ah memories

An A-to-Z Guide to What We Learned at This Summer’s Movies

Photo: Maya Robinson

If it feels like the summer movie season lasts forever, that’s because it practically does. Stretching from the beginning of May to the end of August, it spans four full months, which means that a third of every year is now taken up by blockbusters, superhero movies, and endless sequels. This year’s has just drawn to a close and looks to be the biggest ever, with estimated total ticket sales of $4.7 billion. We racked our brains for memories of this season’s movies, both big and small. Come take this journey with us and say farewell to summer 2013.

A — Apocalypse, canceling the: Kaijus, jaegers, neural handshakes — Guillermo Del Toro’s giant robots battle giant sea monsters movie Pacific Rim was full of more concepts and terminology than almost any summer blockbuster of recent memory (save Man of Steel, which you’ll encounter a few times on this list). Yet the most memorable words spoken in the movie were those of Idris Elba’s incredibly named Stacker Pentecost, who caps his rousing St. Crispin’s Day-esque speech with the line, “Today, we are canceling the apocalypse.” Given Hollywood’s current obsession with movies that deal with world-ending circumstances, though, we can’t imagine that happening any time soon.

B — Bird, dead: The Lone Ranger represents everything that is wrong with Hollywood. We’ve already told you why, and despite the efforts of the stars, director, and producer to convince moviegoers that the movie somehow got a raw deal, there’s no convincing us otherwise. One of the film’s most fundamental problems is star Johnny Depp, who seems uninterested in ever again portraying anything other than live-action cartoons who make funny faces and have weird tics — like Tonto’s habit of feeding the dead crow that sits atop his head, a costume choice that Depp has unconvincingly tried to explain.

C — Clap clap: The summer’s scariest sound. If you saw The Conjuring, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, just watch this trailer all the way to the end.

D — Dicks: That is to say, penises. The Seth Rogen/James Franco end of the world comedy This Is the End is full of dick jokes galore — including the visual gag of Satan’s giant, unholy package swinging above a fire-ravaged Los Angeles.

E — Exploding planes: (see also, Runway.) We get it — having an airliner crash/blow up looks spectacular on the big screen, and it taps into the modern fear of air travel/terrorism/hijacking. But this summer was ridiculous: Iron Man 3’s Air Force One rescue sequence, the moment in White House Down when Air Force One gets blown up, the scene in World War Z where Brad Pitt decides to blow up his zombie-infested passenger jet, the manhandled fighter jets and sacrificial cargo plane in Man of Steel and, of course, the giant plane on that endless runway that ejaculates Vin Diesel’s car through its nose.

F — Flops: On the surface, this summer was seemingly a bad one for Hollywood, with several movies (After Earth, The Lone Ranger, White House Down, R.I.P.D.) that significantly underperformed. Yet, this will likely be the highest-grossing summer ever.

G — “Gatsby? What Gatsby?”: Our quote of the summer, which we’ve used as the default response when we don’t have an actual answer to a question.

H — Hair, chest: The record number of promotional partners and product placement deals notched by Warner Bros. in conjunction with Man of Steel has been well-noted. One of the most prominent was with razor peddler Gillette, which covered New York City’s (and likely other cities) subways and buses in ads that asked “How Does Superman Shave?” It was a question posed in reference to the Man of Steel’s smooth all-American face. Yet, the more pressing question was “How Does Superman manscape that chest of his?” We’re talking some bushy pecs.

I — Illusions: The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled might have been propelling the illusionist/heist movie Now You See Me to $117 million at the box office. Magic!

J — Jesus figures: Remember that scene in Man of Steel where Superman enters a church and sits directly in front of a pane of stained glass in which Jesus is wearing a red cape? Exactly. And remember Matt Damon’s Max from Elysium, and the sun-dappled flashbacks to that nun and the way in which he is metaphorically crucified on an exo-skeleton cross and bleeds from his hands and ascends to the heavens to sacrifice himself for the good of humanity? Exactly.

K — Knee, take a: Several times over the course of After Earth, Cypher Raige (Will Smith) instructs his son Kitai (Jaden) to “take a knee” — that is, to calm down, think about the situation, and regroup. The Smith clan is probably doing the same following this bust.

