Summer is over. Well, at least it's over at the movies, where the release of big blockbusters has slowed to a trickle. Faced with the doldrums of September (where many movies are sent to die), there's only one thing left to do: look back at the summer of 2013 and give out arbitrary awards to the best and worst films of the past four months.
Which movie had the best action scene? The craziest moment? Which movie surprised us the most? Which one let us down? Most importantly, which film won the summer? After you read this take, make sure you take a moment to hand out your own summer movie awards in the comment section below!
A special note: this article focuses mainly on mainstream movies built for a summer release, not every film that had a release over the summer. After all, it would be unfair and weird to compare popcorn-friendly superhero movies to the likes of Blue Jasmine, The Act of Killing, Frances Ha, Before Midnight and Only God Forgives. So when we say summer movie here, we mean summer movie. The indies and the more eclectic releases will receive their due when everyone makes their top 10 lists at the end of the year.
Best Action Scene: The World's End
In a summer filled with massive, city-wrecking action scenes that push modern special effects to the breaking point, it's a little shocking that the most well-shot and elegantly staged action sequence comes halfway through the modestly budgeted The World's End. Surrounded by the extraterrestrial robots that have taken over their hometown, the film's protagonists throw down with a small army of blue-blooded "blanks" in a low-key pub, ripping heads off, yanking limbs from bodies and performing all kinds of mayhem. It's not just a cool scene, though. It's very funny, very badass and we get to see the wildly different personalities of each character come to the surface via their fighting style. The World's End somehow makes Nick Frost the action hero of the year. Who saw that coming?
Runner-up: Fast & Furious 6
The only question is whether or not this honor goes to the absurd "cars vs. tank" chase or the nutty final sequence on the world's longest runway. Heck, the entire movie is pretty much one long (and wildly entertaining) action scene.
Best Date Movie: The Great Gatsby
Your mileage may vary with The Great Gatsby. Some people will find the tragic romance too dark and ultimately cynical to be a great date movie. Others will simply scoff at the lavish and occasionally gaudy visuals. However, this classic tale of doomed lovers is genuinely romantic and moving; the kind of film that'll have your loved one squeezing your hands and wiping away tears. Not to mention the fact that your relationship will look pretty healthy after you've measured it against that of Gatsby and Daisy.
Runner-up: The Conjuring
There was no scarier film in 2013 than The Conjuring and therefore, there are few films more likely to lead to hand grabbing and postfilm making out. This is the kind of movie that gets you laid.
Craziest Moment: Fast & Furious 6
The Fast and Furious franchise has built its reputation on increasingly ludicrous plots and insane, wildly implausible action scenes. However, nothing tops the scene in Fast & Furious 6 where Vin Diesel intentionally crashes his car so he can propel himself from the driver's seat, catch an airborne Michelle Rodriguez and safely crash onto the hood of another car. It's a moment that gives a stiff middle finger to reality and physics, but you can't help but admire the audacity of it all. Fast & Furious 6 is one talking rabbit away from being a Looney Tunes cartoon and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Runner-up: Iron Man 3
It may be one of the most controversial movie twists of the summer: Tony Stark invades the home of the mysterious Mandarin, only to learn that he's a hilariously schlubby actor named Trevor, a front for the real bad guys to hide behind. We wish more superhero movies took risks this big and bizarre.
Best Horror Movie: The Conjuring
What makes The Conjuring the best horror movie of the year so far? It's not that it's truly terrifying movie. It's not that it contains some of the most memorable and paced scares in a long, long time. It's the fact that it's classy as all get-out. There's something old school about The Conjuring that makes it truly special. The attention to character, the tiny details of the period setting, the beautiful and haunting cinematography... it all adds up to a production that is handsome, polished and pleasing to the eye that is also perfectly capable of scaring the crap right out of you.
Runner-up: You're Next
As untraditional as The Conjuring is old-fashioned, You're Next is a home-invasion movie with a fresh coat of paint. It's one thing to put a cast of characters under siege in their own home by masked killers, but it's another to make them memorable characters with legitimately funny things to say and plenty of insane things to do.
