It was a summer of contradiction for the film world. A number of independent films flew under the radar while blockbusters like “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” hogged the limelight and failed to seep into the zeitgeist. That said, there were still many films in both realms that connected with critics and audiences alike and are sure to be remembered for the rest of the year.
Spike Lee’s latest joint, “BlacKkKlansman,” should be required viewing for all of America. Based on a true story, the film is as hilarious as it is thought-provoking, touching on several racial and political topics with nuance and passion, all in two short hours. While “BlacKkKlansman” serves as a snapshot of the issues that plagued America in the 1970s, the film’s final minutes will serve as wake-up call to viewers of how past horrors have persisted till today. The Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winner also looks like a frontrunner for next year’s awards season.
“Sorry to Bother You”
Staying on the theme of social commentary on America, “Sorry to Bother You” is absolutely bonkers, which is what makes it so awesome. The directorial debut of Boots Riley is a sci-fi-like satire that rides a wave of strong performances and fearless ambition to absurdist glory. “Sorry to Bother You” exceeds all expectations, balancing original dark comedy with scathing criticism of workplace conditions and capitalistic greed, all while surprising the audience at every turn with wonderfully weird new additions to its world. There is no way to prepare yourself for “Sorry to Bother You,” so it is best to just go in and enjoy.
“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”
The next entry on our list is a bit of a surprise: “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.” Leave it to Tom Cruise to save the summer. There is no other genre film in 2018 that offers the same level of pulse-pounding action (all done practically) like what writer and director Christopher McQuarrie’s film accomplishes. “Fallout” is the action movie to beat for the next couple of years. The plot can feel a bit too familiar at times, and it is also a tad too long at 147 minutes (the longest in the franchise). But what sets the most recent “Mission: Impossible” installments apart is that they ride the balance of taking themselves seriously enough that the audience cares about the characters — and the actors also give great performances — but are still tongue-and-cheek enough to recognize the ridiculousness of their bombastic action.
“Set It Up”
Outside of the brick-and-mortar AMCs of this world, streaming giant Netflix is bringing back the rom-com this year with a plentitude of releases like “Ibiza” and “When We First Met.” But the most enjoyable offering to date is also one of the summer’s streaming sensations: “Set It Up.” Katie Silberman’s screenplay unabashedly builds off the classic rom-com formula, embracing cheesiness but offering fresh dialogue along the way. The film is elevated by Claire Scanlon’s smart direction and the infectious chemistry between Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell, ultimately proving that following a formula is not all that bad when well-executed.
“The Incredibles 2”
Last but not least, superhero genre writer/director Brad Bird returns to deliver a mostly good adventure with everyone’s favorite super-family — “The Incredibles 2.” Although the trailers presented a generic gender switch, the first half subverts expectations and smoothly goes back and forth between Elastigirl’s (Holly Hunter) missions and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) taking care of the kids. But the second half loses some of the movie’s magic due to a poorly crafted villain and an underwhelming third act. Make no mistake, “The Incredibles 2” is still worth the price of admission and supersedes all other Pixar sequels, despite not totally recapturing the original’s layered dialogue and exploration of heavy themes.
As another summer comes to an end, audiences gear up for what will be an exciting fall and winter featuring potential hits like “Venom” and “Creed II” and other Oscar hopefuls like “First Man” and “Beautiful Boy.” Though disappointing overall, this summer produced a few films that broke genre barriers and set new precedents for the industry on a filmmaking and cultural level.
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 26 print edition. Email Guru Ramanathan at [email protected]