I’ve been taking a break from watching and reviewing current films for a bit, as we ease out of summer and into fall. This time of year is one of the slowest for big movie releases, but even this summer at its peak was one of the slowest ones box office-wise in recent memory. Despite not as many people heading out to the theater, there were still some huge blockbuster releases, and this summer saw the release of quite a few great films, from comic book movies to independent thrillers. I’ve highlighted my picks for the five best movies out of all the ones I saw this summer below, and found that it was actually rather difficult to narrow the list down to five. Click the links on the titles to read my full review of each film.
One of the most charming romantic comedies in recent years, this film directed by Michael Showalter is based on the real life romance of screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Nanjiani plays himself, an up-and-coming stand-up comedian, who falls for Emily (played by Zoe Kazan), a college student who is suddenly stricken by a strange illness and put into a coma. The film is bolstered by memorable performances by its leads as well as its supporting players (particularly Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents), and a witty, touching script that examines the impact cultural differences can have on relationships.
Warner Brothers finally got their DC cinematic universe right with this origin story set during World War II. Gal Gadot, who was introduced as Diana/Wonder Woman in last year’s lackluster “Batman V. Superman,” reprises her role as the Amazon princess who travels from her hidden island (solely inhabited by female warriors) to the outside world when Allied pilot Steve Trevor crashes near her home and informs her of the war that is tearing the world apart. Helmed by director Patty Jenkins, the film brings just the right balance of humor, action, and—something that many superhero movies today lack—inspiration, as Diana acts only out of a selfless desire to help people. Galdot is a powerful presence in a cast that also features several other strong females; Robin Wright stands out as Diana’s fierce aunt Antiope.
A stunning conclusion to a stunning trilogy, this film sees Andy Serkis reprising is motion-capture performance as ape Caesar, and proving once again that he probably needs to receive some sort of Oscar for this at some point. Caesar goes on a quest for vengeance after a rogue human militant group invades his camp and kills his family. Woody Harrelson joins the cast as the film’s human villain, and the story, like its predecessors, explores the complex feelings and motivations of its characters in a way that suggests that the humans and apes aren’t all that different after all. The visual effects are so realistic that it’s hard to think of these characters as computer-generated objects, while the beautiful score and gorgeous cinematography complements the story in a way that elevates this above the usual blockbuster fare, and perhaps even above the original film series it is based on.
The weirdest and most fun series in Marvel’s cinematic universe returns with this sequel, once again written and directed by James Gunn. While the first “Guardians” film brought the characters together, this one explores the family dynamic they have established, and nearly tears them apart. After crash-landing on a planet, a mysterious man called Ego (Kurt Russell) appears, claiming to be Peter Quill/Star-Lord’s long-lost father. While Peter, Gamora, and Drax go off to Ego’s planet with his assistant Mantis (series newcomer Pom Klementieff), Rocket, Baby Groot, and Nebula are left to deal with a Ravager gang pursuing them. The cast has really settled in to their roles, allowing them to further explore their characters and deepen the chemistry they have with each other. The visual effects are stunning, taking us to a variety of different planets and depicting a variety of different species in an awe-inspiring fashion that most sci-fi films don’t quite pull off, while the script is hilarious but also emotional. The theme of family and appreciating what—or who—you have, whether your family is blood or not, is prevalent throughout. But it’s Michael Rooker who really steals the show, reprising his role from the first movie as Ravager thug Yondu and toward the end of the film delivering what may be the year’s most memorable movie quote.
Edgar Wright’s best film to date is an action/musical hybrid starring Ansel Elgort as Baby a talented young getaway driver with a passion for music. He falls in love with waitress Debora (Lily James) and plans to get out of the driver game and run away with her as soon as he has paid off his debt to boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), but things get quickly out of hand. This quirky movie is a joy to watch from start to finish, from its pulse pounding car chases to its humorous dialogue to its tales of love and revenge, all accented by a soundtrack filled with retro songs across all sorts of genres that somehow still works to bring it all together. The performances from the cast are all terrific, particularly Elgort—finally getting to take the lead after primarily playing supporting roles in young adult dramas—and Jon Hamm as bank robber Buddy, whose character ends up being the film’s most unpredictable.
Honorable Mention: “Dunkirk”
Director Christopher Nolan depicts the evacuation of French and British soldiers from Dunkirk from three perspectives—land, sea, and air—in this World War II movie that offers a different take on the typical war film. With most of the characters remaining nameless and with its non-narrative structure, it’s a movie that’s a bit hard to love but very easy to admire, as a large ensemble cast portrays characters engaged in acts of heroism big and small. The cinematography is easily the most talked about aspect of the film, however; Nolan shot the film entirely using IMAX cameras, allowing him to make full use of those sweeping beach scenes and airplane battles in a way that makes it unlike anything else you’ll see in theaters this year.
Worst Movie: “The Mummy” (2017)
There are a lot of things that this movie tries to make happen, but none of those things succeed. Starring Tom Cruise, this reboot of one of Universal Studios’ classic horror franchises attempts to be a fun and funny adventure movie, but also a creepy horror movie, but also set up Universal’s Dark Universe, a shared cinematic universe that will eventually include other monsters from the Universal canon. But a weak, meandering script and unlikeable characters indicate that this series isn’t off to a great start.
What movies did you all like (or not like) from this summer? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see you all in a few weeks when the fall movie season gets started!