Late August has its traditions: saying goodbye to baseball, shaved ice and sunscreen and saying hello to Bronco gear, sweaters and school backpacks. For moviegoers, August is all about transition.
Most of the summer blockbusters have come and gone, and September clears the deck for what is traditionally Hollywood's serious season. Most Oscar-worthy films are neatly packed into the calendar's fourth quarter. But before we put away the summer of 2011, let's examine a not-so-great and not-so-terrible season at the movies.
The past is always present: Some of the most critically and commercially successful efforts this summer took us back in time. It was a surprise to learn that World War II was won single-handedly by Captain America. What a shock to discover that the Cuban Missile Crisis was averted by none other than the X Men. And it turns out that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin kept a pretty big secret when they encountered Transformers while moonwalking in 1969.
The most fun I had at the movies this summer was watching old-school Super 8, still my favorite film of the year thus far. And Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris turned out to be his most successful film in decades by having his hero--thank goodness it wasn't him this time--step through a time portal, waltzing through the City of Lights with Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein. It was a total delight from a filmmaker whom I had given up on years ago.
Pixar isn't perfect: Cars wasn't all that interesting, so it wasn't surprising that no one was clamoring to see Cars 2. In the worst-reviewed and lowest-grossing Pixar flick in decades, this clunker was instantly forgettable. What a lemon.
A first-rate disappearing act: Harry Potter said goodbye with class in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The production values in the final installment of this modern classic were only surpassed by fine acting from these kids who grew up before our eyes.
Raunch is still king (and sometimes queen): R-rated comedies reigned supreme with The Hangover Part II, Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses making us cringe and laugh at the same time. But Bridesmaids was the best of the bunch. It was a hoot and a sequel can't come soon enough.
Not-so-super: Captain America wasn't half-bad. X Men: First Class was pretty entertaining if you could ignore January Jones' acting. The other guys in capes were pretty lame--Green Lantern and Thor were laughably bad. And memo to Ryan Reynolds: take a break and stop making so many movies.
Kid friendly? Really?: Kung Fu Panda 2, Judy Moody, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Monte Carlo, The Smurfs, Glee Live. Ugh.
In no particular order, I thought the best films of the summer of 2011 were Buck, Harry Potter, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Super 8, The Tree of Life and X Men: First Class.
I thought the worst were those that came nowhere near expectations: Cowboys and Aliens, Friends With Benefits, Larry Crowne, Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers.
Overall grade for Summer 2011: C plus