5 Best Summer Movies That Weren't Summer Movies

By Tim Gomez 2009-09-01 21:08:39discussion comments
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Summer may as well be called the Season of Michael Bay. Summer has become the time when we close our brains for the season and allow our eyes, brains, and testosterone to do all the work. All those weak Oscar bait movies were way too deep for me, bro. All I want to see is are some explosions, some boobies, and some blood. Oh, and don't bother with all that artsy fartsy nonsense you guys call “character building.” I want my characters to be one dimensional frames that are easy to understand and straight forward.

Okay, I can't even pretend to be like that for six lines of copy. While this summer has been great for people who hate character, plot, and those wretched things we call themes, it's also been an abnormally great summer for movies that seem like summer movies but really aren't. A few of them were even able to trick general audiences into believing they were seeing the latest in eye-candy, only to slip in a little bit of quality. NOOO! My brain! I'm actually using it!


The Rated R Comedy: Funny People
I'll be the first to admit that Funny People wasn't all that I had hoped it would be (well, I guess not the FIRST, according to Rotten Tomatoes), but the truth is, I can't knock Judd Apatow for trying. Rather than release the token Rated R comedy that usually comes at around the same time that Funny People was released (the ones usually filled to the brim with dick and fart jokes and a loveable, stoner loser), he released a thoughtful dramedy which borrowed more from James L. Brooks than, well, Judd Apatow. Did he succeed? Not completely. The movie was too long, it focused on characters that were hard to love, and its last act was harder to get through than the George Washington Bridge during rush hour (my first New York reference!).

Despite this, Judd Apatow did try something new. The dude took everyone's expectations of him and kicked them in the face with a heartfelt movie that either came from a very honest place or faked like it did very well. The flick has surprisingly good performances from Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen (we knew Sandler had it in him all along thanks to Punch Drunk Love) and sported a script that, had it been directed by a more able director, may have had the potential to win an Oscar. And surprisingly enough, Will Ferrell was never topless anywhere in the film. All of this in a Rated R summer comedy? Who would've thought?


The Romantic Comedy: 500 Days of Summer
Hell, the movie has the word 'summer' in the title, yet 500 Days of Summer is everything that summer romantic comedies are usually not. Romantic comedies in the summer are often puff pieces released as an alternative to all of the testosterone-driven male-pleasing action/sex movies. They're made specifically for the girlfriend who's tired of explosions, cussing, and blood and just wants to see the girl get the guy and a kiss and wants to drag her boyfriend (begrudgingly, of course) along with her. They have a plot as predictable as a Clippers basketball game (you know it's going to lose) and characters that speak in movie-talk rather than real, believable dialogue.

500 Days of Summer isn't that movie, though. Instead, it's an experimental narrative about a boy and a girl and the boy's struggles to realize that his dream girl may not be the dream that he had imagined. It's something everyone can relate to. We build up an image of the ideal person to love based on superficial qualities (bands, clothes, interests) and fail to realize that these things may not be what make a person good for us. Not only does 500 Days of Summer have a far more unique plot than those lame romantic comedies, but it also has two of the most talented young actors in the industry as the leads. Sound like The Ugly Truth to you? Yeah, me neither.


The Action Movie: The Hurt Locker
Action movies are a staple of hot summer months. Whether it's Will Smith in Bad Boys 2 or Bruce Willis in Die Hard 492: Revenge of the Bowels, it's almost a requirement to have a movie with a thousand explosions and an improbable plot. There have to be evil Russians (or I guess in these times, Middle Eastern terrorists, however offensive and tired that may be) and unbreakable super heroes that are passed off as real life dudes in extraordinary positions. Please. As if Bruce Willis would really come upon four opportunities in his life to say “Yippee-ki-yay, mother fucker.”

The Hurt Locker isn't Die Hard. In fact, it's hardly even an action movie. Instead, it's a movie that plays with the idea of what an action hero should be. While action heroes in other movies are played up as selfless men called into action by necessity, The Hurt Locker paints its hero in a realistic light. What makes a man go to war? What makes him want to risk his life every day, especially with a job as risky as disarming bombs? And while the action is there, it's often the build-up that truly matters. Isn't that what great movies are made of? Great movies focus on crescendos as much as they focus on payoffs. The Hurt Locker does just that.


The Sci-Fi Movie: District 9
Science Fiction is a genre that's been sadly asleep for a number of years now. Why wouldn't it be? Until this year, there weren't many notable sci-fi movies that displayed the abundance of themes and implications that movies from the 80s and 70s did. Sure, there was The Matrix, but that was like ten years ago. Snore. Lately, a science fiction movie usually means we're going to get millions of dollars worth of the latest CGI technology to accompany a bore plotline, uninteresting characters, and elementary themes that fail to use the sci-fi genre to its full potential.

2009 was a bountiful year for sci-fi fans though. Their options ran the gamut from the thoughtless fun of Star Trek to the simple wonder of Moon and of course, the breakout sensation that's become District 9. With Peter Jackson's name attached and a genius viral campaign that reminded me a lot of the one that help The Blair Witch Project become a success, the movie was able to get to an audience that may have rejected it otherwise. But after a year that included such “sci-fi” gems as Transformers 2 and Terminator: Salvation, it's not hard to see why audiences have embraced District 9. In addition to delivering on its intense promotional campaign, it slips the audience some food for thought by using dreams of the future that reflect our present and past. It's what sci-fi movies are supposed to do. Hopefully District 9 helps to revive that trend.


The War Movie: Inglourious Basterds
Everyone knew what Inglourious Basterds was supposed to be. This was supposed to be Tarantino's chance to go crazy with action and violence in a setting that allowed for it. This was supposed to be his war epic, his Saving Private Ryan, his Dirty Dozen. And it's not like Tarantino hasn't set a precedent. All of his prior movies used blistering dialogue right along with graphic and disgusting violence. And it's not like a straight-up war movie didn't make sense. Quentin is known for being more of a cover band than an original artist. He takes genres and styles and then makes them his own. So why wouldn't he do the same with Inglourious Basterds?

Fortunately for everyone, that's not what Inglourious Basterds actually was. In a lot of ways, Tarantino has made his most refined movie yet. It holds back when it needs to, it utilizes his keen eye for violence only when necessary, and it displays his ear for tense dialogue better than any previous Quentin movie. Remember when Christoph Waltz offered Melanie Laurent a glass of milk? If you didn't soil yourself during that scene, you might need some ex-lax because I think you're constipated. Quentin favored tension over noise, and not only did the movie benefit, the audience did as well. If more summer movies were like this and not Transformers, I'd be a happy Basterd.
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