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The Five Best & Worst Movies of the Summer

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | August 31, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | August 31, 2010 |

It was a great summer for movies … if you lived in New York, Los Angeles, or watched a lot of video on demand. With a few exceptions — Toy Story 3, Inception — there weren’t any movies that both scored huge at the box office and were considered remarkably good. There were some quality sleepers, particularly in the horror category (Piranha 3D, Splice and The Last Exorcism, to name a few) that surprised us, and there were a few unexceptional blockbusters that managed to be entertaining enough for summer fare, like The A-Team, Salt, and Iron Man 2. There were also some big budget clunkers that didn’t score with either critics or audiences, like Prince of Persia, Marmaduke, and Sex and the City 2. It also seemed like, more than most years, that there were a lot of movies that saturated the public consciousness and then dissipated from our collective memories faster than in the past, like Grown Ups, Knight & Day, Predators, Robin Hood, Get Him to the Greek and Dinner with Schmucks: One weekend they were there, and the next they were forgotten about.

As far as box office goes, it was three sequels that led the way: Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2 and Twilight: Eclipse. But beyond those three huge winners, sequel fatigue set in around mid-summer, once Inception (the fourth biggest movie of the summer) was released. The surprise hit of the summer? Probably The Karate Kid, which quietly amassed $175 million. The biggest box-office bust? Probably Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which has only amassed $26 million so far. Oh, and thanks to worldwide grosses, films that didn’t score well in the United States like Knight & Day ($220 million worldwide) and Prince of Persia ($330 million worldwide) actually turned hefty profits while we weren’t looking.

But when you’re looking for a movie to watch on Netflix this fall, box office shouldn’t matter. Quality should. These were the five best and worst of the Summer of 2010 according to Pajiba reviews.

The 5 Best Reviewed Films of the Summer

Restrepo & The Tillman Story: I watched Restrepo and thought, “these soldiers are just stupid kids — Xbox-playing assholes who look through a viewfinder and double-tap ‘ragheads’ because they couldn’t pass a college entrance exam and this was better than working at Pep Boys.” But I will never forget that they are the only ones willing to stand on the front lines and take bullets to protect what this country means to them, and that will always earn my respect. More now than ever, I wish the war was over. Because I have seen what it does to the people who fight it. It’s easy to talk about war as an abstract concept, but when you see bullets flying, when you hear the explosions, when you watch these boys try to put words to the warfare, it’s an unbelievable experience. — Brian Prisco

In the era of 24-hour news and pundit privateering, The Tillman Story offers up a wonderful yanking of the curtain to expose the machinery behind the spin. The U.S. government and the U.S. military sought to use the corpse of Pat Tillman as a soapbox to tout honor and sacrifice, figuring that the family would stand meekly by, dabbing eyes with tissues and waving tiny American flags. Little did they realize, they were fucking with the wrong family. Dannie and Pat, Sr., Tillman’s parents, would undergo what was tantamount to a fierce crusade to find out the truth behind the death of their eldest son. They would be lied to — repeatedly — by the soldiers who fought beside him that night in April of 2004, by the military he made a promise to fight for, and by the government he swore to protect. But they doggedly pursued their case. The government dropped over 3000 pages of partially redacted reports on them, which Dannie pored over and managed to un-redact through patience and research. They took the fight as far as it could go through the ranks of the military until they were able to get a hearing before Congress. Dannie Tillman explained to the congressmen, “Throughout this ordeal, we’ve been asked what would appease us. We’ll never get Pat back. We just want the truth.” And to this day, they still haven’t gotten satisfactory answers. — Brian Prisco

Cropsey: The documentary does an amazing job of investigating the case, following the search for five more missing children, all showing some form of mental disability, going back as far as the 1970s. Rand stands in for the boogeyman; though he professes his innocence, he becomes the monster that will get children. In 2002, prosecutors believe they have enough evidence to pin yet another of the missing children on Rand, and so the film follows the trial. It becomes about a community seeking closure by lynching a local miscreant. Allegations of occult activity, cannibalism, and tribes of homeless cults running around the tunnels beneath Staten Island all come bubbling to the surface. The Friends of Jennifer has never stopped searching for hints that bodies are buried, the mother leading the way hugging her two disabled children before she goes off with a shovel some twenty years later. The paranoia of the community and the desperation to find closure is breathtaking. — Brian Prisco

