That was about the best summer of film I can remember. I can probably only remember the last two summers but I can state with certainty that this year was better than the last (yes, I'm still bitter about The Tree of Life).
Let's say the start of summer was Moonrise Kingdom the first week in June and the end was Lawless over Labor Day weekend. This improves my best summer argument because May offerings ranged from the sucky (The Avengers) to the unspeakable (Battleship). Just so you don't think I'm infallible in my seasonal moviegoing, I'll first address...
Savages. With this film I walk away from Oliver Stone. I've been able to accept him as a so-bad-it's-good trashmaster with Wall Street and U-Turn but after Wall Street 2 and Savages I'm done. If longtime WTT-favorite Shea Whigham as Bud Fox-cum-Kurtz slicing sashimi can't save your film, nothing can. Let's also have a moment of silence for Taylor Kitsch--with Savages, Battleship and John Carter, he has produced one of the most concise and spectacular leading man flameouts in history. But, of course, Texas Forever. It's impressively symmetrical the way Kitsch's 2012 is the opposite of Ryan Gosling's 2011.
Beasts of the Southern Wild. This film made me feel the way the Dolphins made Nathan Lane feel in The Birdcage. Trusted reviewers and friends told me to see this great movie; I saw a longish advertisement for distressed jeans and lives, valorizing alcoholism and stupidity in the face of natural disaster. I second Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's takedown.
The Bourne Legacy. I think there was an interesting premise for a film here: lonely super-chemist Rachel Weiss injects mind-altering drugs into mildly-retarded ex-soldier Jeremy Renner in her massive haunted house. The film we got is not nearly as intriguing and did not have an ending, only a credits sequence.
Prometheus. While I found Ridley Scott's Alien full of ideas and this film rather short on them, there was some joy in the look of Prometheus. Michael Fassbender's android predictably stole the show--my favorite sequence was his David puttering about the ship getting ready to wake everyone up. Beyond Fassbender's Lawrence of Arabia dye job, there's a Benjamin Buttoned Guy Pearce, the so-close-to-Tom-Hardy-you-can-taste-it Logan Marshall-Green and the smooth Idris Elba, who can captain my spacecraft any day.
Ted. A buddy comedy that overcomes a lot of obstacles. Mark Wahlberg is still a little bland as a leading man. Mila Kunis is a one-pitch pitcher: smoky-eyed hotness. Giovanni Ribisi has apparently decided to stalk Wahlberg through his films with twitches and odd facial hair. But then there's that hilarious talking bear! Too many lines to quote but my favorite has stayed with me all summer: "well, you're never alone when you're with Christ." And congratulations to Seth MacFarlane for getting to film his Fenway Park climax--it's just like Hitchcock getting Mount Rushmore for North by Northwest.
To Rome with Love. We find four versions of Woody here and I'll ignore the actual Woody, the Italian Woody (Roberto Benigni), and the young Italian Woody (Alessandro Tiberi) to focus on the most successful quarter of the film, with the young American Woody (Jesse Eisenberg). Jesse is tempted away from his girlfriend Greta Gerwig (possibly because she's always dressed like a watered-down Annie Hall) by freelance temptress Ellen Page. The juice of To Rome with Love is Alec Baldwin's masterful over-the-shoulder insights into Juno's bullshit, the young woman who knows one line by every famous poet. He exclaims, "and she's neurotic--it's like filling an inside straight." Eisenberg eventually comes around to Baldwin's pessimism and Allen the director ends our time with Alec in an affecting close up. The last view out to sea from those creased eyes (and everything they've seen) had stunning weight in a sketch of a film.
The Campaign. It's surprising that Will Ferrell and Zach Galifiniakis would star in a piece of documentary-style realism about the American political process but there it was. Say and do anything to win and serve the wishes of behind-the-scenes billionaires. Preferably while wearing pleated blue jeans and sporting ever-larger American flag lapel pins.
Celeste and Jesse Forever. I'll be straight with you: this film is never as funny as the "Snake Juice" episode of Parks & Rec. But we can't hold it to such a high standard--it's still a beautiful blue movie. Rashida Jones works in a blue office, wakes up on blue mornings, flies to blue weddings. Andy Samberg makes a surprisingly effective melancholic as well. There's a moment when he helps Rashida reimagine a recalcitrant Ikea chest as a chunky robot. It's great to have made art but Celeste and Jesse teach us that, at some point, we need to build the furniture too.
Lawless. Despite missing the full promise of The Wettest County in the World and the whole wait-where-did-Gary-Oldman-go? mystery, this was another step in the Tom Hardy breakout. Jessica Chastain was naked; Tom Hardy was sexy. An Oscar nom for costume design is in order for Margot Wilson for her crucial work in cardigan resurrection. If only John Hillcoat hadn't wasted so much time showing Mia Wasikowska leaving her co-star Shia ReBuffed...har har har.
Moonrise Kingdom. I've posted on how Wes Anderson makes me happy. And now I've moved on to hoping that Anderson settles into a great mid-career run, cranking out signature films like Powell & Pressburger or Douglas Sirk. I'm sure even his most vehement detractors will be won over by the presence of Angela Lansbury in his newest picture...
Oslo, August 31. I tumbled all over myself when it came out. It's thick with the details of mental illness. The laceless shoes of the patients at the facility from which you escape on a day pass. The voicemail boxes of people you call to see if they can make it better. The sister who's been hurt too badly to even eat lunch with you. The return to your empty childhood home (not unlike the one in Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours) where there's nothing left but the inevitable. Troubling, but worth the time for Anders Danielsen Lie, who would be in all kinds of Oscar contention if anyone had seen this film (maybe we'll get an American version with Ryan Gosling).
Magic Mike. Exiting the packed theater after whooping my way through Magic Mike, a couple of cool film dudes were discussing the "screwed up" shot where waves appear to pass through the protagonists on a Tampa sandbar. Because they knew much better than Steven Soderbergh how to make a movie. His relaxed lighting and breezy angles work much better here than in his previous film, Haywire. Cody Horn may not prove to be a great actress but she nails "look of
disapproval" and that carries her through most of the film. The finest sequence is her first visit to Matthew "Dallas" McConaughey's teak-tanned club, impermanent as the vinyl sign tacked to the stucco outside. We see her voyeuristic pacing from a distance, feeling the same trepidation we do about how simultaneously tasteless and fucking hot the whole "It's Raining Men" production is. Mike approaches after the show wanting to know if she liked it. She cannot admit what we can--we liked it, we liked him especially. She has to ask against his relentless enthusiasm, "are you calling me like a dog?" Mike is so wonderful that I look forward to the sequel C. Tates is said to be directing. It strikes me that many of us sitting in theaters this summer (without even the benefit of prefect pecs) were looking for an escape as much as Magic Mike was, saying to ourselves, "I'm not my lifestyle."