The majority of the big summer blockbusters have come and gone, and now, before Oscar season sweeps theaters, is the perfect time to look at some of the best films that graced and still grace the silver screens this summer. Listed below are picks for best films in three different categories, sorted by their rating
The majority of the big summer blockbusters have come and gone, and now, before Oscar season sweeps theaters, is the perfect time to look at some of the best films that graced and still grace the silver screens this summer. Listed below are picks for best films in three different categories, sorted by their rating and intended target audience.
This doesn’t mean these films are not either exclusively childish or brazenly adult-oriented (with maybe the exception of Mad Max) – each film can be enjoyed regardless of age.
Best for the whole family: Inside Out
Pixar is one of the modern miracle houses, seemingly incapable of turning out an entirely bad film. Working together with the other major animation house, Disney, it has now turned its lens on emotions themselves and in doing so, made a touching film about growing up.
A girl named Riley is born to a loving mother and father in Minnesota, and within Riley, her first emotion, Joy (voiced by the incomparable Amy Poehler), is born at the same time. Soon, other emotions come alive: Fear, Sadness, and Disgust, each forming a part of who Riley is as a person. But when Riley’s parents decide to move to San Francisco, upsetting her entire world, Riley and her emotions are forced to come face to face with change and learn that not all things will stay the same forever.
It’s a testament to Pixar’s genius that Inside Out speaks so fluidly to everyone. Children will be able to identify and laugh at the broad antics of all core emotions, while adults can easily recognize the trials and tribulations of what it felt like to grow up. In a beautiful sequence, where Joy and Sadness encounter a forgotten childhood imaginary friend that Riley had created, Inside Out is at once bittersweet, nostalgic, and utterly sincere in its message that while everything about growing up isn’t going to be fun or easy, it will almost always be worth it.
Written over the course of four years, Inside Out is a heavily autobiographical story from Pete Docter, whose previous film, Up, left audiences in tears in the first five minutes alone. His family moved to Denmark when he was five years old, and while his siblings adjusted to the change easily, Docter found the transition much harder. Suddenly everything was different, and it left him in a state of emotional isolation that didn’t leave him until his high school years.
Beautifully animated and acted, Inside Out recalls the classic Disney films of the past, where the dangers and terrors on screen are possibly scarier to adults than they are to children. Younger viewers will possibly recoil at the sight of a nightmarish clown, but laugh in relief as his antics are reduced to slapstick humor and clumsiness. Adults, on the other hand, may find the images of forgotten memories, and lost innocence harder to shake but will appreciate the humoristic look inside the minds of Riley’s parents, and witness middle-aged emotions at work themselves.
Suitable alternative: Minions
If Inside Out feels too heavy, or the audience is too young for it, a good alternative is DreamWorks’ latest animation, Minions. Telling the story of the small, pill like creatures only known as Minions, and their birth from single celled organisms to the gibberish-speaking, comically inept heroes they are.
With only a single goal in their lives to serve the most evil villain on the planet the Minions set out on a long quest through time to find the most despicable master for them. This isn’t helped, however, by their unwitting tendency to accidentally either incarcerate or kill said masters through their earnest, if dimwitted, antics. Including serving Dracula a breakfast in bed just as the sun comes up.
Eventually ending up in modern day New York, the Minions find themselves serving Scarlett Overdrive, the first female supervillain in the world. Will the Minions finally have a master worth serving, and will they be able to help themselves in not accidentally getting rid of this one, as well?
Harmless, silly, over the top and hilarious are words that can be easily used to describe Minions. It’s just short enough that it won’t lose the attention span of younger viewers, and also not drive any adults crazy. The jokes are very hit and miss and never raunchy, the violence is goofy and comical, with the minions bouncing around harmlessly like balloons (almost never quite realizing the danger they are in), and despite the concept of serving villains, the actual message of the movie is a strong one about the importance of friendship and family.
Best adventure: Jurassic World
One of the biggest surprise hits this summer, Jurassic World has not only been critically acclaimed, but also a massive worldwide success at the box office. Nobody was expecting a good movie, let alone a great one. It’s been 22 years since the original Jurassic Park, and the concept has already been strung out by two increasingly lackluster sequels. Yet here we are, and Jurassic World is one of the best adventure films for the whole family that’s been released this year.
It is important to note that the film is rated PG-13, and that the rating is definitely earned. Once the rampage begins, not many are spared from the talons and teeth. There’s also a healthy amount of jump scares, and one highly intense pterodactyl attack that is easily the most shocking in the entire series.
