With my brain fully occupied with compiling my Films of the Year list (I’m taking this as seriously as Jonas Salk took his polio vaccine research), and the various critic circles announcing their awards of the year, it’s time to deep six the two polls I’ve run since the summer, asking our readers for their favourite and least favourite films of the summer. Interestingly, the poll for least favourite got half the votes of the favourite. I guess people either made a point of avoiding watching terrible movies, or we attract a lot of people who feel uncomfortable ragging on the accomplishments of others. A noble sentiment, but I just watched The Mummy 3 – Yetis on Parade, and I feel like my soul has been frozen in carbonite, so IT IS ON. I’ll get to that in a moment. First, the results from both polls:
What Was Your Favo(u)rite Summer Movie?
What Was Your Least Favo(u)rite Summer Movie?
It stands to reason that the most watched and most hyped movie of the summer gets big votes in the Love category, and a desultory single vote in the Hate one. I’m actually surprised it didn’t get more Hate, as I’ve seen some real venom directed at it, either in kneejerk attention-seeking Fanboyese or in eloquent prose. Nevertheless, Love is where my own vote went. We saw it again in IMAX recently, and it still holds up, even without the excited audience and New-York-inspired brainmelt of our first viewing. That said, even though I maintain it’s my favourite movie of the year so far (things can change in the final couple of weeks), I was sorely tempted to cast my vote for Kung-Fu Panda, which still delights after four viewings. Canyon placed her vote here, as she adores it without measure, even though her antipathy toward the martial arts genre means she resists the lure of my Jet Li collection. Why do you resist? Once Upon A Time In China is the wuxia nuts, my dear wife.
Also great after repeated viewings is Iron Man, which especially pleases me as those damnable fanboys were crowing about imminent FAIL throughout its production, shutting the fuck up as soon as the first trailer came out. Though Favreau’s direction on Elf was occasionally shaky (and that final act remains disappointing no matter how often we see it), I still had hope, especially when Robert Downey Jr. got cast. So yeah, I’m smug about it.
That smugness is punctured, however, by my regrettable semi-apathy towards Wall*E, which I wanted to like much more than I did. Though it’s obviously an amazing achievement, and kept me thoroughly entertained throughout, I do wish Andrew Stanton would resist the urge to make his films so ingratiatingly cutesy. He has very little impulse control for adding populist touches to his films, which is why Finding Nemo ended on about fifty-three climaxes with each character in the film having doubts about themselves and then overcoming those doubts in order to save the day, and why Wall*E, which heroically features very little dialogue, a bleak anti-consumer message laying the blame for the world’s ills on the audience, and nods to sci-fi classics such as 2001 and Silent Running, goes and ruins it all with overlong romantic scenes of robots flying in space, obvious slapstick, and more Christ metaphors than Superman Returns (no mean feat).
It’s the sort of film I expected would be my favourite of the year and ended up being much less interesting than I had hoped even though I was constantly impressed and brought to tears from time to time. In other words, a frustrating thing I will almost certainly go back and forth on for years to come (another example: Excalibur was on Sky Movies the other day and watching bits of it made me realise I love it now, after years of hate). Compare that to Ratatouille, which remains a glorious and thought-provoking entertainment that never compromises its message by winking at the audience. Stanton may be Pixar’s money machine, but Bird remains their greatest artist (unless Up is as good as I hope it will be and Pete Docter gives him a run for his money).
Next up is the unimpeachable Man On Wire, one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a long time, and one that made me burst out crying with zero warning. I’m a sucker for emotional manipulation in films, I will admit, but Man On Wire does nothing to tug the heartstrings, making the emotional impact of the final third even more profound. Kudos to James Marsh for making the most cinematic documentary I can think of, other than Wisconsin Death Trip which, I only found out afterwards, Marsh also made.
