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The Summer of the Threequel

That’s what it was . . . various and sundry trilogies hit their 3rd film: Spider-man, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ocean’s Thirteen, Rush Hour . . . with a few other sequels popping in as well here and there. I *only* saw a dozen movies or so in the theater this summer. It should come as no surprise to anyone who sampled the available wide-release fare that only one of them made it into my top ten, although you can find two more with honorable mentions. Not one of them is a threequel. Yes, I saw some pretty wretched movies this summer, both on the large and small screens. Some came highly recommended, some didn’t (and I have no one but myself to blame). But let’s not talk about them. Let’s talk about these:Notes on a Scandal

The History Boys

In the Heat of the Night

Sunset Blvd.

Ratatouille

Finding Nemo

Ushpizin

A Raisin in the Sun

The New World

Howl’s Moving Castle

Oh, so you noticed that, did you? Yes, there are a lot of animated movies in there. Two of them are Pixar masterpieces, past and present, which most of you have probably seen. The other, Howl’s Moving Castle, is a thoroughly charming piece of work from Japan. I was completely disarmed by the gorgeous animation, original characters, and sweet story on display here from Hayao Miyazaki. It made me want to go right out and find all of his other movies (still working on that).

Most of what’s left defies easy categorization. I have already spent time on Notes on a Scandal, In the Heat of the Night, and A Raisin in the Sun in other posts. I might not have bothered with either Ushpizin and The New World without personal recommendations which led me to check them out. The former is a foreign film about a Jewish couple who find themselves saddled with two very unwanted guests in the midst of a holiday where guests are considered a blessing. The movie is unabashedly religious, but still excellent . . . I wish Christians could produce this sort of thing more often.

The latter I would never have watched (not being particularly compelled by the history-mauling Pocahontas/John Smith mythos), if not for the repeated and insistent praise heaped upon it by Jeffrey Overstreet from Looking Closer. I only vaguely remember what it did with its characters’ stories, but it doesn’t matter; the movie is just such an incredible experience visually. Terrence Malick does things with light and shadow on film that Thomas Kinkade only claims to do on a canvas.

Sunset Blvd. is a film I’ve been meaning to watch for years and I just happened to catch it on TCM one day . . . absolutely riveting. I didn’t want to leave the room for even a second. This is surely one of the best movies about the movies ever made. It’s just the sort of thing I grew up loving and am always on the lookout for more of.

I had wanted to see The History Boys after I saw the trailer, but probably still wouldn’t have gotten around to it if it hadn’t shown up at the library. This is the movie that tripe like Dead Poet’s Society and Mona Lisa Smile and The Emperor’s Club ought to have been . . . all about education and life and what (and if) they have to do with each other. There is a dreadful spirit in academics of teaching solely to tests and key facts, and boiling the Holocaust down to a 250-word essay and so on. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and The History Boys is a quirky, tragi-comic, and slightly edgy look at those questions. I would cite it as the perfect example of a movie that has both a brain and a heart.

Honorable Mention:

Deliver Us from Evil

This is such a difficult documentary that I didn’t even write about it at the time, just filed it away as “Seen” and went on. Even now, months later, I don’t really know what to say about it . . . just trying to think about it raises some strong emotions and it feels shallow and irrelevant to tack superlatives on it like “amazing” and “brilliantly-made” and “top ten.” Mostly I’m just incredibly sorry that the subject exists to have a documentary filmed about it, but I applaud the courage of those in front of and behind the camera for making it happen. I know vaguely what that must have been like for some of them.

Cast Away

A lot of people don’t like this movie, but I’ve seen it several times now, and I still enjoy it. Sure, the overarching plot (first and last half-hour) feels a bit silly, but at its heart this is a great survival movie . . . man against the elements and all that. You just can’t discount the riveting hour-and-a-half of almost no dialogue; just Tom Hanks, alone, trying to stay alive on a tiny deserted island in the middle of the ocean. I still shake my head when I recall that Russell Crowe got the acting Oscar that year for Gladiator. I mean, Tom Hanks wept disconsolately over the loss of a volleyball . . . and made it feel like he’d truly lost his best friend!

Adaptation

Speaking of movies about the movies (as I was a few paragraphs ago), Adaptation is so outrageously meta that it just blows my mind. After the success of Being John Malkovich, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman was hired to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief (and odd book to make a movie out of, to be sure) and hit a bit of writer’s block. The screenplay he came up with is Adaptation, the story of his own struggle to adapt The Orchid Thief into a feature film. I’ll probably never know exactly how much of Adaptation is fact and how much is pure fiction (most of it, in all likelihood), but the result is all smart, funny entertainment.

Hairspray

I knew next to nothing about Hairspray until I started seeing trailers several months ago, and very little more afterwards except that I probably didn’t want to see it. Well, once it came out I got dragged along to see it anyway, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Hairspray is pure bubblegum, but the music is fantastic, the cast is perfect, and the slightly offbeat humor had me rolling. I don’t expect much more than that from a light-hearted musical.

Hot Fuzz

Shaun of the Dead was a brilliant, hilarious “romantic comedy . . . with zombies” that hit every high point of the genre and tweaked it just a little to great effect. Hot Fuzz is a slightly-less-brilliant-but-still-uproariously-funny riff on action films. I’ve seen it thrice, and it’s still just as funny. I can’t wait to see what Simon Pegg and Nick Frost show up in next. They’ve got a good thing going here.

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~ by Jared on August 27, 2007.

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