The Kids Are All Right: The joy of The Kids Are All Right is that it bucks convention in the most unexpected ways. For example, director Lisa Cholodenko (who co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg) absolutely refuses to let her movie about love and humor become a formulaic romantic comedy. Characters in lower-grade fare have emotion thrust upon them and act out only because the script says they should, e.g., when a vapid teen pines for her pale and possibly sparkly boyfriend only to randomly reject his advances. But the relationship at the center of Kids is packed with honest, warm moments of real humanity in which one partner reaches out to the other, not in fear or anger or mere lust but because they honestly want to. There’s a sense not just of togetherness but absolute necessity, and it comes from the dialogue and direction and wonderful performances by the two leads, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Which is where the film’s other strength makes itself known: Bening and Moore play a married lesbian couple with two teenage kids conceived through a sperm donor, and the circumstances of their life are treated as blessedly normal. Their gayness isn’t a shouting distraction, nor is it played down for some attempt at universality that critics hung like a ghostly weight around Brokeback Mountain. This is simply the way things are, and it’s refreshing for a gay relationship to be treated with the honesty and normalcy of a straight one in film. Cholodenko’s film isn’t without some fits and starts, but when she winds her way back to the couple at its core, she always manages to create something wonderful. — Daniel Carlson

Inception: It’s this nebulous area between self-deception and idealization that writer-director Christopher Nolan so dazzlingly explores in Inception, a film that’s classifiable as thriller, action, science-fiction, and romance, but is all of these in tilted and inventive ways and so much more than the sum of those uncertain parts. The nature of choice and identity has been central to Nolan’s filmography all along, from the tricky doubling of Following to the shifting realities of Memento, from the cops who construct their own stories in Insomnia to the dueling illusionists of The Prestige. Is it any wonder he was able to do so many amazing things with the Batman franchise, turning a cartoon about a pissed-off WASP in foam rubber into something grand and terrible and obsessed with the effects of our causes? His latest film returns to the daring and challenging heights of his early work, as he he wrestles once more with the demons that haunt us and the lengths to which we go to forget them. … Inception is all about the unknown unknowns, those damning blind spots that allow us to live without knowing we’re dying. Nolan has constructed an elaborate maze, a puzzle for his characters and viewers to run through over and over in a search for truth and redemption. The film is a thing of cold and sweeping beauty, wonderfully rendered and constantly engaging. Like all good dreams, it’s over too quickly. — Daniel Carlson

Animal Kingdom: Patience is a virtue, so if you can’t appreciate taut drama that spools out sparingly, enjoy Transformers 3: Electric Black Stereotypaloos. If you’re willing to savor your cinema, the carefully-constructed plot ponderously offers up some seemingly innocuous moments of pure cellulite cruelty fraught with tension. It’s not the kind of film that repeatedly goes off like a string of Chinese firecrackers every 10 seconds, but rather offers up astonishingly crisp subtext that will have you chomping through your knuckles…. To call Michod’s film a gangster flick or a crime drama takes away the potency of the family. To call it a coming-of-age story limits the rest of the family contributions. Animal Kingdom is packed with so much dense subtext and material, it’s almost overwhelming. The sheer weight of the film causes it to drag in parts, but this density is what sets off dynamite in the story. There are so many phenomenal scenes where we watch characters eat breakfast or sit on a couch watching television where every word is loaded like an elephant gun. But Animal Kingdom isn’t a sudden onslaught, but rather a slow, steady bleeding where everyone is doomed. — Brian Prisco

