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The Student Media Site of Georgia College & State University

Bobcat Multimedia

The Student Media Site of Georgia College & State University

Bobcat Multimedia

Cale’s cinema corner: best movies of the summer

Julia Jensen, Art Director

Historically, summer has been a safe haven for Hollywood. Although fall is film festival season, studios put out many, if not the majority, of the year’s biggest releases in its hottest months. It is hot outside; kids are out of school. It is the perfect storm for a business built on the idea of cramping people into dark, cold rooms — until the pandemic, that was.


Movie theaters’ place at the center of pop culture was waning before COVID, but the one-two punch of theaters’ closure and streaming’s rise kneecapped AMC, Regal and the rest of the nation’s multiplex chains.


But this summer was different. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” outperformed “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” the two most recent installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” and Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” collectively coined “Barbenheimer” by the Internet, combined for the fifth-highest-grossing opening weekend of all-time at the domestic box office. “Talk to Me” proved low-budget horror is one of the few remaining tried-and-true remedies to studios’ budget-versus-box-office worries.


Yet, the filmmaking industry is in complete and utter flux. The Writers Guild of America, or WGA, went on strike in May; the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA, joined in July. Productions are being halted; strike guidelines prohibit stars from promoting projects. Many of the back half of the year’s big releases, including “Dune: Part Two,” have been pushed to next year, and fall festivals’ slates are thinner than ever.


Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” notwithstanding, there is not a whole lot on the horizon, making a historic summer feel all the more special.


Here are the five best movies of the summer:


  1. “Barbie” (dir. Greta Gerwig)


Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, “Lady Bird” — one of my all-time favorites — established her as a major voice in an up-and-coming generation of filmmakers and catapulted stars Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet into the spotlight. Her follow-up, “Little Women,” was bigger, bolder and grander. “Barbie” is capital-A ambitious. It is a major swing, leaps and bounds above her first two projects in scale and scope.


And Gerwig knocked it out of the park. Big-budget and big-idea filmmaking are often at odds. Studios’ profits often supersede filmmakers’ goal: delivering emotional, thought-provoking stories. However, from the costume and set design to the soundtrack to the script — which goes out with an all-timer of a final line — it is clear Gerwig and star-producer Margot Robbie, whose performance should be recognized come awards season, were given near-full creative control. Simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny, genuinely moving and, dare I say, every bit as existential as “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie” is a candy-colored rollercoaster of emotions I never wanted to get off of.


  1. “Past Lives” (dir. Celine Song)


“In-Yun” is a Korean word which refers to people’s generations-long connection to one another. It is the core principle of “Past Lives,” Celine Song’s first feature. It follows Nora and Arthur, a couple living in New York, as Hae-Sung, Nora’s childhood sweetheart, reconnects with her.


Song is a playwright, but her debut feels anything but staged. Nora, Arthur and Hae-Sung, played Greta Lee, John Magaro and Teo Yoo, are gently, tenderly-written characters. They are painstakingly honest with themselves and with each other. Nora’s story is a story of what is and what could have been, a struggle we can all relate to, in one form or another. Song’s next project, “Materialists,” is a reunion with indie-sensation distributor A24, who picked up “Past Lives” after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. I will be there on opening night.


  1. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (dir. Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson and Kemp Powers)


“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was a groundbreaking achievement in both animated and superhero filmmaking, but it came and went. At the time, the MCU dominated the box office, the Internet and movie culture at large. Now, Marvel Studios’s decade-long chokehold on entertainment is loosening, and its sequel, a breath of fresh air in a long-oversaturated subgenre, is having the moment it was never afforded.


“Into the Spider-Verse” was Miles Morales’s origin story; its follow-up is a multiverse-sprawling adventure. It packs more characters, more stakes and more animation styles into its two-hour runtime — so much “more” that it ends at the beginning of its third act. I hate cliffhangers, but I am anxiously awaiting the trilogy’s conclusion, which is currently slated for next year.


