movies that I want to see again, that sparked something within, or had a hand in creating memories that I will not soon forget.

Ted

There was one comedy this summer that rose above the rest though. Not only in expectation but also in box office totals. It is likely the biggest surprise of the season as going in I was interested in seeing it of course, but really didn't set too high of standards for it. This worked as Ted doesn't really have high standards in the first place. The film had me laughing constantly from the great opening where Patrick Stewart narrates as if this were a new, updated version of some Christmas classic to the absurd credit shots that give us the explanation of what happened to the rest of the characters in the film. Everything here is a send up, and no celebrity is off limits. The best part is that most celebrities don't mind taking shots at themselves for a good laugh. Norah Jones doesn't, Ryan Reynolds definitely doesn't and did Joel McHale show up just because he is that good at playing a tool? I guess so, because his extended cameo serves up some of the better lines in the film. We get a few actual fart jokes that feel at least more honest than any cartoon could make them, but ultimately they lend to the bit of slacking in the script that seems to grow more apparent as the film goes on. In the end though there really isn't much to complain about. The movie surprised me with how good, how funny, and yes, even how heartfelt it turned out to be. I may not be a faithful McFarlane follower, but his next project will definitely carry more anticipation on my part. Here's to an R-rated feature about a drug dealing princess.

Prometheus

The next film I also included on my top five of the year list back in June and after coming out relatively early this summer it remained on my favorites list simply due to its quest to tackle something bigger, deeper, and more complicated than most big budget blockbusters have the nerve too. While I was a late comer in terms of discovering what many consider a masterpiece in Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien, I was finally introduced to it in college through a film class. I was never taken aback with it as much as the hype surrounding it suggested I should be but for its time period I could certainly see why it garnered so much praise and attention. Sci-fi is a genre I truly love though and to be able to see that genre operate on such an elegant and massive scale I was taken back by the beauty of it. While the first hour or so of the film is completely compelling with non-stop discussion of the possibilities that lie ahead and the talk of what they already know and what they hope to discover. It is all very fascinating and is both in word and scope genuinely epic. I don't know that I have ever seen more clear, pristine visuals coated with such looming nuances of fear. Unfortunately, the conclusion does see the script slightly crumble. This is disheartening because of the questions it leaves unanswered. While this could of course be left to the explanation that Scott wants viewers to discuss and draw their own conclusions the truth feels closer to the fact that the screenwriters were unable to create an end result that matches the hype the early discussions build. The entire running time the audience is looking forward to answers to continuous questions being asked. When we finally reach the climax of the film we receive no concrete explanation (which I can live with) but we are not really given anything to draw from either.

The Avengers

This was the moment every comic book or movie nerd has been waiting for since Sam Jackson showed up as Nick Fury after the credits of Iron Man four years ago. After four more films that filled out the roster and a complete universe of characters formed in the process it was all finally brought together in The Avengers; and the film was every bit the grand spectacle I needed it to be. Sure there were things dismissed and looked over that I was hoping would be included, but knowing that this is not the pinnacle of what Marvel is trying to do, but merely a starting point makes me all the more excited. The best part about The Avengers was the fact it understood its audience and its wants and needs. This comes across because director Joss Whedon never let himself forget who this was for and more importantly, what he would have wanted to see as a viewer. He is clearly a beloved fan of the source material and to be given the freedom to realize this project on screen was no doubt nothing short of pure joy mixed with a good amount of pressure. For this film, this introduction to all of these heroes as a team is one of not just fun, but pure entertainment. When people began making movies that were inspired by the imagination this is where they someday hoped we would be. This is that epitome of what the cinematic experience should be incarnate. It is fun, breathtaking, and completely bombastic in the best of ways. It builds to the final battle and it delivers what we have wanted from these characters in their own regards. This is not the meeting of two enemies, it is all out warfare between an army of outcasts and a race whos purpose is yet unknown. There is something extremely engaging about how this all came together and something magical about watching it all unfold. All we can wonder is where it might go from here and with no hesitation will I commit to follow these heroes.

