The common wisdom is that when it gets hot outside it gets stupid inside the movie theater. And Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a film with less brain activity than Billy Mays, certainly supports that concept. But the big, loud, dumb movies aren’t your only options. There are other films in theaters that are smart, that are wonderful and that deserve to be seen by you this weekend. Some of these films are harder to find, but the effort will be rewarded when you walk out of the theater feeling nourished as a thinking person.
Away We Go
An almost improbably perfect little movie, Away We Go is a film that manages to be funny, sweet, sad, touching and honest without ever being cloying or forced. While Sam Mendes has more than earned your skepticism with Oscar bait like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, here he takes an awards-worthy script from novelist Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, two pitch-perfect leading performances by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph and a good half dozen strong supporting performances and creates a film that speaks truthfully. A movie about adult relationships that feels real and not filled with forced conflict? And in the summer? Well that’s honestly marvelous, and so is the film.
Click here to find out where Away We Go is playing.
The Brothers Bloom
Rian Johnson’s follow-up to Brick is a brightly comic con man movie that’s more interested in the con men than in the mechanics of their cons. Just because Johnson isn’t going for the lingo-thick patois of Brick doesn’t mean his script doesn’t sing, and in the hands of actors like Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz and Adrien Brody his sometimes whimsical (but not quirky. Leave that word behind already) world comes sharply to life. The Brothers Bloom is as much about storytelling as it is about anything else, and any true movie lover owes it to themselves to take part in the dialogue that Johnson is starting. Of course they also owe it to themselves to see really unique, fun movies, and The Brothers Bloom is definitely one of those.
Click here to find out where The Brothers Bloom is playing.
The Hurt Locker
You don’t have to go to the big dumb movies to get intense, nail-biting action. In fact, The Hurt Locker is without a doubt a better action film than any of the big action films released this year. And last year as well. And not that I think this should make a difference, but it’s directed by a woman, Katheryn Bigelow, who is returning to cinemas after some time wandering in the wilderness of television. If I were to tell you that The Hurt Locker was an amazing Iraq War picture you might tune out – audiences seem to be against Iraq War movies, no matter how good they are – so just treat this as a completely ass-kicking modern war film. The Hurt Locker is in equal parts moving, exciting and terrifying, a real summer roller coaster ride for people unwilling to check their brain at the door.
Click here to find out where The Hurt Locker is playing.
When did science fiction become the stupidest genre? When did a science fiction movie mean lasers and explosions and chase scenes instead of social commentary and futurism and deep, fundamental human questions cloaked in a story of the fantastical? Duncan Jones remembers what science fiction used to mean before it was hijacked by video game tie-ins and toy adaptations, and his masterful near-future film Moon, which finds Sam Rockwell the lone employee on a lunar mining colony, is a dazzling return to smart scifi. And at its heart is one of the year’s best performances, as Rockwell shares almost no scenes with anyone else… except himself. There’s a renaissance in indie scifi today, and Moon might be the best example of it.
Click here to find out where Moon is playing.
This one isn’t for everybody, to be honest. That said, the latest Woody Allen film feels sort of like it escaped from his 70s oeuvre. Filled with New York neuroses and zingy one-liners, Whatever Works is a transmission from whatever alien planet Woody has been living on for the last thirty years, but contains just enough human truth to be identifiable. And at its heart is Larry David, probably the best and most authentic Woody stand-in ever (although Woody apparently actually wrote the role for Zero Mostel). If Away We Go is the Smart Summer’s road movie and if The Brothers Bloom the con man movie and if The Hurt Locker the action movie and Moon the scifi movie, Whatever Works might just be the fantasy movie for thinking people this year. That said, I’m always happy to visit Woody’s alternate universe, especially when there’s so much funny going on.
Click here to find out where Whatever Works is playing.
While the other films on this list would qualify as indie movies, Up is a sheer blockbuster. But why would I leave 2009’s best movie off just because it cost a bunch of money and made a bunch more? Pixar’s best film is also a reminder that a mainstream blockbuster doesn’t have to be stupid, crass, or gimmicky to be great and successful. Heartwarming and thrilling, Up is going to be looked back on as one of the high water marks of the cinema of the first decade of the 21st century. And if none of the other movies on this list are playing near you (in which case – move), I know that Up is, so you have no excuse for seeing a big, loud, dumb movie this weekend when a big, exciting, smart one is in a theater near you. And like all smart movies, Up only gains on repeat viewings.
Up is playing pretty much everywhere!
These are just six films that are playing now. The weeks ahead have more goodies in store for people who love movies but don’t love being brainless. Paper Heart, Humpday, (500) Days of Summer, The Cove, Soul Power, and even blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince prove that the summer doesn’t have to be thoughtless, shallow or dumb.