Summer movie season is over. It's finally had its fill of us, leaving our mangled body twitching on the side of the road as it drives off with a rubbery squeal. Here at Grierson & Leitch, we're very much looking forward to fall and its crop of award-hungry prestige movies—we're speaking, of course, of Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas—but before we turn the page, we're gonna look back at the last four months, picking our highlights amid the giant fighting robots, bickering 40-something couples, and whatever the hell The Hangover Part III was.
Best big movie: This was the most disappointing big summer movie season in nearly a decade: Just about every movie you had hopes for—Elysium, Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel—underwhelmed, for largely the same reasons. (Underplotting, obsession with spectacle over cohesion, Zack Snyder.) The one movie that gave you what you were asking for coming in was Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro's massive robots-fighting-monsters real-life cartoon. It's far from perfect—it does the bare minimum it needs to please—but in a rough summer, it's the one big-budget film that hit all its marks.
Best small movie: I don't necessarily disagree with the complaints that it's manipulative, narratively clunky at times, and a bit fuzzy with the facts, but it's impossible to deny just how emotionally devastating Fruitvale Station is. Much of that is thanks to Michael B. Jordan's complex, deeply moving performance; he constructs a human life in small, pained, confused movements, letting us know how much we might have lost. It's a heartbreaker.
Worst movie: If you thought The Hangover Part II was slapdash and lazy, you have no idea: The Hangover Part III is so disinterested in anything other than cashing a check that it's no wonder audiences finally stayed away this time. It barely can muster up enough energy to even sputter out the opening credits. All three leads have the looks of men who are desperate to return to their trailer and finally get that three-picture contract over with already. It's important to remember that the original was fresh and funny and new; the two sequels did everything in their power to make you forget.
Biggest surprise: Out of nowhere, our most reliable blockbuster franchise has become Fast and Furious 6 (or, as it should obviously be called, 6 Fast 6 Furious). This series is now 13 years old—Vin Diesel is 46, if you can believe that—and it's stronger than it has ever been, thanks to director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow) taking creative control and thanks also to the presence of The Rock, who has essentially saved every franchise in Hollywood at this point. (The Rock turning out to be a terrific actor, in just about every genre, should win the Biggest Surprise every year). The sixth film was the best in the series; every one since the second has been an improvement on the previous one. The next installment switches to The Conjuring's James Wan as director and adds Jason Statham to the cast. We're going to see 72 Fast 72 Furious at some point, and it's going to be terrific. And will probably still have The Rock.
Best performance: I've already praised Jordan, so let's go with Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. I'm not sure the movie is the big Woody Allen revival everyone wants it to be, but she's breathtaking in it. She's working on a different wavelength than her director, and she adds layers to her role that Woody surely never imagined. Blanchett loves to overdo performances like this, and she sure does that here, to great effect: Her Jasmine is falling apart before our eyes, and Blanchett, studiously, shows us every step of the process.
What I learned: That even when they make me sad—a little too sad, even—I want the Before Sunrise movies to come back every eight years, just so we can check in on Jesse and Celine. It's our 7 Up. We're lucky to have it.