May 2009: Best Summer Movie Month Ever?
Three times in the last month, I have sat in the movie theater with a big, dumb grin on my face. Three times I've looked at the audience around me and realized "Wow, they're loving this as much as I am." Three times I've seen movies with big budgets, big stars, big marketing campaigns, and found what you get so rarely at the center of a giant Hollywood effort-- a soul.
Sure, May 2009 has seen some stinkers-- X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Night at the Museum 2, and Angels & Demons are best forgotten, and probably will be soon enough. But somehow over the course of one month, we've been given Star Trek, Up and Drag Me to Hell, three of the best major Hollywood movies I've seen in the last decade. It may not have felt like it while it was happening, but we might have just gone through the best summer movie month in history.
Every summer has its blockbuster wonders, whether it's one of Pixar's reliably excellent offerings or a once-in-a-blue-moon masterpiece like The Dark Knight or the first Shrek. But it's hard to remember three movies as suffused with moviemaking joy as Star Trek, Up and Drag Me to Hell, each of them exemplifying what summer movies can be at their best. None of them came out of nowhere, of course, given Star Trek's hive mind of geeks, Up's origins at Pixar and Sam Raimi's horror roots before Drag Me. But walking into the theater for all three of these movies, no one can really anticipate how much fun there is to be had. Not the manufactured, market-tested kind of fun that pleases audiences but leaves critics restless in their seats. The fun that comes when director and content meld perfectly, when the right people make the right decisions for the right movie, and when the audience is trusted to be smart enough to follow everything going on onscreen.
All these movies are coming in May for a reason, given that the month has recently established itself as the launching point of some of summer's biggest hits. But think back to last May, which boasted Iron Man but also Prince Caspian, the fourth Indiana Jones and Sex and the City. Or 2007, which launched the triple-threat threequels for Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean and Shrek; all of them made money, but none of them are memorable. Not only are the three best movies of this month original stories-- OK, make your arguments about Star Trek, but it's definitely no a sequel-- but they're good stories, each of them boasting screenplays that aren't just hiding behind special effects and hoping you're too distracted to notice.
I worry that the rest of the summer will never be able to match these three films, and while we'll all enjoy Transformers 2 and Harry Potter 6 nothing will bring that same elevated moviegoing joy. So as May turns into June, the temperatures get higher and the arrival of actual summer get closer, let's take a moment to remember how lucky we were this time around, how three separate times over the course of 30 days, the heady possibilities of summer movies were actually achieved.
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