What a hero. His only fictional feature, The King, is on our Sky+ box, and once I’ve finished watching the various copies of this year’s movies I have littering the house, I’ll check it out, and in the meantime, I heartily recommend this film to all readers (as it’s a Storyville documentary, there’s a good chance it will be on BBC Four or BBC2 soon).
Hellboy II gets the same amount of love as Indiana Jones IV, which is good news for Mike Mignola and Guillermo Del Toro, and bad news for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. I know which one I preferred, and it was a big surprise. Despite the continuing debate about whether it’s okay to like Spielberg or not (of course it is. God!), and even though this film was good for the first hour and boring for the last, it was not a debacle, certainly when compared to other summer action movies made by hacks with no understanding of how to craft a scene or frame a shot (::cough::Rob Cohen::cough::). That said, it contained no sense of wonder, which Hellboy II did. This is a big deal for me as I usually resist Del Toro’s movies a little, thinking them pretty but lifeless. This time it was Spielberg’s film that left me unmoved, while Del Toro’s film made me giddy with joy.
Funny how at this point in the poll, the movies getting one or two Love votes also get one or two Hates as well. Hellboy, Indy, The Happening, and Speed Racer split the audiences they got (big for Indy, relatively small for everything else). I’ve already dissed The Happening (twice, in fact) and praised Speed Racer, so I won’t go into it again, other than to say I’m so happy someone else liked the Wachowski Siblings’ crazed experimental race movie, which holds up to rewatching as well as Iron Man and Kung-Fu Panda. And I still cry at the end. Oh Matthew Fox, you’ll be getting a few mentions in my end of year list, both pro (Speed Racer) and affectionate con (the demented Rashomon-meets-Bourne histrionics-fest Vantage Point).
Solitary votes for The Incredible Hulk (which I liked) and Pineapple Express (which I loved, and enjoyed even more second time around), and then a single vote for X-Files: I Want A Cruller With That Venti Mocha, from regular Shades of Caruso reader and commenter Johnilf. Though I wouldn’t say I thought the film was actually good, it wasn’t deserving of the critical drubbing it got. The argument that it was a long TV episode shown on the big screen was pretty accurate (though would the TV version feature performances from international megastars Amanda Peet and Xzibit? I don’t think so!), but beyond its limitations as a film, it was also a powerful trip down memory lane for a lot of fans, and while watching it I found it hard to resist those nostalgic feelings. Plus, Billy Connolly was terrific as the psychic pedophile priest or whatever he was. OMG! It really is just like an average episode of the show, because I’ve completely forgotten the plot a few months after seeing it!
Nothing else gets a good vote, but there were some other bad ones. Two people saw Meet Dave, amazingly, and they weren’t happy. I’ll avoid and hold onto the memories of Billy Ray Valentine, thank you very much. Sex and the City: The Movie Experience gets two votes, one from Canyon, who saw it solo (I was asleep, is my defence), and was utterly dismayed by it while compelled to stay in her seat as the ridiculous clothes-wearing montages unfurled. Hancock gets two votes also, and while I was disappointed by it, I’ll still be checking out the sequel. Seriously. The first one’s problems were borne of the bass-ackwards exposition, and so a sequel exploring this mythology will maybe make the whole enterprise worthwhile.
Star Wars: The Low-Budget Clone Wars (which I was almost fond of until seeing the dreary TV series it was wrenched from) and Mamma Monstrosity! both get a vote each, but the final vote cast, yesterday afternoon, was for The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which made me absolutely livid, so much so that I think I’m going to have to rant about it some other time, as it’s wrapped up in some things Canyon and I have been chatting about during recent weeks. After that debacle, no votes for or against Tropic Thunder (a crushing disappointment), Wanted (ditto), Narnia II, or Mirrors, either due to the small sample of votes we got, or just because no one saw them or cared about them. In the case of Narnia I can understand that. I don’t think I’ve ever been less interested in seeing a movie in my life, and not just because of the obnoxious religious propaganda. I’d rather see Sex and the City than this. I know!