Courtesy of A24

August 23, 2018

The Best, Worst and Most Surprising Movies of the Summer

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1) What was the best movie you saw this summer?

Lev Akabas: My second viewing of Avengers: Infinity War. Seriously, that movie is still the topic of a good chunk of my film-related conversations nearly three months after its release, and there’s rarely a dull moment in it, even on the rewatch. If I had to pick a favorite from the summer, though, it would be Bo Burnham’s wholesome Eighth Grade, which manages to depict how Generation Z adolescents hide behind their social media personalities without portraying its subjects judgmentally.

Ashley Davila: While marketing for many action movies uses the term “epic” to describe every stunt and globe trotting adventure, few movies are deserving of the descriptor. However, Mission: Impossible — Fallout surpasses expectations and bests its precursors with bigger stunts (sans green screen) and more intricate plot lines. Additionally, the continued utilization of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust as a capable spy in her own right and not simply a love interest continues to set the M:I franchise apart.

Michael Chang: It is one thing to question society. It is another thing to question god. First Reformed, an indie film starring Ethan Hawke, explores the existential crisis of a priest. The church of Calvinism is crumbling above him as he is driven to insanity from a decade of temptation and doubt.

Ariadna Lubinus: It came out just before the summer, but the best movie released during this year’s warmer months is undoubtedly A Quiet Place. Without speaking for most of the film, the cast relies on pure acting skills. John Krasinski, as Lee Abbott, stated in an interview that he imagined what it was like to protect his family to make his role as the father as realistic as possible — it shows. The movie is also a triumph for women, as the female characters serve fundamental roles in saving their family from the monsters.

Varun Belur: Pawel Pawlikowski’s latest film, Cold War, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, was my favorite film of the summer. It is about the impossibility of love in a divided continent. Across borders and time, music is the magnet that sometimes draws together and other times repels the film’s protagonists. It makes Europe, split by the Iron Curtain, feel like a giant broken heart.

Noah Harrelson: Eighth Grade! No competition. The most I had ever cried watching a movie was a few tears at the end of The Green Mile, but about halfway through Eighth Grade I started bawling my eyes out. This is the kind of movie that genuinely makes you a better person.


2) What was the most overlooked movie of the summer?

Akabas: Solo: A Star Wars Story is more solid than people are willing to give it credit for. I went in with low expectations and got a technically proficient, enjoyable watch from start to finish that truly informs why the titular character acts the way he does in the original trilogy.

Chang: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the sequel to the musical comedy Mamma Mia!, does not disappoint. The film delivers flamboyant melodies and romantic fervor, appealing to its cult following while being equally as entertaining as its predecessor.

Lubinus: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Chris Pratt stole the stage (as usual), but the moral message about animal rights, the role of the little girl who saves the day and the CGI are all stellar. If given the chance, I would nominate the film for a Best Visual Effects Academy Award, because the design and detail of each dinosaur, including that of a new fictional species, live up to the groundbreaking visuals of the rest of the franchise.

Harrelson: Sorry to Bother You. Somehow I went almost the entire summer without even hearing about it. It is challenging, to say the least.


3) What was the most disappointing movie of the summer?

Akabas: Ant-Man and the Wasp had some fun action sequences and a lot of heart, but also an underwritten villain and lazy storytelling towards the climax. Overall, it was just… fine. After Marvel’s run of Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Infinity War… I would say that fine counts as a disappointment.

Davila: I had been looking forward to The Spy Who Dumped Me since I first saw the trailer, as it seemed to combine my love for action and comedy effortlessly. The fact that it boasted a female director and starred Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon further cemented my desire to support it. After watching the movie, however, it seems as if the trailers showed the best parts of the film. Kate Mckinnon was great, but even she couldn’t make up for the ill-fitting, overtly gruesome and violent scenes.

Chang: Superfly flopped miserably at the box office. The remake of the 1972 blaxploitation of the same name doesn’t capture the intensity or boldness of its predecessor, relying on stereotypes of black cinematic culture to gas up a poorly written script.

Harrelson: Infinity War was so disappointing that I’m including it even though it came out in the spring. I have never seen such a lack of creative risk.


4) What was the best performance of the summer?

