Summer at the movies

Ben Raymond

Welcome back, my fellow Villanovans. Before you grind your nose into your freshly bought and overpriced chemistry or marketing textbooks, take a moment to remember the summer that was in cinema.

The summer movie season began in earnest with the surprising success of “Iron Man,” which raked in a gargantuan $317 million domestically and another nine figures abroad.

Even the most optimistic of box-office prognosticators expected no more than $200 million. “Iron Man” surprised industry experts and raised audiences’ expectations for the remainder of the summer.

Next up was “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the fourth installment in the beloved series. After 19 long years, the wait was finally over.

And now the recovery can begin. “Indy 4” was one of the single most disappointing experiences I believe I have ever had in a theater – and I saw “Spider-Man 3.”

“Indy 4” was ridiculousness itself. Indulgent, lazy and nonsensical, it felt more like a poorly programmed video game than a well-crafted adventure film.

Creator George Lucas is to blame. He accepts a script by David Koepp that ends in spectacularly stupid fashion with a spaceship rising from beneath the floor of the Amazon rainforest.

Simply put, I just didn’t buy it. I know Dr. Jones is a tough guy, but some of this stuff was just ridiculous.

Driving a jeep over three thousand-foot waterfalls? Swinging through miles of jungle on the backs of chimpanzees? Surviving nuclear holocaust in a refrigerator? I don’t really buy that.

Here’s another thing I don’t buy: Shia LeBeouf. Will someone please tell me why this guy has a career?

But the rub soon came with Pixar’s latest masterpiece, “Wall-E.” Intelligent, charming, and even important, it was a delight for moviegoers of all ages.

Animated to perfection, wildly entertaining and one of the more politically conscious films in recent years, “Wall-E” had everything good filmmaking requires. And it had it in spades.

Collecting a tidy sum of $214 million, “Wall-E” has become one of Disney-Pixar’s most successful collaborations – and without a marquee voice in the cast to speak of.

“Wall-E” was the summer’s best film, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it land in my top five at the end of the year.

But the summer belonged to “The Dark Knight.” Its praises have been sung and sung well: highest critical approval rate of the year.

Its record-smashing box office take has made the national news: $66.3 million in one day, $115 million in one weekend, $489 million to date and the second highest-grossing film in history.

Instead of recounting what you’ve all already heard, I’ll cool down some of the heated debate over the film’s chances in the record books and in the Academy voting.

First off, as much as we would all like to see it happen, “The Dark Knight” will not overtake “Titanic” as the highest-grossing movie of all-time.

Though it quickly closes in on the $500 million mark, it is steadily losing 30 percent each week and has another $100 million to make before it approaches the $601 million “Titanic” earned in 1997 and 1998.

Second, Heath Ledger will be nominated for best supporting actor, and he will win it. There are two reasons why.

One, it was the best performance of the year and one of the finest I have ever witnessed. No superlative is sufficient to describe his maniacal, unrecognizable performance.

And two, delivering a posthumous Oscar to a beloved actor is a story impossible to resist.

Finally, “The Dark Knight” could very well be nominated for best picture.

Though no superhero movie has ever before been even mentioned in the Oscar race, the box office numbers and acting pedigree might be too much for the Academy to ignore.

This month saw the release of two blockbuster comedies. From “Superbad” filmmakers came the Seth Rogen stoner comedy “Pineapple Express.”

Garnering positive reviews from most critics, “Pineapple Express” was a nice dessert to the summer’s main course of blockbusters.

The second was Ben Stiller’s slapstick war comedy “Tropic Thunder.” A riotously funny and overall well-crafted effort, “Tropic Thunder” received one of the highest critical approval ratings of the year.

The highlight was unquestionably Robert Downey Jr. for his hilarious take as a flighty Australian thespian-turned badmouthing black man.

Couple this performance with the success of “Iron Man,” the credentials of his upcoming film “The Soloist” and a comeback story for the ages, Downey Jr. might be irresistible to Oscar voters this coming February.

All told, the summer of 2008 was a rousing success and a trend-breaker after the disappointments of the past few years.