Labor Day weekend is upon us and thus the summer movie season officially comes to a close not with a bang, but with a One Direction concert movie. Not being one to judge entities solely by their endings, here I will discuss the summer of 2013 and the wide array of films that came along with it. So, what films and actors won the summer? Below I’ve declared my personal winners, from those who delivered unbelievable performances to those films that fulfilled this summer’s fun quota in insanely entertaining style.
It’s become a rarity in Hollywood nowadays for many Oscar-contenders to be born out of the Summer movie season, but every now and then one squeaks through nonetheless. Cate Blanchett’s latest performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is one of such incredible depth and strength that I find it hard to imagine there will be a lead female performance able to match it for the rest of the year. She makes Jasmine the kind of sociopathic socialite that is not only hard to like but hard to completely understand, which is what makes her such a compelling protagonist. Blanchett gives Jasmine a heart, just one that continually reveals her truly selfish intentions. She wants to live the life of a well-off New Yorker but is forced to muddle along with her sister in San Francisco amongst her greasy, working-class sexual conquests. This drives Jasmine crazy, crazy enough to keep her talking to herself and alienating all the people who actually want to care for her. Blanchett has long been admired as one of her generation’s greatest actresses, and this performance may just be the one to top them all.
We move from a seasoned, long critically-acclaimed actress to one who is just coming into her own. I’ve been a fan of Brie Larson’s for quite some time yet it was not until this summer that she finally earned the wide-spread acclaim she has so richly deserved. From a supporting role in the fantastic The Spectacular Now to her lead role in the heartbreaking Short Term 12, Larson has gone out of her way to prove she’s one of the most talented young actresses in the business. With her performance as Grace in Short Term 12, she not only has given audiences her most heartfelt acting performance to date, I’d argue it’s one of the best I’ve seen all year. Grace is the supervisor at a foster care facility for deeply-troubled youth and it just so happens that, as is revealed over the course of the film, she is one amongst the troubled. Although much is being made about the fact that actresses are still not getting the lead roles in summer blockbusters that they so richly deserve, I’d argue that it’s performances like this that make the argument null and void. As Blanchett and Larson have both proven this summer, just because you’re not reaching wide audiences doesn’t mean you’re not doing work that’s even better.
In a movie landscape that is still very much driven by the studio blockbuster, film enthusiasts tend to always bemoan that lack of actual good films out there for consumption. I would argue that they’re simply not looking in the right place. This summer has proven to be one of the best in recent memory for independent cinema as a whole. Not only have films like Blue Jasmine and Short Term 12 jumped on to the film scene to great critical acclaim, other films like The Way Way Back, The Spectacular Now, and Before Midnight have attracted premiere Hollywood actors to their independent ranks. So cinephiles, the next time you bemoan the lack of great films out there, maybe you’d be best served to forgo the massive cineplex in favor of a local art-house theater that may just be playing one of the best films of the year.
Sequels That Are Actually Good
Now before I come across as too much of a pretentious asshole (which I am for the record), I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the summer blockbusters that made money in droves. Despite my passion for independent cinema, I also enjoying going to see the latest summer blockbuster as much as anyone. Of the vast array of sequels released this summer, Iron Man Three and Star Trek Into Darkness were two that I enjoyed greatly. They both came from filmmakers whose visions were not overthrown by the studios they worked with, and thus we were provided with highly entertaining popcorn fare with a little intelligence to boot. Sure, the studios aren’t re-inventing the wheel and the lack of originality in big summer entertainment is certainly disconcerting, but I for one am still finding plenty to be entertained by. They may not be among my favorite films of the year but hey, I was entertained and that is after all, what the summer movie season is really about.
The Horror Film
One of the big takeaways from this summer movie season is without question the reemergence of the horror film as populist summer entertainment. One of the big hits of the summer, The Conjuring, was not just a fantastic horror film that thrilled hardcore fans, it also made a boat-load of cash. You’re Next, another horror film, just hit theaters last week and although it didn’t even come close to matching The Conjuring at the box office, it was a critically-acclaimed film that proved there is still plenty of mileage left in big-screen blood-soaked terror. I for one am hoping this provides studios with enough confidence to not be wary of placing horror films alongside the blockbusters of summers to come, as they provide perfect counter-programming for those looking for something not filled with a million explosions.
Edgar Wright’s The World’s End
Easily the best movie of the summer as far as I’m concerned, Edgar Wright’s The World’s End not only provides the excitement and thrills of many a summer blockbuster, but it fulfills the much-needed intelligence quota. It’s a film that gleefully tells the story of five friends who reunite twenty years later to complete a pub crawl in their hometown, only to stumble upon the fact that their former neighbors have been invaded by robot-aliens…or something. In their previous two collaborations, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost proved their ability to combine their offbeat brand of comedy with big-screen action thrills and The World’s End provides more of the same, along with a darker edge. It’s not just entertaining, it’s poignant in its ability to reflect on past mistakes and show a man whose inability to grow up and move on from his youth may just be costing him his own happiness. If your idea of a good summer movie includes drunken men fighting aliens, make yours The World’s End. I can assure you that you most certainly will not regret it. Now, to paraphrase the great Nick Frost in the film, “Fuck off back to Legoland!”