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The hidden gems of August

Tim here. August is upon us, the unloved bastard child of the summer movie season: understanding that the last three months have largely bled the audience dry, and knowing that it’s time for families to start getting ready for the upcoming school season, studios tend to leave this as a month for dumping all their projects that are too costly and high-profile to end up in the darkest hole the calendar has to offer, in January, but aren’t nearly polished enough to compete with the big expensive tentpoles of May and June. This means, in turn, that the wide release movies of August tend not to be as fussed-over and market ready as their big siblings, and while this means, far more often than not, that they are chintzy and unlovely things, it’s almost always the case that at least one or two releases every single year end up being one of the most unique and enjoyable films of the season, simply because a little bit of personality is actually able to sneak out through the test-market filters.

With this month serving as the last chance to redeem a bleary summer (my pick to hope and dream about: The World’s End), I wanted to visit some recent Ghosts of Augusts Past, films that linger in the memory far more than the more posh, A-list movies that preceded them to theaters.


August 2003 – Freaky Friday
A true surprise, of the best sort: Disney remaking a ‘70s film to vastly improved effect, with Lindsay Lohan in the entirely terrific performance that set her on the map as one of our most promising young stars before… you know… all that happened, and Jamie Lee Curtis in the last great role of her career as the businesslike mom whose body is invaded by a rebellious teen. And yes, I did say “great role”, for part of what makes this Freaky Friday so much better than it had the least right to be was that the filmmakers and performers never talk down to the material or treat it with any kind of cynicism or contempt. It is, quite possibly, the all-time masterpiece of the generally questionable “body swap” genre, with a profound sense of fun and zaniness of the most likeably high-spirited sort.


August 2005 – Red Eye
There was, in 2005, no reason to have any sort of expectation from director Wes Craven, an icon in the horror genre who hadn’t made a more than tolerable film in almost a decade (unless you see more to like in the plonking  Music of the Heart than Meryl Streep), Cillian Murphy hadn’t really made any kind of impression on mainstream filmgoers until just the month prior, with Batman Begins, where he was hardly the draw, and while those of us in the know had Rachel McAdams on our radar thanks to Mean Girls, the muscles she was flexing there were hardly well-suited to appearing in a genre film. And yet this threesome cranked out one of the most wonderful thrillers of the 21st Century, a sinewy beast with an outstandingly effective false first act, a bone-chilling middle that includes some of the most tension I’ve ever experienced in a movie theater, and a finale that pretty much deflated everything else and sucked.

But still! It’s basically just a beach read in cinematic form, and that giddy ride for the first three-quarters of the film is an absolutely terrific beach read, and in a no-nonsense 85 minute package, too.

August 2010 – Step Up 3D
Oh, stop it. I see that look. It’s the most absurdly fun kind of stupid trash, and no film since then has done a better job of using 3D in grandly expressive, playfully gimmicky ways. Which is about 180 degrees away from anything that any of us would identify as great cinema, but if you can’t get pleasure from the loopy “spitting slushies into the air” scene, I don’t know why you’d bother with summer movies at all.


August 2012 – ParaNorman
Beautifully mixing old-school technology – hand-made stop-motion animation – with bleeding-edge computer animation advances that the puppet animation of yore could never have imagined, the ghost story-comedy-adventure hybrid would be worth praising as one of the best family films of 2013 for its aesthetics alone. But that’s arguably not even the best part of a movie that treats the lives of its under-18 cast with considerable dignity and maturity, recognizing that modern kids are far more aware of what goes on in the world than modern adults are prone to admitting, unless it’s in the form of one of those grisly “quipping adults in child-size” precocious side characters. Nobody in ParaNorman is precocious, and that’s what makes its level, thoroughly grown-up storytelling so wonderful: here is a family movie that trusts its audience to be smart, to care about artistry, and to have an interest in engaging with the world. In addition to being a fun zombie attack movie, because kids, at least, haven't gotten tired of zombies yet.

Have any favorite late-summer movies? Share them in the comments!