The Worst Reviewed Films of the Summer

The Movie that Shall Not Be Named: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Jonah Hex: Yippie-kai-lame, motherfucker. I’m not sure what the fuck Jonah Hex was supposed to be. Rather than a tight-fisted western popcorn flick about a vigilante bounty hunter trying to track down the outlaw who murdered his family and scarred his face, we’re left with a cowboyed-up mash-up of pseudo-westerns, as gazed through a heady dose of peyote. Not a single frame doesn’t feel derived from something else, whether it’s Wild Wild West, Sherlock Holmes, Back to the Future III, or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The titular character growls and snarls his way through a rammy, stilted Ramboner, gunning through the flimsiest sketches of characters until the film abruptly skids to a whinnying cliff-edged halt. At a paltry 81-minute run time, you don’t have time to enjoy yourself. It’s like the studio gave up halfway through, which was about a half-hour past when the cast stopped caring. It’s a terrible cowpat minefield of a film, but what do you really expect when you get a flick scribbled haphazardly by the verbal equivalent of 5-hour Energy Drink, Neveldine and Taylor. The script reads like someone tried to make a movie out of the lyrics to Kid Rock and Big & Rich songs. If this were a horse, you’d shoot it. — Brian Prisco

The Last Airbender: There was no need for this to be in 3D, as it lacks even a second dimension. If you were a fan of the cartoons, you’re going to be mortified. If you’re coming into this raw, you’re just going to be fucking bored and possibly confused, even though they practically repeat word for word every event as they are about to perform it. Instead of the lighthearted and energetic anime style romp we got for several years on Nickelodeon, Shyamalan delivers a listless, miserable, and dreary film that skims across everything wonderful in the source material like someone skipping stones over a sewage tank. But what do you really expect from a dude whose second to last film was about himself writing a children’s story in order to save the world? — Brian Prisco

Eat, Pray, Love: The people who will go to this movie, who read the book, they’re probably trying to find some answers. I get that. A lot of us are looking for answers. Some of us look at the bottom of whiskey bottle; some of us look to a higher power; and apparently, some of us look to selfish, well-educated narcissists, who don’t provide you with any answers as much as they try to convince you that they have the answers. They don’t. But let me tell you where you’re not going to find those answers: In a Hollywood movie directed by the asshole who created “Glee.” Sure, he can splice together a sexual-identity crisis with a soaring rendition of a Streisand showtune better than anyone, but he wouldn’t know sincerity if it were fucking him in the leg. He’s not a feature director; if there was at some point something genuine in Gilbert’s memoir, it doesn’t exist here on the screen. Putting aside the movie’s themes, how does it hold up as entertainment? It stinks. It’s a travelogue hosted by a solipsist. It’s like being forced to look at someone else’s vacation photos for two-and-a-half insufferable hours while they narrate their empty little epiphanies. “This is the pizza place where I discovered that life is not about pleasing other people; it’s about pleasing myself.” Fuck you, and your Buddhist Ayn Rand bullshit philosophy. — Dustin Rowles

Twilight Saga: Eclipse: Congratulations, Twilight: Eclipse. You didn’t manage to suck as much as the first two entries into the franchise. Of course, that’s like wereboning a geriatric with dementia during a rare moment of lucidity. Sure, he remembers your name, but he’s still a wheezy, barely erect sag-ass bag of flesh and bones with old-man balls. But that’s not stopping over half of the critical community from tea-bagging the old fuck. Why? Because the standard set by the first two movies is so low that we’re supposed to feel blessed because the dude put in his dentures, metaphorically speaking, never mind that the teeth marks he left on your back are covered in Polident. But the real terror of Eclipse is in the script of Melissa Rosenberg, who managed to take the unintelligible and horny scribblings of a housewife intoxicated by the fumes of the Hershey swits in her husband’s Mormon undergarments and make them more lifeless and even less coherent. I’ve seen more inspired marriage proposals on a baseball scoreboard in between innings. There’s better writing on the pee-stained walls of a bathroom stall in a Pennsyltucky honky tonk. And to demonstrate to what lengths the story goes to breathe new life into a love triangle that’s already been straight-lined, at one point in Eclipse, a shirtless Jacob is left with no choice but to spoon Bella overnight in full view of her fiancé because Edward’s body heat is not enough to keep Bella warm, a situation that could’ve otherwise been remedied by another goddamn layer of clothing (or perhaps, Jacob could’ve loaned Bella that shirt he so obviously never intends to wear). — Dustin Rowles