Forget blockbusters, 2019 was the summer of cinema

Summer Movies Illustration
Nikai Morales/THE REVIEW
While big-budget movies felt uninspired, indie movies triumphed.

BY Music and Society Editor

The summer blockbuster is a cornerstone of the American Hollywood tradition complete with impossibly beautiful actors doing impossibly ridiculous things — all to the tune of ample explosions. Formulaic yet undeniably thrilling, studios utilize the sweltering heat and cause audiences to suspend disbelief: finding reprieve in technicolor absurdity.

While this strategy has worked like a charm in years past, summer 2019 proved to be a major disappointment with falling box office sales in general and the continued domination of streaming. Between endless pointless sequels, run-of-the-mill superhero flicks and what exactly none of us wanted — lifeless live-action recreations of our beloved childhood properties, mainstream movies were about as exciting as spending time with your grandparents in their Florida retirement community for the summer months.

But actually summer 2019 was one of the best in recent years for film.

You may be thinking, “Wow, the heat must have really gotten to him… He is totally contradicting himself right now.” I assure you that I am not losing my mind and that I did leave the house this summer, mainly just to go see movies. With a little extra effort, tracking down independent films this summer amazed, inspired, terrified and invigorated me, giving me renewed faith in cinema as an artform. Here are some of the best of the summer.

The Souvenir

As the credits began to roll and I sat in stupefied silence, an audience-member in front of me turned to the person next to them and declared, “That was the worst movie I have ever seen.”

While I could understand their negative reaction due to the two hour runtime, quiet dialogue and loose narrative structure, “The Souvenir” is a rare film that makes one feel the agony, confusion and profound beauty of its subjects.

Set in 1980s Dublin, the protagonist is an aspiring film student of privilege who naively attempts to define herself and find her voice as a woman, artist and lover throughout the story. Becoming ensnared by an older man, she begins to question the very makeup of her being, overcome by his vast network of secrets and undeniable appeal.

Philosophical, sensual and lyrically haunting, “The Souvenir” is well worth your time and attention for a more challenging film-going experience.

Booksmart

The teen comedy is by no means uncharted territory for summer pictures, but “Booksmart” set itself apart as a recent classic in the genre and a movie completely representational of the time.

Two overachieving best friends realize they spent their entire time in high school kissing ass rather than making friends or fun memories, so they enter into a pact to “go out with a bang” on the night before graduation. The familiar plot is just a baseline for the hilarious and unconventional misadventures of the leading ladies who navigate relationships, substances, the changing definition of their friendship before college and a criminal on the loose.

“Booksmart” is genuinely hilarious and finally adds LGBTQ+ representation to the genre in a meaningful way, the bathroom scene with Diana Silvers alone. Best of all, the soundtrack features the likes of Death Grips and Perfume Genius, giving the perfect sonic backdrop to the vibrant story.

Midsommar

“Midsommar” proved to me that daylight and smiling Swedish people, two things I would have never expected, indeed scare the shit out of me. Ari Aster is the modern master of horror and truly proved himself with this film after the nightmare fuel of “Hereditary” last year.

A young girl travels with her anthropologist boyfriend after the death of her family and is unknowingly cast into a horrifying, overexposed world that makes her question her sanity as well as her life’s trajectory. What begins as an innocuous getaway to Northern Europe quickly descends into utter chaos as the Midsommar festival begins in the remote community.

Cults, sacrafices, increasingly uncomfortable sex rituals, maypoles, grieving and symmetry are all elements that make “Midsommar” a film that will be seared into your memory long after viewing it. “Midsommar” is not only one of the most disturbing films in recent memory but is a visual feast and a rich allegory for the deconstruction of love.

The Farewell

Love is a universal language. Lulu Wang’s poignant, semi-autobiographical tale, “The Farewell,” is prefaced with the words, “Based on an actual lie.”

In the beginning of the film, the matriarch of the family, Nai Nai, is diagnosed with stage four cancer but the family decides to keep the information from her and use a wedding as an excuse to all go to China to spend time with her. The focus of the story is between Billi, the grand daughter, and her relationship with Nai Nai.

“The Farewell” hilariously captures family dynamics and grapples with the divide between East and West. No film this year is as moving or powerful as this one, bringing everyone to audible sobs both times I saw it in theaters, especially my own grandmother who reiterated how truthful and essential family truly is.

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