Best Movie: Summer may be known for mindless fare, but this season’s best is also the smartest. “Inglourious Basterds” is Quentin Tarantino storytelling at its finest. The swearing and blood feel earned for once, and the story is impeccably constructed, building to one of the most satisfying (and brilliant) conclusions you’ll find.
Worst Movie: Despite my unconditional love for Rachel McAdams, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is the dumbest movie I will ever see. The premise is undeniably stupid, and Eric Bana is charmless. The film also wins the award for this summer’s Worst Use of Time Travel — the filmmakers don’t even attempt to make the time traveling consistent. Unfortunately, none of the versions of his power allow the audience to go back in time to skip the movie. (*zing*)
Scene That Made Me Smile: I generally associate Ikea with awkward meatballs and cramped Camp Yale car rides, but Tom and Summer in “(500) Days of Summer” make it simply fanciful. As they walk through the store pretending to inhabit each section, their creative energy and connection make you want to squeal. And as each fantasy slowly dissolves into dysfunction, the scene serves as a poignant microcosm of the movie.
Scene That Made Me Cry: I thought I looked like a crazy person as I sat down to watch “Up” this June. I was wearing my normal glasses (I have terrible vision) and then the 3D goggles over them. I looked even crazier, however, 10 minutes in as tears poured out from under my intense eyewear. The opening silent vignette beautifully captures Carl and Ellie’s life together, reminding us all yet again that world-class filmmaking transcends words and live action.
Best Acting: There weren’t too many great parts for men this summer, but the women more than compensated. Meryl Streep (“Julie & Julia”), Zooey Deschanel (“(500) Days of Summer”), Diane Kruger (“Inglorious Basterds”), Maya Rudolph (“Away We Go”), Aly Michalka (“Bandslam”) and Charlyne Yi (“Paper Heart”) all shut it down.
Best Structural Gimmick: The puppet scenes in “Paper Heart” are a delightful escape from the somewhat repetitive documentary footage. They also capture the ethereal quality our romantic memories often take.
Best Technical Gimmick: The 3-D visuals of “Up” are absolutely stunning — but more importantly, they are used to support the narrative, not to distract. After Kevin is taken away, Carl has to pull the house on his own for the first time. As the sun sets, the camera zooms out in a breathtaking 3-D perspectival rush. The 3-D quality allows you to feel not only how heavy the house is, but how heavy Carl’s emotional baggage has become and how desperately he doesn’t want to let go.
Best Surprise: “Away We Go” is a small movie — narrow in both thematics and tone — but it’s also a delightful one. It’s likely the most thought-provoking movie of the summer and also one of the funniest.
Worst Surprise: Bonnie Wright finally got her moment to shine as Ginny Weasley in the otherwise excellent sixth Harry Potter installment. The trouble is that her “shine” is more like a “dull flicker.” Wright brought no life or nuance to the character. More so than any other character in the series, Ginny is remarkably undefined. A good actress (for example, Hannah Murphy, Cassie from “Skins”) could have made her something great — Wright made her something to laugh at.
Movie That Caused the Most Inner Turmoil: Okay — I get it, I get it. “(500) Days of Summer” is the Movie of Our Generation and also The Movie You’re Supposed to Love Because It’s Quirky and also Soooooo Clevvvverrrr. And it kind of is all those things. But it’s also kind of not. A friend recently called it the “When Harry Met Sally” of Now, and he’s not wrong. That was certainly the film’s intention. But the film lands just short of classic and way short of timeless. New York Magazine so perfectly called it “a brilliant tap dance over a void.” Its quirky dialogue and heartwarming montages distract you from the fact that the film lacks true perspective. Its clever structure distracts you from the fact that there is no plot or character development. Zooey’s dimples distract you from the fact that Summer has no depth as a character. The script is excellent, and the acting is incredible, but you’ll leave the theater with a smile that is ultimately toothless.
Worst Marketing: Summit Entertainment, which has a done an admirable job marketing the “Twilight” films, completely ruined what should have been a sleeper hit. “Bandslam” was marketed as “High School Musical” Lite, with posters featuring teenagers smiling around Vanessa Hudgens. The movie, however, is an unexpected masterpiece featuring little of Hudgens and music more evocative of David Bowie and Yale’s “Great Caesar” than Troy Bolton and company. The film should have been pitched as a snarky and twisty musical. Missed opportunity.
Best Romantic Comedy: I’m a sucker for romantic comedies, but this summer kind of disappointed. One rom-com stood out among the trash, though — “The Proposal.” Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock absolutely nailed it, and the hawk/cell phone/dog set-up was perhaps the best physical comedy gag this year.
Movie That Wasn’t Actually Funny: “The Hangover.” Sorry.
Movies That Made Me Wince: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Funny People” and “Year One.”
Movie That Made Me Cry: “My Sister’s Keeper” shouldn’t even be legal. Its plot and narrative are literally structured in order to optimize the frequency and intensity of your sobbing. New, inspiring characters are introduced solely so you can cry afresh when they die 10 minutes later. It’s not even a movie, really, but a sequence of alternatively sad and moving and heartbreaking scenes.
Best Title: “Paper Heart”
(Stupidest) Title: “(500) Days of Summer”
Trickiest Title: I saw “Julie & Julia” with a friend named Julia. Text message confusion ensued.