And summer’s over. Not technically, of course, but the kids are going back to school and the studios are getting ready to dump real crap on us this weekend. If you live in a part of the country where this sort of thing happens, the leaves are about to change colors and start falling off trees. Summer 2009 is a wrap.

I think that this summer is going to be remembered for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, one of the worst major theatrical releases I have ever seen. It is, without a doubt, the worst film to ever earn the kind of money it has earned. And I think it’s unfair to judge this summer on that piece of crap. Summer 2009 has had some really good films, a couple of which I guarantee you end up on my Best of 2009 list. Hell, I feel like my number one on this list is a strong, strong contender for number one of the year.

What I really loved about summer 2009 is that wasn’t just big blockbusters. There were a number of smaller movies that not only shone artistically but did okay at the box office. This summer feels, to me, like a repudiation of all the people who like to go to the movies to turn off their minds and be morons. Sure, Transformers proves there’s more of them than there are of us, but it’s all about quality, not quantity. And we got some quality this year.


10) Funny People

Judd Apatow surprised a lot of folks with Funny People… and disappointed even more. I wasn’t one of those disappointed. While there’s no denying that this film continues Apatow’s penchant for indulgent lengths, and while the second half of the movie does in fact feel like a different film at times, I don’t think either of these complaints are marks against the film. I like the running times of Apatow’s films; very much hang out movies these films are about building characters, not serving a plot. And Funny People is very much not a movie that adheres to a standard three act structure; it’s interested in wandering about and exploring its issues and themes.

Those issues and themes are the most mature of Apatow’s career, and the darkest. An incorrigible optimist, Apatow can’t help but put a hopeful button his movie, but the other two and a half hours are spent unblinkingly looking at some of the most selfish, cynical and hurtful ways adults can behave.

This isn’t Apatow’s best film. It’s also not a perfect film – it’s got problems. But it’s a heartfelt movie from a filmmaker who is pushing himself to do new things and expand his repertoire. And the fact that it’s just as blazingly funny as Apatow’s last two films certainly doesn’t hurt either.

9) Star Trek
Read my original review

I’ve had a lot to say about Star Trek. I was skeptical at first. I was nitpicky afterwards. But the truth is that Star Trek, against all odds, really works. And it works for everybody, not just for handsomely aging men of refined science fiction taste like myself.

What makes Star Trek work, despite everything else it has going against it (like, say, not having a villain worth a damn) is the tone and the chemistry of the cast. It’s what makes the film work on multiple viewings. Thanks to transAtlantic flights, I’ve seen the film four times now, and each viewing acts like a repeat of the original show – it brings you in closer to the characters and the life on the bridge. When the cast was originally announced I snarked that it looked like the cast of a new pilot for Star Trek, not an expensive feature film. Now I use that as a compliment – this is a cast I would like to visit with every single week.

This film could have ranked higher if the script were tighter and Nero was credible on any level; let’s hope that Star Trek 2, which should be free of a strike deadline, is better on those levels and makes it into my Summer 2011 Top 5.

8) Moon
Read my original review

This isn’t really a summer movie for me; I saw Moon at Sundance in January, and the snowy mountains of Park City are the perfect place to experience the chilly scifi of Duncan Jones. But whatever the atmosphere outside the theater, Moon plays to the same atmosphere in theater after theater across the country: people love this movie. And with good cause, as it’s a smart, fascinating science fiction film that manages to be compelling without ever falling into action movie mode.

The saddest thing about this little film is that it has one of the year’s best performances – Sam Rockwell as Sam, a guy finishing out his solitary three year contract at a lunar base – which will not be recognized at the end of the year by the Academy. Maybe if Moon had busted past all expectations and become a box office smash (it’s done fairly well in the US, making back its production budget in theaters. This movie will have a great life on home video), but as an indie scifi movie, it will get past the mottled old noses of the Oscar voters. Truly a tragedy.

7) Drag Me To Hell
Read my original review

Where were you when Sam Raimi needed you the most? Where were you when horror needed you the most? Where were you when you needed you the most?

If you were among the majority of folks who didn’t go see Drag Me To Hell in theaters, you did yourself a major disservice. A loud, fun, scary, crazy return to form for splatstick guru Raimi, this film plays so well in theaters – people laugh, scream and jump. You’ll love it at home, but it just won’t be the same experience.

This summer was a strange one for me in that I saw a number of movies multiple times, something I never do. Drag Me To Hell was the first film this year to which I returned, and I wold have gone a third time if it hadn’t left theaters so fast. Raucous and hilarious and pointed and filled with great visual gags, this film is Raimi at his finest. He told me that he doesn’t really see himself as an artist but as a tailor, a guy who makes the movie to fit the audience’s specifications. Besides the fact that I think he’s just wrong, Drag Me To Hell proves that making a perfect audience movie is a work of art in and of itself.

6) Away We Go

Sam Mendes doesn’t do much for me. His films have not been my favorites, and I expected Away We Go to be a hipster American Beauty; it’s why I didn’t go out of my way to catch any of the press screenings. But I eventually dutifully paid my 14 bucks to catch the film at the Arclight and I was forcibly reminded of two things:

1) Never fully prejudge a movie. You’re often wrong

and

2) Never underestimate Dave Eggers.

While I think Eggers can in fact do some wrong, he and his wife Vendela Vida don’t do any in their screenplay here. And while I think John Krasinski can be smarmy, he isn’t here. The occasionally grating Maya Rudolph doesn’t grate. And Sam Mendes barely directs like Sam Mendes, instead going for a wonderfully understated, semi-naturalistic tone and look.

The movie itself is touching and sweet and thoughtful; I’ve heard some people refer to it as condescending, but I honestly don’t get that. It’s a movie about people looking for their place in the world, figuring out what kind of adults they want to be, and it’s refreshing to watch a film about people who want that instead of running away from it. And it’s refreshing to see smart, funny people who are just trying to build a good life for themselves and their impending child.

Away We Go is one of those movies that reminds you why you love movies – not just because you can see things or go places you would never otherwise see or go, but because you can see reality and honesty reflected back to you with art and beauty.