Akabas: Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade. Bo Burnham wisely chose to cast an actual 13-year-old for the lead role as opposed to an older actress, and the result is a character that feels like a living, breathing person with quirks and nuances. I also enjoyed the s*** out of Armie Hammer’s appropriately campy villain performance in Sorry to Bother You.

Davila: CHER! It is Cher’s world, and we are just lucky to be living in it. Though her screen time in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is limited, every note in “Fernando” is iconic, and she is cementing her role in the ABBA universe by releasing an album of ABBA covers in late September.

Chang: Logan Marshall-Green in Upgrade gives audiences everything they could want from a revenge thriller role: punchy catch phrases, melodrama and hard-hitting violence.

Harrelson: Elsie Fisher, who outperformed people five times her age. Combined with Bo Burnham’s directing, she gives Eighth Grade an unmatched level of honesty and empathy.


5) How do you feel about the state of movies after this summer of sequels?

Akabas: The plethora of big studio productions and films based on existing source material likely means more good and safe movies, but fewer truly surprising or revolutionary ones, going forward. Still, directorial debuts like Sorry to Bother You and Eighth Grade managed to shake things up, and we’ll get plenty of passion projects from auteurs in the upcoming Oscars season. I think we’re doing alright.

Davila: While my picks for best performance and best movie were from sequels, I do miss films from original screenplays. Sequels at their worst can be just a replay of the best parts of the originals. Studios are investing in sure bets, which can alienate many new ideas from often marginalized voices who do not even have the privilege of producing originals films, let alone sequels.

Chang: Movie culture is changing continuously. It is neither bad or good, it just is. This summer’s offerings give me reason to be optimistic, as the acting and directing in many projects were equal parts outstanding.

Belur: Sequels, spin-offs and prequels are garbage. I don’t watch them and I never will. Popular cinema is in a sad state because of a studio system that’s too timid to take risks, a general movie-going public that’s getting less and less open to trying new things and a rise in box office revenues coming from overseas markets like China, where robot-on-robot action is really the only thing that sells.

Harrelson: I am now boycotting both the Avengers and Star Wars franchises. My childhood needs to stop being remade.


6) Describe your feelings about MoviePass.

Akabas: MoviePass is such a mess that I’m genuinely delighted when I show up to a theater and the thing actually works. But using it still feels like I’m getting away with a minor crime, and as long as it keeps getting me into a movie for free at least once per month, I’m sticking with it until the bitter end (which may be quite soon).

Davila: MoviePass was wonderful while it lasted; it enabled me to see many movies I would otherwise might not have paid for (i.e. Book Club and Overboard). The business model was not sustainable, but it spawned seemingly more sustainable follow ups, including the AMC Stubs A-List, that hopefully will aid in more people returning to theatres in the era of streaming.

Belur: MoviePass has served as a very expensive proof-of-concept for the subscription-based future of cinema. With Alamo and AMC in the US and Curzon in the UK implementing their own subscription movie ticket services, the concept is here to stay. But the future of this kind of service does not end with individual theater chains, just as music streaming did not end with distinct platforms by each distributor. Third parties with the cachet to negotiate with the largest producers, distributors and chains will take MoviePass-like products into the future. Get ready for a Netflix/Amazon/Disney branded MoviePass coming to a theater near you soon.

Harrelson: I can’t sleep at night knowing I missed out on a summer of (basically) free movies. At the same time, I know I would have watched an unhealthy number of movies and that more is not always better.


7) The new Oscars Best Popular Film Category is…

Akabas: … a desperate attempt for relevancy by an awards show that for some reason thinks its not relevant even though it was the most watched television program of last year that wasn’t a football game or a speech by a lying loudmouth who didn’t win the popular vote.

Davila: … a good idea for helping diversify the types of films nominated, but it is an obvious ploy to buoy disappointing viewership ratings in recent years instead of an earnest interest in including a variety of genres.

Lubinus: … a huge mistake. Its purpose is to open the awards to new films and audiences, but instead discredits the Academy Awards, insinuating that other film nominations are “unpopular.” The new category seems to cover-up the Academy’s pretentious reputation by awarding “popular” layperson films, but they don’t even have a definition yet for “popular!”

Harrelson: … a good start. That is all.