Best Family Movie: Pacific Rim
There was no reason for Pacific Rim to be PG-13. Seriously. This is a PG movie in every way, and that statement is firmly intended as a compliment. There are plenty of reasons for adults to dig this gorgeous, strange and crazily detailed science fiction world, but there are even more reasons for an 11-year-old boy to get sucked in and get obsessed. Pacific Rim is all of the things you wanted to see as a kid enacted on the big screen, a silly but riveting celebration of getting in the sandbox with your action figures and creating the Greatest Story of All Time. This is young you's favorite movie of all time.
Runner-up: Monsters University
Although immediately hamstrung by the fact that it's a prequel, Monsters University succeeds in typical Pixar fashion. The film is perfectly entertaining and cute for its first first half, but it brings some real honestly and truth in the final stretch, elevating it into a film worthy of being compared to Monsters Inc.
Best Comedy: This Is the End
It all looked like a one-note joke. A bunch of movie stars, playing themselves, desperately attempt to survive in James Franco's home while the biblical apocalypse rages outside. What's surprising is that it works. What's truly surprising is how well it works. The jokes come fast and frequently, with the vast majority of them landing. Even more impressive is the film's sense of scope, managing to continuously mine dick jokes while creating a horror scenario that's actually pretty chilling. Most importantly, the film has a big heart beating under its raunchy surface, elevating the whole thing from a hilarious trifle to something oddly personal.
Runner-up: The Heat
Did anyone think that Paul Feig, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy would fail when given the opportunity to make an R-rated buddy-cops movie? Of course not.
The "How Was This Made?!" Award: The Internship
Little-known fact: The Internship was actually filmed in 2004, right after Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn won America over with Wedding Crashers. Then the film fell into a time tunnel and arrived in 2013, where someone thought its archaic comedy and lame Google jokes would play for a modern audience. There was a time when Wilson and Vaughn looked like they could have been a terrific comedic duo, but alas, that time has gone. Stupid time travel! Because of you, the biggest hit from 10 years ago bombed today. What an embarrassment!
Runner-up: The Lone Ranger
Disney was hesitant to make The Lone Ranger, demanding multiple rewrites and budget cuts before it attempted to resurrect one of America's most iconic heroes. It turns out that they were right to be hesitant, since not even Johnny Depp in a funny hate could convince audiences that this was a movie worth paying money to see.
Most Ridiculous Destruction of a City Award: Man of Steel
The citizens of Metropolis will never forget the day they saw a man majestically take to the skies... and wreck the entire city. Man of Steel's extended final fight is inventively staged, stunningly shot mayhem that appears to kill countless innocent civilians and completely demolish a major urban center. It's truly unlike anything ever put on film before, but it's also a little troubling since Superman appears to be racking up quite the body count here.
Runner-up: Pacific Rim
When two giant Kaiju make landfall in Hong Kong and four Jaegers are sent to intercept them, you know there's going to be a lot of collateral damage. At least this movie makes special note of the citizens evacuating the city or taking refuge in shelters. It's a small touch, but it's significantly less tacky because of it.
The "Movie You've Already Forgot Ever Existed" Award: R.I.P.D.
Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds starred in a Men in Black rip-off where they played deceased lawmen who hunt rogue spirits? Nah. That didn't happen. I'm sure I would've remembered that. That couldn't be a thing.
And now you're telling me that Ryan Reynolds was also the lead voice in an animated movie about a superpowered racing snail?! Now I know you're pulling my leg.
Laziest Rehash: Grown Ups 2
It's only appropriate that Adam Sandler's laziest film received an equally lazy sequel. Like the first Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2 really feels like an excuse for Sandler and his buddies to hang out on set for a few weeks, barely work and collect a paycheck. This is ambling, plotless nonsense that feels like it was made up as it went along by people who truly stopped caring about their craft ages ago. Grown Ups 2 is absolutely shameless about how much contempt it has for the audience.
Runner-up: RED 2
Remember RED? RED was fun, right? You want to see all of those characters again, right? Surely you want to see them go through pretty much the same motions while bringing nothing new to the table, right? You're afraid of new things and would rather watch a comforting rehash than something bold, right?
