Summer Film Recap
By Andrew Lapin & Blake Goble
Daily Arts Staff

As the biggest movie-going season of the year, the summer typically gets flooded with more films than the average person can consume. This past summer was no exception. But now that the dust has settled, which movies were standouts? We’ve picked through the $4 billion-plus box office season and keyed in on the highs and lows.

Best Surprise: “Iron Man” (Paramount)
After surviving several summers full of Spider-Men, X-Men and Supermen, the last thing film audiences needed this year was another generic superhero movie. Luckily, director Jon Favreau and actor Robert Downey, Jr. reinvigorated the genre. A film full of well-paced action, slick dialogue and goofy humor, “Iron Man” just happens to feature a man in a giant metal super-suit. Paramount is almost certain to run this fresh take on the genre into the ground with countless sequels, so enjoy Tony Stark while the fun lasts.

Biggest Disappointment: “Hancock” (Columbia)
Here is an example of how not to do a superhero movie. The first half of “Hancock” is actually fairly strong, with its novel concept and the infallible charm of Will Smith. But then the horrible “twist” comes and sends this film off the rails. It leaves the audience to wonder, among other things, why the entire climax took place in a hospital hallway and what exactly the logic behind Charlize Theron’s character was. We expect better from “Friday Night Lights” director Peter Berg and Will Smith as well.

Most Unfairly Criticized: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (Paramount)
It’s been 19 years since the last film in the series, so maybe everyone just forgot what an “Indiana Jones” movie is supposed to look like. How else can one explain the initial audience backlash to this perfectly entertaining sequel? Sure, the formula is less fresh now, but Indy can still crack his whip, crawl through dark tunnels and fall down waterfalls like it’s 1981. Plus there are aliens, and aliens are always cool.

Least Worthy of Praise: “American Teen” (Paramount Vantage)
Hey kids, haven’t you always wanted to see a movie where real teenagers are free to express their individuality? Then, for God’s sake, avoid this Sundance darling, which takes five unique, charismatic high school students with big dreams from small-town Indiana and waters them down for the audience as the geek, the drama queen, the jock, the heartthrob and the rebel. The film is clearly edited to play favorites, meaning no one has a chance of breaking free of their stereotypes. Some have called this the new “Juno.” It isn’t.

Best Movie of the Summer: “WALL-E” (Disney)
Childlike but not condescending. Moralistic but not preachy. Cinematic but not artsy-fartsy. The only film that accomplished all of these things this summer was a cartoon about a trash-compacting robot. “WALL-E” stripped the principles of a great story down to their essentials, with a bare-bones plot and almost no dialogue, and still managed to be completely engrossing.

Worst Movie of the Summer: “The Happening” (Fox)
Poorly scripted, shoddily edited and embarrassingly acted — not much else to say here. M. Night Shyamalan, please stop making movies. Mark Wahlberg, you’re forgiven — just don’t pick up Shyamalan’s calls again.

Closest Case of Rehab Prediction: “The Wackness” (Sony Pictures Classics)
“The Wackness” gave off mixed signals. From Oscar-Winner Ben Kingsley’s turn as a baked-out shrink to the all-too-eager nostalgia for New York, 1994, this was an oddity. But the true amusement came in seeing former Nickelodeon tween star Josh Peck (“Drillbit Taylor”) embody pot-slinging shit-for-brains lead Luke Shapiro. Child actors turned problem cases? Shia LeBeouf made it seem newsworthy.

Best Little Movie No One Saw: “Man on Wire” (Discovery)
It’s at the Michigan Theater, and you’ve got a few days left. Get up, get out and see this gem of a documentary about one man’s trip from one of the twin towers, to another. Mind you, the trip was on a wire, from one rooftop to another. Sounds like a carnival act? Well, it’s much more than that. See how one man, in 1974, pulled off a highly illegal, mostly death-defying stunt that has since been referred to as the “artistic crime of the century.”

Biggest Pile of Flaming Benjamins: “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” (Universal)
We’ve said it before, and we’re saying it again. If you really want to see what $145 million set ablaze looks like, then look no further. Amidst the excess of summer, and its cheap, yet expensive thrills — and there were many (“Incredible Hulk,” “Speed Racer” “Sex and the City”) — no other film dared to be as big and dumb as this one. Think of all the tuition that budget could have covered…

Best Sequel: “Hamlet 2” (Focus)
It wasn’t as good as the first. But what sequels are? At least this one had acid, some male rear nudity, a time machine and musical number called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” Seriously.

Best Movie Ever?: “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.)
If enough people profess it to be so, will this dark and broody Batman eventually be considered the greatest two-and-a-half hours ever put to celluloid? Will Heath Ledger’s deeply disturbing last turn as the Joker become the best screen performance of this (and last) century? Will readers ever forgive the Daily for “only” rewarding this movie four-and-a-half stars? Perhaps the best way to make that call is to — wait for it — flip a coin.

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