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Reader Comments (16)

Tim: Though he wasn't "the draw", Cillian Murphy in Batman Begins is EASILY my Supporting Actor pick for 2005. Arch and threatening in even mix, I would have loved to have seen what a loopier, less "fantastical elements of the Batman mythos averse" director than Nolan could have done with him and the idea of the "Scarebeast" storyline.

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

ParaNorman was such a fresh of breath air last summer. Love it still.

As for other late summer faves, two recent examples that come immediately to mind: District 9 (2009) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). So I'm excited that both of those directors are back this August with new films!

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Right on about Jamie Lee Curtis in "Freaky Friday"--that scene of her going shopping and running up her mom's plastic, and sashaying with newfound confidence down the street had me roaring with delight in the theater, and Lohan was good too. (Though I have to put in a plug for the wonderful turns by the no-nonsense Jodie Foster and the marvellously loopy Barbara Harris in the original, though the script gets pretty convoluted.) I loved "Paranorman" too.

The first late-summer movies I thought of were two 80's beauts: "RIsky Business" (August of '83) and "Real Genius" (late summer '85). Both of them are easily two of the best comedies of the 80's and would go in my personal time capsule.

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDback

I can't believe you didn't mention the film that came out in August of 2001, a little Nicole Kidman film called The Others!!!! I am more surprised that Nathaniel didn't mention it already in the comments.

That to me is the greatest pleasure of August the thriller type films that get dumped there by the studios not because they are bad but because they are a risk then they slowly gain on word of mouth and crack 100 million to become sleeper hits by the fall.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGraham

Other notable movies to come out in August are The 40-Year Old Virgin, Bring it On, Bowfinger,Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Collateral and Inglorious Basterds.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames

The Help.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry O.

Dirty Dancing, The Others, District 9, and The Help all come to mind.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Three best pictures nominees 10 years apart define this topic for me: The Sixth Sense, District 9, and Inglorious Basterds.

The Sixth Sense's box office story really is one of the all time greats. Five straight weekends at the top, all above $20 million. A 3% second weekend drop (3rd best for a non-holiday 2nd weekend), and a 14% bump in its fifth weekend for the 2nd best Labor Day weekend. It is truly one of the very few word-of-mouth hits in the blockbuster era.

Then 10 years later, District 9 and Inglourious Basterds hit high marks (or at least pretty close to it) for their respective weekends,, the 2nd and 3rd weekend of August. It really shows that there is an audience for smart dramas (or drama hybrids) aimed at adults. And their Oscar nominations months later show that Oscars do pay attention to audience reaction.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkin

Kiss haven't tired of zombies yet? I submit that nobody has actually tired of zombies, we've only tired of rote, by-the-numbers zombie movies., just like we're tied of superheroes, giant robots, and smurfs. Were still waiting for that one that's going to knock our socks of again, and unfortunately it doesn't look likely anytime soon.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMalbon

@Malbon- True enough. Trust me, I come from a place of deep zombie love, and even deeper frustration at the lazy way they've been flattened into a one-note pop culture joke.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Julie & Julia...

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I remember loving Under the Tuscan Sun (August 2003) when it came out and went on to be a moderate hit with the mom crowd and struggling gay 18year old in a small town crowd (okay maybe that is not much of a crowd, but I saw the movie twice at the theatre).

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher


Under the Tuscan Sun to me is one of the most uplifting films I've ever seen.
I know it's dismissed as light "fluff" sometimes but Diane Lane always does SO much with the material she is given in her roles.

Anyone who hasn't yet seen it should check it out! Good call Christopher!!

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

The Usual Suspects!

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Love Red Eye. Wish that more films could be that efficient. One of the greatest trailers of all time, too.

Meryl Streep has excellent luck with August: Hope Springs came at exactly the right time last year, as did Julie & Julia in 2009.

Other recent August faves: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, District 9, Inglorious Basterds, The House Bunny (SHUT UP! Anna Faris is GENIUS in this!), Stardust, and late-Summer horror movies like The Others, The Sixth Sense, and The Descent. There seems to usually be some prestige sheen to the genre movies released in August (except for the ones that know they're crap).

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Under the Tuscan Sun is the only movie I've walked out of. My friend hated it so we left, but I never thought I was missing much.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercash

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