Labor Day has come and gone, the kids are all in school, and it hasn’t hit 90 degrees in three weeks. Summer is officially over. At least the movies are about to get better. There are dozens of enticing titles schedule for release over the next few months, but before we start drooling over this year’s crop of potential award winners, let’s look back at the summer movie season that was and hand out some awards.
Best Movie: “Toy Story 4”
I went deep on this one in my review, but allow me to reiterate. Much imitated and rarely replicated, this franchise is the gold standard for films that operate entirely on two different levels – for children and for adults. This newest installation takes the story of Woody, an increasingly obsolescent doll, off in new and deeper directions.
Best Performance: Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Brad Pitt is also a candidate (for the same movie), but the award goes to Leo, who plumbs the emotional depths of his aging cowboy hero and forms the core of Tarantino’s most sensitive film since “Jackie Brown.” The scene in which he berates himself in his trailer could net him his second Oscar.
Biggest Bomb: “Dark Phoenix”/”Men in Black International”
This was the summer Hollywood realized that even some of their most dependable franchises can miss the mark. “Dark Phoenix” and “Men in Black International” were eviscerated by critics and ignored by audiences, which could make movie studios even more risk averse than they already were. Which leads me to…
Best Hit Remake That was a Lesser Version of the Original: “The Lion King”. I hope you loved it because we’re going to get a lot more like it. These movies are the newest can’t-miss idea, and Hollywood doesn’t turn down free money. “The Little Mermaid” and “Lady and the Tramp” are already in the hopper, with many, many more to come.
Breakthrough Indie: “The Farewell”
Lulu Wang’s second feature, a modest and restrained family drama about three generations of a Chinese immigrant family, was a humanist alternative to the CGI-laden franchises that have come to dominate the season. It could be a sneaky player in awards season.
Best Movie No One Saw: “Dogman”
From the director of the mob-drama “Gomorrah,” “Dogman” is the story of a bully who terrorizes an Italian coastal village, and the timid dog groomer who stands up to him. Avoiding the easy answers its set-up implies, this complex drama made a mere $148,000 at the box office, but I’m hoping it finds its audience on a streaming service.
Best Documentary: The clear runner-up is Martin Scorsese’s “Rolling Thunder Revue,” a documentary-narrative hybrid about Bob Dylan that features intimate concert footage and a thought-provoking structure. But I can’t stop thinking about Hulu’s “Jawline,” a riveting doc about a teenage social media star from Tennessee and the young girls who love him.