  1. “Asteroid City” (dir. Wes Anderson)


Wes Anderson may not be the household name he was once was, but anyone, cinephile or not, can recognize his wholly idiosyncratic style, a style which he has come under fire for in recent years and which has, through the use of artificial intelligence, inspired countless parodies. Anderson’s skeptics have regarded his recent films as emotionally and thematically empty passion projects, excuses for the director to spend millions of more dollars creating pastel-palleted dollhouse dramedies with his friends — beautiful and “twee” but nothing more.


As an Anderson fan, I enjoyed “Isle of Dogs.” And as a wannabe writer, I loved “The French Dispatch.” But “Asteroid City,” leaps and bounds above both, is anything but “minor Anderson.”


Set in the titular Asteroid City, a middle-of-nowhere western ghost town hosting a children’s astronomy convention, circa 1950, Anderson’s latest is a story within a story within a story. It sounds borderline-incoherent, and may be, but its ideas about the creative process are every bit as intricate as its set and script. It feels as if Anderson is explaining himself, his creative process — and why he makes films the way he does — to his detractors. If nothing else, “Asteroid City” proves Anderson’s films, regardless of AI’s advancements, are irreplicable, deeply human stories fueled by the eccentric vision of one human: Wes Anderson.  


  1. “Oppenheimer” (dir. Christopher Nolan)


It is hard to make biopics entertaining, let alone box-office hits, but Christopher Nolan — who, after the financial success of “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and “Interstellar,” may be our generation’s Steven Spielberg — manages to do both. “Oppenheimer” is a behemoth of a movie: a three-hour, mile-a-minute adaption of Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherman’s “American Prometheus,” a dense, no-holds-barred account of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s role in the Manhattan Project. It should not work. We all took U.S. History; we know how Oppenheimer’s story ends. It definitely should not be one of the biggest box-office successes of the past five years, and yet, it is. 


I have never considered myself a Nolan fan. He is a master technical filmmaker, no doubt. Nobody is able to merge big-budget and big-idea storytelling into mind-melting set pieces the way he is. But his writing has kept me from loving his work. My favorite of his, “Memento,” contains one of his tightest scripts, if not his tightest; “Oppenheimer” is, by far, his wordiest. 


And, if I’m being honest, I have always been put off by Nolan’s inability to create compelling female characters. “Oppenheimer” is no exception. Jean Tatlock, played by Florence Pugh, and Kitty Oppenheimer, played by Emily Blunt, are underserved by Nolan’s script. Blunt is given a big, meaty monologue in the film’s third act, but both characters are sidelined for the majority of its runtime, which, given the fact that it is three hours, could — understandably — be seen as the biggest indictment of Nolan’s trappings yet. But “Oppenheimer” is the product of history, not invention. Throughout the film, government officials criticize the scientist, played by Cillian Murphy, for his attitudes and actions toward women, calling him a womanizer. He was not a hero. He was a genius, but he was a cold, ruthless man dead set on one thing and one thing only: the Manhattan Project, perhaps the biggest moral quagmire our nation has ever been faced with.


Of course, Nolan’s rendering of the Trinity Test, the first test of the atomic bomb, is jaw-dropping. I have never physically felt something on screen as much before. My first viewing of “Oppenheimer” was in Dolby, and the auditorium — the seats, the walls — rattled when the shockwave hit. But I had no doubt in Nolan’s ability to capture the bomb as earth-shattering, world-changing. 


It was Nolan’s writing chops — or lack thereof — which worried me, but he put me in my place. “Oppenheimer” may not be Nolan’s best film, but it might be his best script. Half of the film’s scenes take place in courtrooms. Littered with snappy, jargon-filled dialogue, they are every bit as tense as the Trinity Test and allow for some of the film’s strongest acting. Robert Downey’s Jr.’s performance as Lewis Strauss is worthy of every bit of praise it has received and, in a perfect world, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. 


I would not be surprised if “Oppenheimer” runs the table at next year’s Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. It will win in many, if not all, of the technical categories, and it is possible Emily Blunt is nominated for Best Supporting Actress. And I would not be upset. After years of Nolan skepticism, I am a changed man.


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