When I have reflected on summer movies in past years, I’ve always found it hard to pick the best ones from the films I’ve seen, usually because there aren’t more than a couple that I believed were truly great. This year, however, my top five list was hard to narrow down because there were so many good movies (and even average movies that I still really liked and found enjoyable). There were strong blockbusters based on already existing franchises (“Avengers: Infinity War,” “Deadpool 2,” “Incredibles 2”), some wonderful indie films that will hopefully have some clout when awards seasons comes around, and some films that were surprisingly pretty great (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies!”). And of course, being a huge “Star Wars” fan, I found the latest spinoff “Solo: A Star Wars Story” immensely enjoyable. But these five movies are what I believe are the best out of the ones I saw. Click the links to read my full review of each film.
It’s easy to feel fatigue with some of these franchises that contain so many movies, and “Fallout” is the sixth film in the “Mission: Impossible” series. But it’s also easy to forget just how good these movies are until you watch them, and “Fallout” not only proves that this series continues to improve, but may also be the best installment yet. Tom Cruise is the ultimate action star, doing all his own stunts in a movie that is filled with insane action sequences that just keep topping themselves, while the story has some surprisingly emotional moments. It’s a long movie, but so thrilling that the time it takes to for the relatively straightforward plot to unfold feels justified. Out of all the big Hollywood blockbusters to be released this summer, this one is the best.
“Sorry to Bother You” is the wonderfully bizarre satire that’s the director Boots Riley’s feature film debut. Set in an alternate universe, it’s the hilarious and shocking story of Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield), a young black man who rises through the ranks of a powerful telemarketing firm by using a “white voice” to talk to customers. It’s an utterly original tale that has a lot to say on topics ranging from the superficiality of America to the struggles of being black. Riley’s script and direction are thought-provoking, while the film is anchored by fantastic performances from Stanfield as well as Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Danny Glover, and Steve Yeun.
Another directorial debut, this time from Bo Burnham, “Eighth Grade” is unlike other teen movies in that, rather that the high school experience, it examines the even more awkward middle school years, and in a way that is authentic, rather than quirky. The film follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher), a shy teen with no friends, through her last week of eighth grade. Through Burnham’s script and Fisher’s magnificent, star-making performance, we get an honest look at how hard it is for some kids to fit in, as well as how social media and how people portray their lives and their personalities differently online plays into that experience nowadays. It’s a sad film, but also a hopeful one that leaves the viewer with the message that no matter how terrible something may be, you will get through it.
Spike Lee’s best film in years is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black officer on the Colorado Springs police force who infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, but the film’s discussion of racism in America extends from the Civil War era to the present day. The story is tense and entertaining, with great performances across the board but in particular from John David Washington (who plays Stallworth) and Adam Driver, who plays Stallworth’s partner Flip Zimmerman. Lee makes sure we know, both through the narrative as well as through scenes from films like “Gone with the Wind” and “The Birth of a Nation,” and through video clips from the Charlottesville, Virginia Unite the Right rally last year, that little has changed and that racism is still alive and well in this country, but that change is possible.
Morgan Neville’s documentary about the life of Fred Rogers, the creator and host of the beloved children’s show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” proves that some people really are as great in real life as we imagine them to be when we watch them on TV. Through interviews with Rogers’ family, friends, and coworkers, scenes from the TV series, behind-the-scenes clips, archival footage and more, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” primarily concerns itself not with the minute details of Rogers’ life or the creation of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” but rather with the beliefs and philosophies that Rogers held that drove him to not only create a show for children, but to continue creating that show for decades. It’s more than just a documentary; it’s an experience that goes beyond the screen and unites people from different generations and backgrounds through the singular impact Fred Rogers had on their lives.
I also have to give a shout-out to a few other films here as I conclude this list. The first is to “Avengers: Infinity War,” which I was a little too harsh on in my initial review. While I stand by a lot of the things I pointed out as problems with the film, it is a great balance of action and drama, and is particularly emotionally resonate for those fans who have followed these characters through the last decade of films from the MCU. It’s also proof that a subpar theater experience can taint one’s reaction to a film; upon viewing it in theaters a second time, I was able to be more fully immersed in the story and realized that some of the technical issues I initially had with it were not problems with the film, but problems with the theater I watched it in.
There were also a couple great movies that debuted on Netflix this summer that I recommend watching. The first is “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” a period drama/romance set after World War II. Lily James plays an author who, after receiving a series of letters from one of its members, travels from London to the small island of Guernsey to meet a book club that formed during the German occupation, but ends up unraveling the mystery of what happened to one of its beloved members. The other film is the teen comedy/romance “To All the Boys I Loved Before,” which isn’t exactly what I expected it would be story-wise, but ended up being an entertaining, sweet, and very rewatchable movie. Lana Condor plays Lara Jean, a high schooler whose life is turned upside down when a series of secret letters she wrote to her past crushes are mailed to them, resulting in her forming a fake relationship with one of the popular boys at school, Peter (Noah Centineo)—a fake relationship that soon turns into something more.