For a film critic, or someone who detests sequels, prequels, reboots and franchise fodder, it’s been a rough summer at the movies. It might be the most successful summer in box office history, but as we continue to learn money doesn’t equal quality, it never has with the film industry. My top ten summer movies will look much different than other critics, because I turned over small rocks to find films that were being drowned out by special effects or fight sequences. Sure, Mad Max: Fury Road landed on my list, but there was an uproar with that reboot, as mainstream America cried foul since the film was more about the journey of Charlize Theron’s character. Here is my top 10, best of summer (May thru August, 2015), and hopefully this can be used as a catchup guide to discover the few films that helped make this not-so super heroic summer bearable.
Beach Boys Steal the Summer
Love & Mercy
Starring John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, (theater June 5/DVD Sept 15)
Dramatizes the life of Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson and his many struggles, proving it’s never too early in the year to start thinking about Oscar nominated performances. Cusack strikes gold in a winning comeback performance, while Banks hits a career high.
Sherlock Holmes More Interesting at 94
Ian McKellen, Laura Linney (theater July 17th)
Ian McKellen and Laura Linney re-team with Bill Condon (Kinsey/Gods & Monsters) to explore where the famous literary detective might be at age 94 and what he would be working on, or in this case, tormented with. McKellen is at his best since first playing Gandalf and the film is strikingly beautiful.
Drones Fight War on Terror
Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, January Jones (theater May 22/DVD Sept 1)
A war film like I have never seen before, never fails to emphasize how once great fighter pilots now feel sitting behind a monitor flying a device that can destroy entire cities. Ethan Hawke reteams with Gattaca director Andrew Niccol to showcase the new defense in the war on terror.
NYC Mom Learns to Surf
Helen Hunt, Luke Wilson, Brandon Thwaites (theaters May 8th / DVD Aug 4th)
Written, directed and starring the Oscar winning actress, Hunt delivers a light and funny film about a broken but protective mother who chases her son across the country after he drops out of college to surf. She accepts his challenge of never being able to understand the thrill and hires a trainer to teach her how to ride the waves as New York begins to fade in the distance.
2-Hour Car Chase for Feminism
Mad Max Fury Road
Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron (theater May 15th/DVD Sept 1)
If all reboots could look and feel as reinvented as what George Miller delivered. Hardy might play the title character, but this octane pumping thrill ride is all about Theron’s Imperator Furiosa exacting revenge on a dictatorship. Full of constant surprises and intentional stereotype breakers.
History & Fiction Collide on Colombian Beaches
Escobar Paradise Lost
Josh Hutcherson, Benicio del Toro (theater June 26th/ DVD October)
The darkest days of Colombia’s history are explored through a fictionalized Canadian surfer played by Josh Hutcherson who falls in love with Pablo Escobar’s niece. In search of paradise, this young man finds himself caught in the middle of a war on drugs that he can’t escape.
Literally Classic Gets Gorgeous Makeover
Far From the Madding Crowd
Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts (theater May 8/DVD Aug 4th)
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) continues to be of the most impressive foreign crossover filmmakers. His update on the Thomas Hardy novel of the same name does away with the ‘madding crowd’ found in the book but adds so much beauty with Mulligan commanding performance it’s a joy to watch.
Contemplating Life, Love, & Loss
I’ll See You In My Dreams
Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott (theaters May 15th, DVD Sept 1st)
It’s rare the over 50 crowd get anything specifically designed for their demographic and while this film certainly, anyone could benefit from the beautiful message presented here. Blythe Dinner finally lands an Oscar worthy role and dog lovers, this is a must see!
Ultimate Childhood Fantasy Turns Deadly
Kevin Bacon, Shea Whigham, Camryn Manheim (theaters Aug 14th)
All young boys play with toy cop cars, but what would happen is two 10-year-old boys stole a dirty cop’s police cruiser in a small Colorado town? The suspense is so sharp it cuts like a knife as every moment is smart, calculated and unpredictable. Bacon is excellent as the desperate cop.
Dinosaurs Rule the World
Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio (theaters June 12/DVD Oct)
Nostalgia was the real winner in Jurassic World, as it dominated the summer box office for a month and became the biggest opening film of all time. Jurassic World isn’t as impressive when you focus on details (those stupid heels) however for kids who grew up with the original, seeing that Jeep Wrangler gassed up again is quite a thrill.