Summer is a time of popcorn movies, and while the buttery goodness of a bag of salty snacks is nearly always worth the added price of concessions, the feature itself often is not. Whatever your cinematic preferences, this summer’s lineup has varied from universally beloved films to total garbage that even the most forgiving viewer would hate. Here’s my breakdown of the tops and bottoms of each genre, as well as some specialties that proved much better — or much worse — than one might have thought.


Best: Ted

In terms of pure belly laughs, no one provided more this summer than Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s profane yet profound stuffed animal Ted. The story of a teddy bear brought to life by a magic wish, only to grow up to be a constant pain in the ass of lifelong friend Mark Wahlberg, proved to be the most hilarious entry of the season with well-placed cameos and some of the best one-liners ever — “You have a baby? Is it alive?” Boasting nearly as many obscenities was the Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis election movie The Campaign, which lacked some of the momentum to make the fine art of cursing work but still offered good chuckles. Any movie involving the nickname “Tickleshits” has got to get at least a little smile out of everyone. For those wanting more gentle humor, the curious period piece Hysteria gave us a surprisingly clean look at the invention of the world’s first electric sex toy, and the couples counseling feature Hope Springs offered a thoughtful, often amusing look at marriage thanks to fine performances by Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell.

Worst: Rock of Ages

Does a musical qualify as a comedy? Well, this one did, because nobody who watched this film could have thought of it as anything other than a complete joke. While movies like Across the Universe and Mamma Mia! might have worked through sheer force of will, this testament to the tunes of the ’80s was a complete misfire with Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and more mutilating music by Poison, Twisted Sister, Def Leppard and their ilk. OK, you can sing “I Want to Know What Love Is,” but that doesn’t mean we have to love you. The one consolation was Tom Cruise as awesomely outrageous rocker Stacee Jaxx, but can his portrayal of the codpiece-wearing, pet baboon-owning narcissist really be considered acting?


Best: Beasts of the Southern Wild

You’d have to be made of stone not to be affected by this heartrending film about a bayou community upended by a tropical storm, most notably a six-year-old girl (Quvenzhané Wallis) whose daddy (Dwight Henry) is dying. The setting is absolutely mesmerizing in its authenticity and young Wallis provides a fresh, unpolished professionalism without any kind of artifice. Nothing makes you feel better about your own life than seeing people floating around in a makeshift boat fashioned from the bed of a pickup truck or seeing a kid burn her own house down by cooking cat food on the stove with a lighter and a can of hairspray. This auspicious debut from filmmaker Benh Zeitlin dominated at Cannes and Sundance and is all but guaranteed at least one Oscar several months from now. Summer is hardly the biggest time for dramatic features, but the tale of British retirees in India in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel still garnered some attention, as well.

Worst: Savages

What do you get when you mix two California marijuana moguls (Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch), their shared girlfriend (Blake Lively), a Mexican drug lord (Salma Hayek) and her psychotic enforcer (Benicio Del Toro)? The answer: a big, dull mess. Oliver Stone may have helped create some of the most thrilling and controversial movies of the past 30 years, but this sure as hell won’t be remembered as one of them. Aside from the uninteresting ménage à trois presented as something spicy between the three hot young stars, Hayek’s supposedly ruthless character is anything but. However, the real clincher is the “twist” ending, which turns the entire story from mediocre to just plain terrible.


Best: The Expendables 2

If you want a flick where the lead is slim yet powerful, good-looking and inherently brilliant, see one of the adventures of Jason Bourne, or in the case of this year, The Bourne Legacy, with Jeremy Renner replacing Matt Damon as Aaron Cross, a similar agent who takes a different course of action against those who trained him. With apologies to the always excellent Renner, he still couldn’t compete with a movie featuring almost every major action hero shooting the shit out of everything and everyone. The plot is thin as ever in this continuation of the mash-up of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and more, this time expanding the roles of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis and adding in Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Oh, yeah, and Liam Hemsworth, for those who buy Miley Cyrus’s fiancé as a high-level sniper. These movies may be dumb, but you can’t argue with their intrinsically self-referential sense of humor, giving nods to John Rambo, The Terminator and John McClane of Die Hard, with good results. “Good” is a subjective term, but “bad-ass” is indisputable.

Worst: Battleship

It’s not so much a bad movie as it is a so-so movie based on a terrible concept. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there was nothing in the instruction book of the pegs and boats board game about aliens. Nevertheless, the story of a naval vessel beset by extraterrestrial forces in the middle of a war game exercise played it straight and never managed to overcome its silly premise. The presence of Liam Neeson in a minimal role didn’t help as Taylor Kitsch — the whipping boy of 2012 — and first-time actress Rihanna tried to overcome some ugly, other-galactic suckers in this less-than-exhilarating bomb. Hopefully, the weak box-office returns prevent other board game ventures. Seriously, did anyone want to see Monopoly, Twister or Chutes & Ladders on the big screen? True story, there actually is a Candy Land movie in the works…

(Article continued on next page)