The "This Should Have Made More Money" Award: White House Down
There are all kinds of explanations floating around concerning the poor box office performance of White House Down, but none of them ease the pain of a movie this fun failing to catch on. White House Down is a goofy, over-the-top action flick that feels like it was torn straight out of 1997... but in a good way. Somehow. Channing Tatum is effortlessly appealing as an action star the absurd, goofy action is filmed with all of the slickness you'd expect from a blockbuster pro like Roland Emmerich. If you people cost us more silly action movies starring Tatum, we're going to have some words.
Runner-up: Pacific Rim
If it's lucky, Pacific Rim will barely crack $100 million at the domestic box office. That's just unfair.
Special Jury Prize for Somehow Not Sucking: World War Z
The early buzz suggested that World War Z was going to be a disaster. The production was a nightmare and first cut of the film was broken. The second half of the movie was completely rewritten and reshot. Everyone was ready to pounce on this turkey. But... it's not bad. In fact, World War Z is pretty good and at times, it's very good (particularly in that completely reworked final hour). Although rough around the edges, this is a generally impressive and always entertaining horror movie that takes advantage of its global scale to tell a zombie story that is truly unlike any seen before. Good job, World War Z!
Runner-up: The Wolverine
It's not an opinion that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is one of the worst superhero movies ever made -- it's a fact. So everyone was right to be a little hesitant about the immortal mutant's second solo outing. And you know what? It's a pretty good movie. Even its worst moments (namely the third act) eclipse the best moments of Origins, making the film feel like a very necessary apology.
Biggest Disappointment: Elysium
Perhaps expectations were unfairly high for Elysium. Would the movie be less of a crushing disappointment if it weren't the sophomore effort from the man who made the brilliant District 9? Well, it'd probably be less disappointing and more of a straight-up bad film. Elysium is a bizarrely surface-level action movie that wears its painfully thin political and social commentary like a badge of honor, seemingly unaware that it has the depth of a grade school social studies essay. This wouldn't be a problem if Elysium were more fun or more exciting or funnier or had a science fiction world that even remotely made sense, but all of these problems just pile and pile and pile until you can no longer make an excuses for it.
Runner-up: Star Trek Into Darkness
The biggest problem with Star Trek Into Darkness is that it repeats the sins of its predecessor, having seemingly learned nothing from the strengths and failures of 2009's Star Trek. it's an energetic and frequently fun movie, but it throws logic and character consistency to the wind, resetting every character to their status at the start of the first film. What should have been a leap forward is just more of the same.
Summer 2013 MVP: Henry Cavill
Opinions have been generally mixed on Man of Steel, but the praise for its star has been nearly unanimous. Henry Cavill was certainly not an unknown before strapping on Superman's costume, but his work as the iconic superhero is proof that he truly deserves to be a movie star. One level, he's a powerhouse of an actor, lending this mythic character a surprising amount of humanity. On another level, he's so handsome that all other men look like fat losers next to him. Cavill is an international treasure and we can't imagine anyone else wearing the red cape and blue tights right now.
Runner-up: James Badge Dale
Character actor James Badge Dale may not be a household name, but you've certainly seen him pop up in your favorite movies and TV shows. In fact, he was the quiet MVP of 2013, appearing as a menacing henchman in Iron Man 3, a bad guy in The Lone Ranger and a memorably badass soldier in World War Z.
Best Movie of the Summer: The World's End
It may have arrived in the dog days of August and it may look like a minor film when placed next to many of the blockbusters talked about here, but The World's End is undoubtedly the movie of the summer. It's a better science fiction film than Elysium, Star Trek Into Darkness and After Earth combined. It has just as many laughs (and just as much heart) as This Is the End and The Heat. The action is as exciting as the far larger set pieces seen in Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel. Everything about Edgar Wright's fourth film is fresh and exciting and worth talking about. If all summer movies were this strong, writing articles handing out arbitrary awards would be far more difficult.
Runner-up: The Conjuring
In terms of sheer audience reaction, no film can top The Conjuring. To see this film with a sold-out crowd is to have an unforgettable experience. The film should play just fine at home, but you'll be talking how the theater erupted during the "hide and clap" scare for years to come. Movies like The Conjuring are proof that home setups will never truly replace the big screen. It's a communal experience. A magical experience. An unfairly good experience.
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