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The 7 Best Films of the Summer

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | September 5, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | September 5, 2011 |

7. Friends with Benefits: I know, I know. If you haven’t seen the film, you think I’m an idiot. You’ve dismissed the rest of this list. Everything I say from here on out is null and void. Blah. Blah. Blah. But if you have seen the movie, and you’ve also see the lion’s share of the rest of this summer’s flicks, you’ll probably readily agree. Friends with Benefits is what most of us want in a comedy. It’s funny; it’s clever; the banter is fast-paced, R-rated, and witty; it’s rife with pop culture allusions that never feel forced; there are great cameos (Emma Stone, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones); it has fantastic supporting characters (Woody Harrelson as a gay sports editor, Patricia Clarkson as a variation of her Easy A character, and the always brilliant Richard Jenkins); it has a great soundtrack full of both the new and nostalgic; and it has several actual authentic emotional moments, a rarity for romantic comedies these days. It even contains copious amounts sex between the sixth most bangable celebrity of the year and a talented musician turned comedy actor who — at this point — is basically irresistible. If Justin Timberlake hasn’t won you over yet, then you’re just being stubbornly contrarian. Kunis, moreover, is everything you loved about her in Forgetting Sarah Marshall times three and minus a shirt. — Dustin Rowles


6. X-Men: First Class: There’s a smolderingly good film about adults seeking revenge for personal atrocities, weighing what it means to be a mutant, how that level of evolution fits into greater society and the ramifications of forced immersion into that world. That film is anchored by grown-ups, talented actors like Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, and Kevin Bacon, who know how to bring the cultural metaphors underlying a comic-book story to the surface, and who can add a layer of sophistication and complexity to a tale of superheroes and villains. Ultimately, Vaughn’s film does exactly what a prequel should be capable of: It stands on its own as an outstanding entry into the franchise, but it also adds context that enriches subsequent films. — DR


5. Attack the Block: It is to put quite simply, a hell of a lot of fun. The interplay between the kids is note-perfect, as they portray a realistic blend of too-old, too-soon coarseness peppered with excessive and creative vulgarity, harsh cynicism, but also childlike earnestness and fearfulness. While their interactions with each other are full of false bravado, there’s a genuine camaraderie at play that compliments their characters and makes them far livelier than the average movie kids. Meanwhile, Sam creates an interesting foil for them, an innocent, doe-eyed woman who is furious at being taken advantage of, is virulently distrustful of them, but when forced to choose a side, discovers that there’s far more to them than their hardened, blustery exteriors. Along the way, they have to simultaneously evade cops as well as the psychotic Hi-Hatz. — TK


4. The Guard: Don Cheadle is (as always) excellent, and Fionnula Flanagan is similarly great in her few scenes as Boyle’s equally vulgar mother. But this is Gleeson’s film, and he’s excellent, from the moments of quiet reaction and reflection to the serious but bitingly undercuting comedic barbs. Writer and director John Michael McDonagh is the older brother of Martin McDonagh, the writer and director of In Bruges, which also starred Gleeson. Unsurprisingly, the two films share a similar tone, aesthetic and sense of humor. I’m loathe to further compare the two films, as The Guard comes out the the loser, lacking the depth and story of McDonagh the Junior’s film. But that’s not to take anything away from The Guard — the plot may not be anything new, but the dialogue is consistently sharp and amusing (as long as you don’t mind the accents and excessive vulgarities) and Cheadle and Gleeson are excellent. It’s simply an enjoyable 90 minutes, a fine directorial premiere for McDonagh the Senior. — Seth Freilich


3. Fright Night: It’s pretty perfect that the closing credits to Fright Night are set to Hugo’s version of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.” Hugo, a half-Thai banjo-playing singer-songwriter from England, is admittedly as far as you can get from Jay-Z’s Brooklyn-spawned hip-hop, but he brings something to the song that wasn’t there the first time. It’s not about being better: It’s about doing something good with the tune, making a new recipe from the same basic ingredients. I say it’s perfectly used because Fright Night is a remake of a 1985 film, and the best remakes are like cover songs. They’re not out to displace the original, or even make you forget about it. They’re out to tell a very similar story and find the same kind of resonance around a theme achieved by the first film. In that way, Fright Night’s a success. Most of the characters are the same, but the beats have moved around, and the story’s received enough tweaking that it feels like its own entity. But the film also scores on its own merits. Director Craig Gillespie — whose erratic c.v. includes Lars and the Real Girl and Mr. Woodcock — does a fine job with some strong action and suspense sequences, and the script from Marti Noxon, though slow to start, eventually finds its footing. I don’t want to oversell the finished product, nor simply say it’s a good film simply for being confidently different from its predecessor. But it does have its moments, and it finds a decent balance between mayhem and humor without overstaying its welcome. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it, even if it’s less than inspired. — Daniel Carlson


2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: It didn’t come until the tail end, but in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the summer finally got its first taste of Nolan. For all the lip service that’s paid to the idea of “darker, edgier” action films in Hollywood, few movies have had the courage to follow through on those promises. Rise is the darkest, most heavily thematic action film of the summer. It’s also the rare origins movie that’s actually worth a damn. The themes don’t resonate as loudly as those in the original Planet of the Apes, and the moral is muddled and unclear. Yet, Wyatt manages to salvage the franchise wreckage that Tim Burton left behind with his earlier remake and give new life to a series of films for which this generation has never had much affection. Indeeed, for all the faults with Rick Jaffa’s screenplay, the awkward title, and some of the uninspired acting on display, it’s the Apes that truly do rise above in the prequel, elevating the film to easily the best — and darkest — blockbuster action flick of the summer. — DR


1. Bridesmaids: Enough good cannot be said about Bridesmaids, not just because it’s one of the first completely successful female ensemble studio comedies, but because it’s one of the few successful studio comedies at all. This is the film that saved Summer 2011 from the glut of comic-book movies, that made you forget about The Hangover sequel in two weeksand will demonstrate just how funny women can be if they aren’t reduced to one-note characters. It’s inevitable success (and it really was inevitable) could very well start a trend in Hollywood away from casting women just because they’re pretty and are capable of reading a few lines and laughing at the guy’s jokes. This could be a statement film: Women don’t have to be only the romantic half of the rom-com equation — they can supply the humor, as well. And if Bridesmaids is any indication, they have the numbers to do it better. — DR


Kid’s Choice: Winnie the Pooh: A.A. Milne would be proud, and illustrator EH Shepard would have absolutely nothing to complain about either. In Winnie the Pooh, the former’s characters remain true to themselves as they are brought back to life and illustrated with slightly more polish but unmistakably akin to the latter’s classic hand-drawn animation, all derived from a pleasingly pastel palette. For this latest addition to the Pooh franchise, the filmmakers have clearly gone old school and largely abandoned the jazzed-up look of the more recent movies; and for this new film, the screenplay draws upon the first Winnie the Pooh book while some of it takes inspiration from the literary followup, The House at Pooh Corner. In the end, a handful of Milne’s tales are woven into a relatively seamless narrative that’s not quite as remarkable as 1977’s Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (which included three shorts: Blustery Day, Honey Tree, and Tigger Too), but it’s a close second and will not only charm its theater audience but also find endless replays on home video. — Agent Bedhead