L — Lindsay Lohan: She was in a movie called The Canyons. Have you heard of it? It was supposed to possibly be her comeback role. It was not.

M — Masks: In an attempt at anachronistic humor, The Lone Ranger has several characters ask the titular hero, “What’s with the mask?” It’s an odd question, as masks are fairly self-explanatory. They’re worn either to hide one’s identity or to freak someone the fuck out, as was the case in two of this summer’s horror movies — The Purge and You’re Next, in which anarchic groups of bad guys don creepy ones while terrorizing our heroes.

N — “Narc, Are you a?”: “What am I, speaking Japanese?

O — Orcas: This was a great summer for documentaries — 20 Feet From Stardom, Stories We Tell, the mind-blowing The Act of Killing. But one of the most moving and enraging was Blackfish. Primarily about the killer whale Tilikum, who in 2010, killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau (the third death he was associated with), Blackfish pulled the curtain back on the orca trade and makes a strong case for releasing all killer whales currently in captivity.

P — Presidents, American: John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan — either you think the stunt casting in Lee Daniels’ The Butler was genius in that over the top Lee Daniels way, or you thought the stunt casting in Lee Daniels’ The Butler was absurd in that over-the-top Lee Daniels way.

Q — Quidditch: The Internship, a Wedding Crashers reunion meets Google recruiting clip starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, came and went, probably as a result of its tendency to rely on years-old references for humor. At one point, Wilson and Vaughn’s characters attempt to play lawn Quidditch, and we were propelled back at least seven years.

R — Runway, endless: The money shot of Fast and Furious 6’s first TV ad, which aired during the Super Bowl, was the aforementioned moment in which a car drives through the flaming nose of a cargo plane. Little did we know that that shot would be the capper to a nearly thirteen-minute long scene that takes place on what could be the longest runway in the world.

S — Super blood: Captain Kirk’s death scene in Star Trek Into Darkness was undercut almost immediately by the existence of Khan’s super blood, a substance simultaneously capable of bringing someone back to life and killing a film’s climax.

T — Two percent: The score, on Rotten Tomatoes, of the Ethan Hawke “drive into things with a fast car” movie Getaway, one of the summer’s final wide releases.

U — Un-dateable: What the awkward, accident-prone, yet beautiful main character (Greta Gerwig) is improbably called over and over again by one of her roommates in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha.

V — Versace, Donatella: Only God Forgives, Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn’s  follow-up to Drive, was mostly written off as a slow-going, overly stylized, nearly silent, too-serious meditation on masculinity. It was. Kristin Scott Thomas was the movie’s only saving grace in her role as a castrating mother whose severe blond look was modeled after the fashion icon. We can’t ever imagine Versace calling anyone a “cum dumpster,” however, as Thomas’s character does.

W — World engine: Man of Steel is a Superman movie played partly as a sci-fi/alien invasion tale. As a result, the film is littered with portentous phrases like codex, genesis chamber, phantom drive … and world engine. When the film’s villain Zod (Michael Shannon), yells out the line, “Release the world engine,” it’s not hard to think of this:

X — Xanax: Cate Blanchett’s jittery, pill-popping performance in Woody Allen’s hit Blue Jasmine was one of the more memorable ones of the season, and will surely carry over into the fall as the film expands to more theaters.

Y — Young white men in coming of age tales: The Spectacular Now, The Kings of Summer, The Way Way Back — Is anyone else getting a little tired of these? Let’s have some more diversity. Stuff like Gimme the Loot, maybe?

Z — Zombies, the word: Watching World War Z was a very odd experience. Having read so much bad press on the movie (including stories run by this site), we were shocked at how tight and tense it was. Yet, we’ve also been watching The Walking Dead on cable for years now, so this movie’s complete lack of gore was totally bizarre. But there was also something fantastic about the movie embracing exactly what it was and having characters actually use the word “zombie,” as opposed to some euphemism like “walkers” or “infected.” A zombie is a zombie is a zombie. Let’s not disrespect the undead.

An A-to-Z Guide to Your Summer 2013 Movies