Well, here we are at the tail end (you should excuse the term) of the sixth month of 2011. That means that the year is half over. That also means that the movie year is half over. And I have to say that it ain't a very inspiring sight. Usually by this point, I can come up with eight or nine candidates for a Ten Best list. This year, I can come up with three -- and maybe a couple more if I fudge things. What's going on out there?
Let's get the three shoo-ins out of the way. I have no problem with looking at 13 Assassins, Incendies and Midnight in Paris as pretty certain inclusions on my Ten Best list. These are all quality films that I have no doubt will still be alive and kicking come the end of the year. Right now, Midnight in Paris is secure in the top spot. And it may well stay there, since it's that rarest of things -- a film that closes the gap between art and commerce. Well, mostly. I know at least one person who didn't like it in general, and another who didn't like it because he objects to its popularity. In essence, he's cheesed because he had to -- gasp! -- wait in line to see a Woody Allen picture. (We're picking him up at the taxidermist later -- assuming he took my advice.)
Yes, there have been some other worthy titles. Offhand, both Of Gods and Men and Meek's Cutoff come to mind. But I'm excited by neither. I've seen them both twice and see no likelihood of feeling like seeing them again. There's just nothing more to be gotten from them for me, and nothing I feel the desire to savor about them. Others will perhaps feel differently -- especially where Meek's Cutoff is concerned, because there's a mystifying (to me) cult built around Kelly Reichardt.
I can do some fancy footwork and sneak in exploitation titles like Super and Hobo with a Shotgun, but that's really a stretch. On the other hand, I won't be in the least surprised if James Wan's Insidious finds a spot on my final list once I get to see it again. What I'm finding alarming is the fact that there's not all that much in the offing that has me enthused. Let's just take a squint at the rest of the summer. I'm almost afraid to look at the fall and winter season, though I know we're slated for a new Almodovar, which is a good thing.
Now, this week Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life opens at the Fine Arts (expanding to The Carolina on either July 1 or 8). That's certainly a possibility, though I have to admit I'm approaching it as much with trepidation as enthusiasm. I'm not one of Malick's biggest admirers to begin with, and I have to admit that the glowing reviews haven't quite sold me on the film. What I'm hoping is that this may be a film that simply has to be seen before it's possible to get a handle on the criticism. Whether that's wishful thinking remains to be seen. I do like the trailer -- or maybe I just like Smetana's "Moldau" on the soundtrack.
Also in the offing and intriguiing are Mike Mills' Beginners and Richard Ayoade's Submarine. The latter, however, has the misfortune of being handled by the Weinstein's, who will probably do something massively wrong-headed with its distribution, meaning simply, "Who knows when or even if it'll get here?" Beginners seems to be of greater interest to a lot of people, but Submarine is the kind of movie where even the bad reviews make me suspect I'll like it. That's usually a good sign -- very often, it's actually the best sign. In any case, both hold greater promise than the mainstrem titles at this point.
I'm certainly keen enough on the Harry Potter series at its best that, yes, I'm looking forward to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 on July 15, but that just feels to me like I'll finally get to see the second half of Part 1. I'm more anticipating closure than something that will truly excite me. That attitude, of course, may make me more pleased with the film than I'm currently expecting. Ten Best? Well, uh, how do you put what's essentially half of a movie on a Ten Best list? I liked Part 1 well enough, but not as well as Prisoner of Azkaban or Half Blood Prince. That would mean it'd take something truly remarkable to pull the second half up to the level of those two earlier entries.
The rest of the mainstream material for the summer -- Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Larry Crowne, Monte Carlo, Horrible Bosses, Zookeeper, Winnie the Pooh, Captain America: The First Avenger, Friends with Benefits, Cowboys & Aliens, Crazy Stupid Love, The Smurfs, Attack the Block, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Change-Up, 30 Minutes or Less, The Help, Final Destination 5, Fright Night, Conan the Barbarian, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World -- range from the "Dear God, no!" level (The Smurfs) to the tepid to the possibly interesting. Does any of it excite me? Not really.
The rest of the art/indie or just not quite mainstream fare for the summer at least holds some prospects. Of course, this is tricky territory, since it may take ages for some of these to penetrate the province -- and some may not get her at all. A few titles, I know are coming. We are lined up for Buck, Queen to Play, The Trip and Troll Hunter. Those are not in doubt. Others are less etched in stone. Of the ones we're down for, I am surprised to find how much the trailer for Troll Hunter appeals to me, especially since I generally dislike the mockumentary format intensely. Sight unseen, though, Queen to Play has the most immediate appeal.
Nick Tomnay's debut feature The Perfet Host starring David Hyde Pierce and Clayne Crawford is a about an injured man (Crawford) on the run from a bank job, who manages to worm his way into the home of a well-heeled man (Hyde Pierce), who turns out not to be what he seems. It has potential. I've heard good -- actually great -- things about the documentary Project Nim, too. The fact that it's from Man on Wire director James Marsh is definitely in its favor.
Wayne Wang's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan may also have possibilities, though it has that slight air of being nice to look at and maybe not much more. I understand purists are annoyed by the inclusion of a supporting role (not in the source novel) for Hugh Jackman, though I can't say that bothers me a whole lot. More immediately interesting to me is Mike Cahill's Another Earth -- a sci-fi opus about the discovery of a duplicate Earth in the solar system.
Another intriguing possibility is Sarah's Key with Kristin Scott Thomas. Apprently, this drama went down well at the Toronto Film Festival. The question once more arises as to how the Weinsteins are going to handle its distribution. It might be better -- at least more productive -- to be on the lookout for Miranda July's new film The Future, about the impact the adoption of a cat has on the lives of a young couple. July's first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), was a very pleasant surprise. This more ambitious film looks like it might have been worth the six year wait.
Based entirely on the trailer, John Michael McDonagh's (brother of In Bruges writer-director Martin McDonagh, who exec. produced here) The Guard has all the appearance of being a good bet for a very agreeable evening at the movies. The teaming of Brendan Gleeson as a quirky, outspoken Irish police officer and Don Cheadle as a tight-assed FBI agent is enough to sell the film on its own. That the trailer makes it feel a little like In Bruges is definitely not a downside. I freely admit I spent the bulk of the trailer thinking it looked like it was made by Martin McDonagh. That, of course, may have as much to do with the presence of Brendan Gleeson as anything. Regardless, I'm not sure there's anything I'm more looking forward to.
I liked Lone Scherfig's An Education (2009) a lot. I usually like Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, and Patricia Clarkson. That makes it hard not to be just a little bit excited by the forthcoming One Day. I'm already getting some amusement out of watching the fangirls (of the source novel) getting in a lather over the casting of Anne Hathaway (of course, they haven't seen her performance). I think I'll wait till after I've seen the film to determine if I want to read the book. This looks more like the sort of thing that's reliant on the mood established by the filmmaker and the performances of the cast than anything else, so I may well be perfectly satisfied to leave it at the film.
All that leaves us summer-wise is the Guillermo del Toro produced -- and co-written -- Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a remake of a fairly highly regarded 1973 TV movie of the same title. (I think I saw it, though I may have avoided it strictly on the presence of Kim Darby.) Director Troy Nixey is an unknown quantity, but it's hard not to harbor hopes that it might have at least some of the quality of the del Toro produced The Orphanage. Downsides? Well, Katie Holmes is not one of my favorite actresses, and I have to say that the glimpse we get of the creatures in the trailer is ... well, underwhelming. Since this is coming from newcomer distributor Filmdistric (Insidious), it may well be a wide release.
With all that in mind, it's possible that things aren't as grim as they might appear on the surface, but we'll see.