The Tree of Life: If you are one of the relatively few that viewed Terrence Malick’s existential opus, congrats. You not only watched the movie of the summer, but the movie of the year (so far).
Super 8: While he’s still in the apprentice stage of his bright career, J.J. Abrams managed to deliver a highly entertaining Spielbergian popcorn flick. Super 8’s grandest achievement was showing audiences that summer movies can still be something to get amped about.
Comedies not called The Hangover Part II: While “the wolf pack” was underwhelming audiences with regurgitated gags, Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses were dishing fresher, funnier jokes. And judging by the surprise box-office grosses, audiences were ready for something new, too.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II: The Harry Potter franchise finally delivered. After seven-and-a-half disappointing installments, the finale silenced doubters (especially this one), delivering a beautifully dark, action-heavy conclusion to an uber-popular franchise that should have always been better.
Thor: Surprisingly good comes to mind. It wasn’t a game-changer like The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2 or Iron Man was, but it was a good way to spend two hours. Most of the recognition should go to director Kenneth Branagh, who gave Thor more smarts than it probably needed in order to be successful.
Woody Allen: The veteran auteur’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, is not only one of the better-reviewed films of the year but is also now Allen’s biggest box-office success.
It seems unclear how this happened, other than Allen being a draw for some cinephiles. But this is the best, most current evidence to suggest bloated blockbusters are causing viewer fatigue. Maybe there is hope for summer yet.
Andy Serkis: The master of motion-capture performance delivered his strongest bid for mass respect yet in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Internet campaigning for an Oscar nomination (which is highly unlikely) is justified. This is especially true since he was the only element of the movie that was interesting.
Michael Fassbender: X-Men: First Class was good, Fassbender was even better. The rising star’s turn as Magneto was endlessly intriguing and worth the price of admission.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Kudos go to the franchise for proving its staying power with a $90 million opening weekend. Since then, it has become the eighth film to cross the $1 billion worldwide mark. Not too shabby for a franchise that is supposedly losing its grip on the zeitgeist.
Emma Stone: The next “it” girl sure made a splash this summer. Following the success of last year’s Easy A, Stone dished out two more performances this summer in Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Help. The latter being the most notable considering it stole more than expected from Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ opening weekend box office total and then hurdled the primates the second weekend. There is no doubt that Stone’s rising star power made that possible.
Cowboys & Aliens: Despite mediocre reviews and an unexpected grudge match with The Smurfs on opening weekend, director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) deserves props for taking a risk on a non-franchise genre mash-up that had no reason to work.
Netflix: Cheaper and more dependable this summer (or this year, for that matter), Netflix remains a go-to option when the new releases aren’t cutting it — which is the case more often than not lately.
Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon: It’s getting harder to remember a summer without Michael Bay being there to help ruin it. His final Transformers outing (fingers crossed) was a direct assault on intelligence, movies as art and movies in general. No box-office tally can make this insanely stupid, two-hour-plus explosion fest a winner on any list.
Fast Five: It’s baffling how this franchise has continued to thrive. But five installments in and it’s still boasting huge numbers. It couldn’t have been the cast that drew people in. Maybe audiences just like watching cars that don’t turn in to alien robots. Either way, this dreck has to end.
Ryan Reynolds: Hollywood is desperate to make him a movie star but, let’s face it, this dude cannot open a movie. Green Lantern underwhelmed with the critics and at the box-office, and The Change-Up is not even worth mentioning.
Captain America: The First Avenger: Joe Johnston gave it his all, but, sadly, Captain America ended up feeling more like a two-hour-long teaser trailer for The Avengers.
Cars 2: Without a doubt the disappointment of the summer; Pixar’s first critical flop is easily the worst in its canon. No amount of aspirin could cure the mind-splitting headache caused by two hours of Larry the Cable Guy’s voice in surround sound.
Animation: Never mind Cars 2, where was everything else? Kung Fu Panda 2 was around for five minutes and, well, what else was there? More importantly, does anyone care? �