Most years, July 1 rolls around and I get kind of excited to put together my first half movie recap. This year … not so much. Simply put, it has not been a good six months for new movies. Surprisingly, the box office is right in line with 2012, and actually, this summer season is running a bit ahead of last year. Despite my disappointment in the quantity of quality films, there are a few that provided a nice movie-going experience — just not enough of them!
One thing that provided a cinematic boost was attending the Little Rock Film Festival (LRFF) with my long-time friend Lawrence. Three days of cramming in as many indie films and documentaries as possible, while gaining insight directly from the filmmakers, made for a great time … and contributed a few of my favorites so far this year.
Rather than dwell on the disappointments, let’s go through some of the bright spots. As is customary, these will not be presented in any particular order. That chore is reserved for my end of year recap, which gets posted each January.
20 Feet from Stardom – Just now building an audience as it gains theatre distribution throughout the country, it’s alternately heart-breaking and heart-warming as we meet the real people behind the artists known as back-up singers. The interviews are mesmerizing and though the music is uplifting, there are life lessons to be learned from Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer and Merry Clayton.
Gideon’s Army – another LRFF gem, and it introduced me to the hardworking folks that make up the Public Defenders force. While this one will make you grateful for your chosen profession, it will also make you appreciative of the efforts given by these mostly anonymous attorneys. You can catch this one on HBO.
Muscle Shoals – saw this one at LRFF, and was shocked to learn so much about the influence of producer Rick Hall and his FAME studios in Alabama on the beloved music from the 50’s – 70’s. I have now been enlightened.
Stories We Tell – directed by Sarah Polley, this one plays like watching someone else’s home movies … and that’s just about what it is. Ms. Polley provides a personal example of the power of family secrets. She interviews her brothers and sisters, and spends much time with her fascinating father.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, I probably sound like a broken record in regards to this topic. Should you be fortunate enough to live in a market where the theatres periodically show “classic” films, I encourage you to take advantage. Two of my favorites so far this year are Jurassic Park 3D and Lawrence of Arabia. These two movies are not only amazing stories with interesting characters, but they are spectacular on the big screen. It doesn’t matter if you have seen them before … don’t miss the classics in a theatre!
Iron Man 3 – if you are a fan of the series, you will appreciate the wise-cracking Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) returning to the role that is all about fun, wild action and effects.
Man of Steel – rather than focus on Clark Kent, director Zack Snyder teamed with Christopher Nolan to deliver a most interesting backstory for Superman (Henry Cavill) that will surely lead to more movies. Casting Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as Superdads was genius.
The Great Gatsby – very divisive film that turned off many, while thoroughly entertaining many others. Director Baz Luhrman visualizes F Scott Fitzgerald as hip-hop and glitzy.
Much Ado About Nothing – director Joss Whedon films his close knit group of friends performing a modernized version of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy.
Mud – gritty little film that moves at its own pace and sucks the viewer right into this world of small town deception. Matthew McConaughey and young Tye Sheridan turn in outstanding performances.
The Iceman – Michael Shannon simmers on screen as notorious Mob hitman Richard Kuklinski, who killed more than 100 people over 35+ years … all while maintaining the façade of a happily married family man.
Being the eternal movie optimist, I fully expect some great (and I use that term judiciously) movies during the second half. The proposed line-up includes more entries into the superhero genre, the next “Hunger Games” and “Hobbit”, a couple of interesting Sci-Fi projects, a remake of the horror classic Carrie, a documentary on JD Salinger, the much anticipated August: Osage County, more from the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorcese, Andrew Payne, Spike Lee, David O Russell and Lee Daniels … and yes, the sequel to Anchorman.
Let me know your favorites so far this year, and I’ll see you at the movies!