Film-wise, this was the best summer in recent memory (no thanks to “The Emoji Movie”). Here are the top five films worth watching if you didn’t manage to catch them in the last few months, plus the ones you should steer clear of.
- “The Big Sick”: On a surface level, “The Big Sick” seems to contend with too many rom-com cliches (debilitating illness, cultural crosshairs and disapproving parents, to name a few). But the film, which tells the real-life love story of writer/star Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife, Emily Gordon, never lags or feels derivative. Everything topical, from Uber to 9/11-generated stereotypes, is handled with the right dose of dark humor and heart from Nanjiani (and co-writer Gordon).
- “Dunkirk”: Telling the story of the 1940 military disaster through the eyes of British soldiers and the passengers of a heroic civilian boat, “Dunkirk” is a wholly immersive experience. It’s a sleek, high-pressure and fairly accurate account of what transpired at the titular beaches during World War II, and the cast provides a formidable foundation for Christopher Nolan’s awards season bait. Even Harry Styles delivers a convincing performance as a young, conflicted British soldier (but don’t see “Dunkirk” for him — the star is newcomer Fionn Whitehead).
- “Baby Driver”: Colorful, fun, narrated by killer music and still maintaining a tearjerker backstory, “Baby Driver” is the epitome of what a summer movie should be. Written and directed by Edgar Wright, this punchy crimefest is a high-speed, nonstop delight. I haven’t downloaded a movie soundtrack so quickly post-screening since “La La Land.”
- “Wonder Woman”: “Wonder Woman” is, admittedly, impaired by a cheesy screenplay and questionable special effects (at least, in comparison to other superhero films of its caliber). But whatever it’s lacking, the film compensates for with sheer, unadulterated feminine power. The film sets a high standard not just for future comic-book-inspired features but for all films in general; there should no longer be any doubt that females can kick ass at the box office, whether they’re on screen (Gal Gadot) or behind it (Patty Jenkins).
- “Alien: Covenant”: While its violence is gratuitous at times and it relies a little too heavily on Ripley references, “Alien: Covenant” is still a thoroughly terrifying space thriller/horror hybrid that makes “Gravity” look like a Disney movie. During a summer in which females reigned at the box office (see: “Wonder Woman,” “Girls Trip”), the consistent badassery of the “Alien” franchise’s females fits right in.
- “The Dark Tower”: This colossal beacon of disappointment based on Stephen King’s eight-book series had ample source material — maybe too much. One of the summer’s shortest films, hovering around 90 minutes, “Dark Tower” is so convoluted and baffling that it almost feels half-finished. Worse than its blatant disregard for King’s series is how flagrantly the film wastes stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, allowing them to assume half-assed characters and dish out nothing but the cringiest dialogue.
- “Cars 3”: You know when a product you feel neutral about (say, dishwashing soap) oversteps its advertising boundaries and releases a commercial steeped with bizarre and uncalled-for emotional depth? That’s “Cars 3,” which is longer than “The Dark Tower” and just as awful, but in different ways. Considering that most, if not all, “Cars” fans are probably perfectly happy re-watching the first two films (and their insufferable “Planes” spinoffs”), did anyone really want this?
- “To the Bone”: This film about a 20-year-old with anorexia was made by and stars people who have dealt with real-life eating disorders. Yet it still succumbs to the appalling “Cute-Boy-Must-Save-Girl-From-Her-Mental-Illness” cliché that’s now ubiquitous in teen-targeted media (see: “Thirteen Reasons Why,” anything dreamt up by John Green). While writer-director Marti Noxon’s and star Lily Collins’ experiences with eating disorders inevitably give the film a ring of authenticity, I can no longer stomach narratives that lead young girls to believe they need a significant other to overcome mental illnesses and eating disorders.
- “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”: If you thought this gorgeous sci-fi epic directed by Luc Besson, based on a beloved French comic-book series, was too good to be true, you were absolutely right. Visually stunning but irredeemably clunky, plot- and dialogue-wise, plus horrifically acted on Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne’s parts, the film flops.
- “The Emoji Movie”: This makes “Birdemic: Shock and Terror,” which directly precedes it as the 10th-worst-rated film on IMDb, look like a gripping love story. I think. I haven’t actually seen “The Emoji Movie” (though I have seen “Birdemic”), so please correct me if I’m wrong.