Moonrise Kingdom

After a break from live action filmmaking director Wes Anderson returned this summer with a minor masterpiece in Moonrise Kingdom. I have always been a fan of Andersons through his first short with the Wilson brothers that turned into a feature length film I still pop in from time to time.  I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the film and at a mere 90-minute run time it is impressive that the film takes us on such a detailed quest that brisks by at a pace that doesn't also drag you down into the sorrow and pain some of the characters feel for good amounts of that time. Much of this relayed feeling to the audience can be accredited to the wonderful performances that populate the film. Whether it be Anderson newcomers Bruce Willis who diverges from his beaten path and fills a role in the director's world with such gusto or Ed Norton who completely embraces the nerdiness of his character that he ends up wearing it like a cool style. Murray is in classic form with only a limited number of scenes and McDormand is grand in her small but necessary role as Suzy's emotionally crippled mother. As for the two leads who embrace their first film roles with as sweet and innocent a nature as their characters love for another, it is lovely to experience. It is fresh, and real and elevates the film to what is not only one of the best films of the summer, but one of the best films of the year.

The Dark Knight Rises

There were of course going to be the naysayers and the haters and those who no matter what The Dark Knight Rises held would never find it to be as good as its predecessor. I don't know that I've ever been more excited to see a movie than I was this one, though. I would read, search out, and consume any piece of information I could find about it. Granted, the second film in Chris Nolan's Batman series is pretty much regarded as the best superhero film ever, and in many peoples minds a true masterpiece it was going to be difficult for Nolan and his team to top it. While the film was for the most part celebrated as a fine conclusion to the trilogy that Nolan created it was also picked apart with every aspect of the film being challenged and questioned. It will also be forever linked with the tragedy of Aurora and for that will leave a legacy that it was never intended for. In the end, when the credits finally rolled at that midnight show I was satisfied with what I'd seen. I was happy. It was everything it promised to be and in many ways much more. I was slightly worried after my first viewing because the first act felt disjointed but one cannot argue that by the end the film has brought you full circle in Bruce Wayne's tale and you have truly experienced the evolution of a man who spent his whole life searching for meaning. After three repeat viewings (and likely a few more to come before it totally ends its theatrical run before the December 7th Blu-ray release) I came to fully appreciate what was going on in every aspect of the film. This is not a short film we are talking about either. The Dark Knight Rises spans nearly three hours and features multiple characters and storylines that all end up complimenting each other as much as an ensemble of this magnitude could. Though The Dark Knight will likely be the film that stands the test of time, Rises is nothing short of an accomplishment that will, in due time, hopefully receive the respect it truly deserves.




In his longest break from the big screen since his career began Will Smith returned to doing what he does best this year. He came back to the summer blockbuster and though it wasn't as big a money maker as Mr. Smith usually stars in, it did well to bring some dignity back to a series that started out so well and went downhill so fast with its 2002 sequel. While ten years in between films isn't ideal and in many cases would create a feeling of no need in a good amount of moviegoers I won't lie when I say I was rather excited to see the Men in Black back on the big screen. I loved the first one, it was an introduction for me to the world of how imaginative a story could really be. It taught me that while things can always look "cool" it really does matter that the story matches that style step for step. In my review of Men in Black 3 back in May I stated, "the film has some real moments of meaning whether they be in the form of J realizing what shapes someone as a person or the value of life and the circumstances that lead to everything that occurs in life as pointed out by extra terrestrial Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg of A Serious Man in a stunning performance)." Stuhlbarg really left an impact on me as he does the film and it was truly an unexpected turn when such a silly franchise about aliens and secret government agencies turned briefly to an eye opener on how vast the universe really is. If there is one reason to see the film though it is the performance of Josh Brolin. He inherits the role with a sense of true responsibility and doesn't only imitate the vocal inflections of Jones, but is able to create a full fledged character who we realize we have never really known or understood. Men In Black 3 was likely overlooked by many when it came out around Memorial Day or was in fact dismissed simply because it had been too long to spark any interest in the franchise, but the film is much better than one might expect and is definitely worth a look when it hits DVD and Blu-ray on November 30th.