It is mid-September now. We students of higher learning have all but settled into our autumnal routines, deciding which lectures to actually attend, pondering how best to go about securing the number of that cute girl down the hall and, of course, looking forward to delving with renewed fervor into our favorite weekly student publications. As our tans fade away and we don once again our favorite college sweatshirts, our bodies and minds prepare themselves for this seasonal shift. Ah, how far away those blissful summer months must seem to us, now as October looms large on the horizon! Before it is too late, dear reader, I ask you to hearken back with me, to remember one more time the lovely high points of the past few months as they appeared to us on the silver screen – for it certainly was a summer of cinema to remember.
For many critics and viewers alike, the summer movie season officially began with the release of The Avengers, the highly anticipated superhero conglomerate action thrill ride. Joss Whedon, creator of the hit TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, took on the task of directing this monumental blockbuster, and many would say he delivered almost perfectly. Indeed, numbers don’t lie, as The Avengers outpaced every other movie this summer by over $150 million at the box office. At this point, reader, I must make a confession: I did not see The Avengers. Call me crazy, but I hold strongly to the belief that one man, and one man only, should be allowed to make superhero movies. And that man is Christopher Nolan. But more on that later.
The first movie I saw this summer that was truly worth my while was Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Now, for those of you who know me, it may come as no surprise that I found my viewing of this movie to be time well spent, given that I practically worship at the Altar of Wes Anderson. This movie was not only one of his best, but it may also turn out to be one of the best of the year. Whereas some of Anderson’s previous efforts may seem too eccentric for the average viewer, Moonrise Kingdom takes the director’s signature style and adds enough depth for everyone to fall in love with it. It’s not exactly a comedy, but still we laugh. It’s not quite a tragedy, but still it’s taut with dramatic tension. Anderson creates his own unique world in this film, a love story of youthful runaways set on a fictitious island in 1960s New England. Moonrise Kingdom has both a “my-old-stomping-ground” familiarity and “bird’s-eye-view/looking-in-to-a-dollhouse” outsider’s perspective. What’s more, Anderson makes full use of the talent of his top-notch cast, which includes superstars Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Bill Murray as well as young newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who play the lovestruck young protagonists. This film, perhaps more so than any of Anderson’s previous efforts, feels like an actual work of art, as if each shot is a finely detailed painting the director has carefully planned out. One of the most rewarding viewing experiences the summer had to offer, perhaps Moonrise Kingdom will finally earn Anderson the Best Director nod from the Academy he so greatly deserves.
Remember what I said a little earlier about Christopher Nolan and how he should be the only director allowed to make superhero movies? Here’s where I more or less gush about The Dark Knight Rises. Obviously, such a movie faces a daunting challenge following what I think will in years to come go down as one of the greatest movies of our time. I did my best to treat The Dark Knight Rises as a movie completely separate from its earth-shattering predecessor, and with this approach, I was not disappointed. The reception and box office performance of the movie were, of course, somewhat tainted as a result of the horrific Aurora, Colorado, shooting tragedy – but as a mere cinematic accomplishment, this movie, in my opinion, lived up to the hype. What Nolan does best in his films is forcing the viewer to think, to deal with the heavy philosophical problems presented on screen, all appearing on the most epic and grand of scales. While Wes Anderson makes his world idiosyncratic and compact, Nolan goes the other way, taking on the grandest of stages and highest of stakes possible, and making them look both perfectly convincing and imminently terrifying. Of course, the director also coaxes stellar acting from his stars: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Was the ending of this movie just a little bit hokey? Absolutely. Did the villain Bane, played by Tom Hardy, live up to the high bar set by the late Heath Ledger? Probably not, but who knows if anyone ever will? Here’s the point: The Dark Knight Rises was action-packed, philosophically and emotionally pressing, and beautifully shot all while coming in second place to The Avengers in the box office this summer. If the Academy wants to make its awards more culturally relevant by throwing popular blockbusters into the mix, I see no better place to start than this final chapter of the Batman trilogy.
The final movie from this summer that I’ll touch on here is one that I really cannot say a single bad thing about: indie sensation Beasts of the Southern Wild. It makes perfect sense that this movie was a huge hit on the summer festival circuit, because it’s amazing in almost every way. The cinematography is breathtaking, the score is just about perfect, the story is both imaginative and heartwrenching, and the directing is spot-on. A semi-supernatural rite of passage story, Beasts of the Southern Wild follows a young girl named Hushpuppy as her beloved home, a sort of uncivilized haven beyond the levees of New Orleans, gets washed away in a catastrophic meteorological event on the scale of Hurricane Katrina. Her journey, as she learns to overcome her fear of losing the things she holds dearest, is both heartbreaking and inspiring. And what makes Beasts even more remarkable is that it is the feature-length debut of director Benh Zeitlin. And that’s not all! The cast of this movie consists quite literally of locals found in the New Orleans area, people practically pulled off the street to act. It gives the movie an incredibly genuine feel that I have not seen or felt in quite some time. If the year ended now and the Oscars were given out tomorrow, Beasts of the Southern Wild would be my vote for Best Picture, and Dwight Henry, who plays Hushpuppy’s health-troubled father, deserves to win Best Supporting Actor. Straight up.
And so, dear friends, just as the sweet sweet summer must come to an end, so too must my cinematic musings. But fear not! Good fortunes lie ahead, and by that I mean there are some very promising movies coming out in the near future. If you feel prone to taking my advice, go see Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, coming soon to Princeton’s own Garden Theater. If you liked Anderson’s 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by his newest endeavor, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. I’ve heard very good things already. My other recommendation for the fall season is Lincoln, Stephen Spielberg’s new Civil War epic that has Daniel Day-Lewis starring as the titular Abraham Lincoln in what I can only assume will be yet another Best Actor award for one of the finest actors of all time. So there you have it! Go forth now, and take it all in!