The summer movie-going season is traditionally associated less with quality than with loud, dumb escapism. But cast a wide enough net and plenty of disparate pleasures can be found. Here are 10 sure things and good bets, ranging from the mainstream to the margins.
10. ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLONDE (2009)
From Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira, a 101-year-old force of nature who has been averaging one movie a year since 1990, a slender but resonant story of love at first sight: droll, sad, and utterly pitch-perfect.
9. LEBANON (2009)
Like two other acclaimed Israeli films of recent years WALTZ WITH BASHIR and BEAUFORT Samuel Maoz's Venice prizewinner is set during the 1982 Lebanon War. A combat movie in the form of a claustrophobic chamber drama, this intense tour de force is based on the directors experiences serving in the Israeli Army and takes place entirely inside a tank the outside world is seen only through the periscopic viewfinder.
8. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (2010)
The teenage children of a middle-aged lesbian couple decide to track down their father (a previously anonymous sperm donor). Complications and questions about the meaning of family ensue. With first-rate performances from an ensemble that includes Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, and Mark Ruffalo, Lisa Cholodenko's warm, winning dramedy suggests that its possible for a film to be at once out-and-proud and pro-family.
7. RESTREPO (2010)
From numerous trips to Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, the site of lethal firefights between American forces and the Taliban a few years ago, journalist Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington pieced together this jolting piece of frontline reportage. This is a view of war as experienced at ground level, alternating between uneasy downtime and the panicked confusion of combat.
6. AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN (2009)
Jacques Rivette, the French New Wave titan known for the epic durations of his films (1971's OUT 1 lasts literally half a day), delivers a model of compression: a serene and melancholy romance set among the members of a traveling circus community. As in so many Rivette films (CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, THE STORY OF MARIE AND JULIEN), the characters act as if under a spell that extends its grip to the viewer as well.
5. THE OTHER GUYS (2010)
Writer-director Adam McKay and star Will Ferrell have previously teamed up for the absurdist delights of ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY and TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY. For this buddy-movie spoof about a pair of NYPD underachievers, the addition of Mark Wahlberg, an underrated comic actor with an unbeatable deadpan, can only bode well.
4. ALAMAR (2009)
In this lovely fiction-doc hybrid by the Mexican filmmaker Pedro González-Rubio, a real-life father and son take a trip to Banco Chinchorro, a coral reef off Mexico's Yucatán coast, and the boy comes to appreciate the work and the rewards of an elemental existence. An idyllic vision of the bond between father and son, it's also a vitalizing meditation on the relationship between man and nature.
3. WILD GRASS (2009)
The great Alain Resnais, now 87 and best known for modernist head-scratchers like LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, has developed a lighter touch in his autumnal years. This eccentric romantic/stalker screwball comedy benefits from the ease and freedom that come with age but it also has the unpredictability of youth. It's a film that embodies what its obsessed hero says of the magic of cinema: "Nothing surprises you. Everything is possible."
2. INCEPTION (2010)
After the billion-dollar grossing DARK KNIGHT, Christopher Nolan returns with his first original screenplay since 2000's MEMENTO: a corporate-espionage thriller about a "dream thief" (Leonardo DiCaprio) who invades the minds of tycoons. No wonder that hopes have been high since the secrecy-shrouded project was announced: Nolan is the blockbuster auteur who best combines cerebral and visceral thrills.
1. BREATHLESS (1960)
Jean-Luc Godard's debut turns 50 this year, and a pristinely restored version is in theaters around the country this summer to commemorate the anniversary. The film that launched the French New Wave, made icons of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, and marks the birth of modern cinephilia, BREATHLESS remains fresh, startling, eternally youthful.