With the summer movie season past the halfway point – it officially started on May 1 – it’s a good time to check our cinematic scorecard.

And guess what? Most of the big, ballyhooed releases were disappointments.

Still, since May 1 I’ve handed out nine 3 1/2-star reviews … highly unusual in a season when movies are supposed to signify mindless diversion.

Just goes to show – there are always good movies out there. You just have to trust something other than the trailers.

Dashed expectations: Every summer begins with high hopes for certain films because we’re already on board. They reek of comforting familiarity.

Why, then, do they so often let us down? It’s probably because their makers figured they wouldn’t have to do much more than show up.

That’s the case with “Terminator: Salvation,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.” Technically these films are spectacular. But good luck finding sustenance for your head or your heart.

At least they made lots of money, unlike the abysmal “Year One” and “Land of the Lost.”

Professional competence: The good news is that Hollywood has not lost the ability to make a commercial movie that doesn’t suck your brains out through your ears.

Take, for example, “Star Trek,” a reboot that was way funnier, exciting and evocative than it had any right to be.

Or Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” (a horror/comedy of superior slyness), or Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” (a satisfying kickback to the classic gangster drama with yet another fantastic performance by Johnny Depp).

For a different kind of crime drama there was the acting duel between Denzel Washington and John Travolta in “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.”

Slightly less memorable but still effective were Ron Howard’s “Angels & Demons” and Sandra Bullock’s comedy “The Proposal.”

Documentary delirium: Sorry to sound like a broken record, but the best movies being made today are documentaries. This summer we’ve seen a slew of fantastic ones.

They range from “Tyson” (a sort of autobiography of the much-maligned prize fighter) to “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” (a real-life “Spinal Tap”), “Every Little Step” (a history of the musical “A Chorus Line” blended with auditions for a recent Broadway revival), “Valentino: The Last Emperor” (the fabulous but fragile world of haute couture), and “Food, Inc,” a documentary about where our dinners come from that’s so incendiary it will change your eating habits.

Dramatic fireworks: I didn’t see most of these films coming. And yet they are the summer’s surge-from-behind winners .

For example, you wouldn’t think a story about a lovesick sheep herder on the Asian steppes would have much going for it. Yet “Tulpan” was one of the most mind-blowingly cinematic films of the year. And without special effects.

“Goodbye Solo” was an intense little effort about a chatty taxi driver from Nigeria and his fare, a suicidal old man. “Lymelife” was a searing coming-of-age drama with Kieran Culkin witnessing the marital implosion of his parents (Jill Hennessy, Alec Baldwin).

Two of my favorites had Latin American themes. “Sugar” was a lovely film about a young Dominican pitcher who comes to the USA to play on a farm club of a fictional Kansas City Major League team. A brilliant look at the immigrant’s experience.

“Sin Nombre,” on the other hand, was a gripping and eerily beautiful film about a teenage Mexican gang banger on the lam from his murderous former buds. The film is a long road trip atop a northbound boxcar.

Sam Mendes’ comedy “Away We Go” is filled with astonishing sweetness and emotion.

And who knew I would be so moved by the dying-child melodrama “My Sister’s Keeper”?

As good as it gets: And finally we have Pixar’s “Up,” not only the best film of the summer but of the year to date.

This instant animated classic about an aged widower who escapes by turning his entire house into an airship works on every level: character, emotion, subtext, humor, adventure … “Up” is the perfect synthesis of popular entertainment with artistic intentions. I’m even going to go out on a limb here and predict it will be the first animated feature to win the Oscar for best picture.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.