That’s not to say that movie is a gore-fest. Each scare and moment of threat is countered by well-earned levity, and there is a constant sense of fun throughout the story. Younger viewers are given a window into the world through the two leading characters, Zach and Gary, while Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard serve as guides for the adults. Each of the cast fit their parts perfectly, and it’s especially the dynamic between Pratt and Howard that gives the film much of its charm.
The real star here is the park, of course, and director Colin Trevorrow spends the entire first half immersing us into the beautifully realized world that is Jurassic Park. Monorail tracks circle the island, giving us glimpses into the natural habitats of previously extinct creatures. Gargantuan pools house prehistoric beasts, and colossal domes serve as terraria’s to winged predators of days long past. Every single beat of the island feels real, as if it’s always been there and a documentary crew only just got access to it.
The plot isn’t of much concern here, as the story of an escaped attraction is almost beat for beat the same as it was in the first Jurassic Park two decades ago. But Jurassic World isn’t meant to be a sequel or direct continuation entirely, and it feels more like a new introduction to the same world, allowing for the people who grew up with the original Spielberg classic to find the child in themselves again, and for an entirely new generation to experience the awe and excitement that the adventure 65 million years in the making can offer.
Suitable alternative: Avengers: Age of Ultron
It may have not been as good or surprising as the first Avengers was a few years ago, but Age of UItron is still a mark of high Marvel quality, and a great time at the movies. Picking up a few years after the events of the first film, Ultron follows the now suitably comfortable Avengers theme picking up the last bits of the Hydra army, and enjoying some much needed rest. All of which is ruined by the appearance of Ultron a highly sophisticated A.I., created by Tony Stark who has gained sentience and found mankind to be the source of all trouble. In the background are two twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who are caught in Ultron’s web, and serve as dangerous new enemies to the Avengers.
By now, anyone going to see a Marvel movie knows what they’re getting into. Essentially setting the standard for all other comic book movies out there, Marvel films continue building their massive mythology piece by piece in each film and Ultron is one of their bigger staples. Written and directed by renowned TV auteur Joss Whedon, and starring the now world famous cast of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner, Avengers is a solid, if not inventive, addition to the franchise.
Also rated PG-13, but far more comical and less bloody than Jurassic World, Avengers can easily be recommended to families with younger children as well even if the dialog heavy exposition and length of the film (which is just under three hours) might be harder for them to follow than previous Marvel films.
Best for adults: Mad Max: Fury Road
This one is essential viewing for anyone who enjoys visually inventive, highly stylized action films or even just visions of the future unlike any other. Rated a hard R, the movie is definitely not for younger audiences, and it doesn’t pretend to be. This is a glimpse into a chaotic, lawless world, where the weak are meat for the strong to eat.
30 years have passed since Thunderdome, and Max is still out there. Now played by Tom Hardy, Max is teetering on the edge of his sanity, and his foothold is shaky to begin with. Caught in the opening minutes of the film by the War Boys, children to the monstrous storybook villain Immortan Joe, Max is immediately torn down even further from his humanity to serve as something of a human guinea pig a backup to drain for prolonging the life of others.
In what feels like a natural progression from Bartertown, seen last in the underrated Beyond Thunderdome, the colossal home of Immortan Joe bears similarity to a franchise headquarters as if designed by a consultant from hell. Everything is marked, branded and even cataloged. The cliffs bear the Warboys logo. Everything that has worth is given home higher above the barren ground, and all else is as good as dirt.
Caught in the middle is Imperator Furiosa, who has served as Immortan Joe’s war chief, and now has betrayed him to give Joe’s prized “breeders” a chance at a new life away from the Citadel. As they plunge into their escape on the Fury Road, Joe sends his entire armada after them, including the unwitting Max, strapped to the hood of a car.
Released to nearly universal acclaim, Fury Road is an unapologetic pure action film. But that doesn’t make it thuggish, or simplistic. The story is tells is whittled down to bare essentials, but the world around it is packed with densely literate references, visual cues and a deep, troubling history that can be read from the ambitiously comprehensive set design.
Filmed over the course of a year in the Namibian desert, Fury Road is unlike anything that has been seen in cinema before. It won’t be for everyone, and many will be put off by the relentless barrage of bizarre imagery. But those that can see past the volatile, in your face nature of the fuel injected nightmare, will find an oddly effective and touching story about personal worth, humanity and the deep rooted human desire to do good. Even if such a fleeting emotion is as rare as a desert flower.
By Jesse Itkonen