Summer Movie Awards 2011

The Most Ambitious: The Tree of Life The goal of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is no less than to funnel the creation of the universe through a child.  That that child and his family closely resembles the director’s own makes this his most personal film to date as well.  With some of the most stunning cinematography you’ll ever see in a movie, Malick captures something elemental in this movie.  You may not have liked it, but you’ll never forget it.

The Most Laughs: Bridesmaids With one of the best comedic ensembles in recent memory, writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumalo paired up with director Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow to create this hilarious, raunchy comedy about the bond among women.  Bridesmaids proves that an ensemble of females can spit vomit and shit just as well as men, which is something Hollywood needed to be force-fed.

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REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (screenplay), Pierre Boulle (book)
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow

Rarely does anything even hinting at the label “philosophical” come close to being produced by a Hollywood studio, especially in the summer.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes is such a movie, though.  More than half of it is spent meditating on the birth of free will and the nature of violence.

This reboot is actually smart, and it’s propelled by a volcanic lead performance.  I’m not talking about James Franco.  He plays a fairly typical scientist motivated to cure a disease for personal reasons (his dad has Alzheimer’s).  I’m referring to Andy Serkis, who breathes so much life into the role of the ape Caesar that it comes close to touching what he did in the Lord of the Rings films.  He shows the true artistry of motion-capture acting.

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REVIEW: Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, & Hawk Ostby (screenplay), Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (comic)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, and Sam Rockwell

You can almost see the studio meeting that birthed this movie.  I’m sure it went something likes this:

“What’s the title?”

Cowboys & Aliens.”

“We’ll sell the title, then.  It’ll be like Snakes on a Plane!  Who’s directing?”

“We’d like to get the guy from Iron Man on board.  Also, we want Harrison Ford to star.”

“Great, looks like you’ve thought of everything!  Here’s $100 million.”

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REVIEW: Friends With Benefits

Friends With Benefits
Directed by: Will Gluck
Written by: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, & Will Gluck (screenplay)
Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, and Woody Harrelson

It’s always a good thing when a modern romance reminds you of the classics, when men and women bounced snappy dialogue off each other as if they were both real people.  Most romances made today are lop-sided, usually skewering one gender role in the hopes of appealing to the other.  Friends With Benefits is straightforward in its intentions much like its two leads are with each other.  It is seeking to debunk and even satirize the myth of true love presented in the movies, and it is very successful at that until it reluctantly caves in to those same cliches.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are the perfect match for the verbal ping pong in the script and off-kilter enough to make the movie’s intentions palpable.  They are naturally funny and have exceptional chemistry, so they and the rest of the excellent cast shine even brighter in a funny screenplay.  It also helps that the director and co-writer Will Gluck knows that creating a sense of atmosphere in New York City is more important than any shot of the Empire State Building.

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REVIEW: Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (comic books)
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, and Tommy Lee Jones

If you’re sick of super hero or war movies, it might be wise to avoid the inevitable screen adaptation of Captain America.  Slated as the last prequel before next year’s The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger takes place the furthest back in time: during World War II.

What’s most curious about The Avenger prequels- Iron Man & Iron Man II, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, this movie-  is how different they are stylistically.  That’s because they were all headed by different directors with different talents.  Thor was at its best when it showed the “fish out of water” aspect of its viking, while the Iron Man movies worked best as vehicles for Robert Downey Jr.’s motormouth delivery.

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REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, and Corey Stoll

Finally, the first movie of the summer that deserves the label “art.”  Woody Allen continues his stroll through Europe with this weird, touching, and hilarious trip through the streets of Paris.  Midnight in Paris was the opener of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, mostly because it’s everything the French love: funny, beautiful, and set in France.

Allen’s career has been an almost definitive representation of the “on-again, off-again” method of filmmaking.  He cranks out movies like nobody’s business, and many of them are masterpieces.  Some of them, especially recently, have been almost universal flops.  He is at his best when he takes the usual characters- neurotic artist, muse, pretentious academic- and puts them in something that isn’t about them.

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REVIEW: X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, & Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kevin Bacon

Following up his post-modern polarizer Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn has decided to make an actual superhero movie.  Not only that, but he also decides to make an origin story.  It’s hard not to doubt his sincerity, because he had such gleeful fun deconstructing the genre in his blood-splattered last feature.

X-Men: First Class is nowhere near as bleak and melancholy as the original two films directed by Bryan Singer.  It takes place in the 60s at the height of the Cold War, with its groovy suits and groovier language.  James McAvoy seems to be the only one equipped with that vocabulary, though.  Waltzing onto the university scene as a physics  professor who also takes shots in the bar with his students, this isn’t the dry, wheelchair-confined Professor Xavier that you’re used to.

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