Though this has been widely lambasted as the worst summer movie season EVER, we emerge from 2010's tentpole wars to a cultural lexicon noticeably altered. Titles that seemed like safe bets in April — Sex and the City 2, or even Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — were certified by public opinion as dead brands come August. A number of hits reminded us that perception is not necessarily equivalent to reality, which is instructive. One such film, Inception, was the much hotter topic but will gross less than the widely dismissed Iron Man 2. While Nolan and DiCaprio fed the pretense of art to surprisingly receptive mall audiences, the biggest hit in actual art houses was The Kids Are All Right, a feel-good, star-studded comedy that proved moviegoers are willing to vote for gay marriage with their pocketbooks (except when they're not — 8: The Mormon Proposition, released widely for a documentary, barely made a blip).
That's the macro view. Here's the micro: my five highly subjective, most memorable movie experiences of the summer.
Los Angeles Film Festival
LAFF's move to its new downtown home wasn't without speed bumps, but the programming, spearheaded by former Newsweek critic David Ansen, was top-notch. And if LAFF's events exposed even a few local cinephiles to downtown gems like the Downtown Independent theater and REDCAT, all the better.
Trash Humpers at the Nuart
The sell-out crowd on opening night for Harmony Korine's hilarious, grotesque art wank were greeted in the Nuart's lobby by a giant industrial rubbish bin bearing a hand-scrawled sign: “One Hump Per Customer.” Fitting, as the film's special one-week run courtesy of record label Drag City turned each screening into a limited commodity, and thus a true event.
Dogtooth at the L.A. Greek Film Festival
Yorgos Lanthimos' controversial Cannes prizewinner, a dysfunctional family drama pushed to the edge of sci-fi weirdness and spotted with shocking violence, is high on my current list of the best films of 2010. Though Dogtooth had a theatrical run in New York (complete with an opening-night happening hosted by David Byrne), it currently has no L.A. release date — many local theater bookers reportedly were squeamish — but keep an eye out for special screenings later this fall.
Le Amiche at LACMA
A film I truly cannot get out of my head, and the latest in a series of home runs for LACMA's repertory program. While LACMA president Melody Kanschat recently confirmed to the L.A. Times that the museum's film series are “still in jeopardy,” citing stagnant donations and a continued struggle to fill seats (particularly for weekend late shows), its film programming seemed to come up in casual conversation an awful lot this summer — in film-snob circles, and in less rarefied spaces like Twitter and my gym. For what it's worth, the Saturday-night late shows I went to seemed pretty well-attended.
Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's kiss in Inception
I'll give Inception credit for its ambition, for drawing audiences to multiplexes without dangling the lure of a previously existent brand, for dominating at least a month's worth of movie-nerd conversation online and IRL. I just wish the film that proved original big-budget fare made by and for adults isn't a total losing proposition wasn't equally so painfully expository, visually safe and emotionally cold. I saw it twice, and both times the midfilm, contextless kiss between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page gave the film an all-too-brief jolt of sex, spontaneity and unexplained intrigue — all common dream elements that Inception otherwise had in short supply.