10 movies from this summer that were actually worth seeing

Martin Luther King Day weekend unleashed the megahit “American Sniper” on multiplexes, along with major studio releases “Blackhat” and “The Wedding Ringer.”

Presidents Day weekend brought “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” which combined to earn $975 million at the global box office.

Heck, even National Ice Cream Day weekend yielded “Ant-Man” and “Trainwreck.”

But for Labor Day weekend, three days when the vast majority of Americans are off work, the only new wide release is “The Transporter Refueled.”

Yikes!

With that in mind, here’s a look back at my 10 favorite movies of the summer that you can check out instead. Some of them are available on home video, some are hanging on in a few theaters and a couple are still dominating the box office. Watch the trailers above.

10. “Dope”/”Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”: This one’s a two-fer, because in many ways, they’re the same movie: Sundance sensations focusing on pop-culture obsessed high school seniors that disappointed at the box office. But they’re both worth seeking out. “Dope” for the ’90s hip-hop-loving Malcolm (Shameik Moore), who proves once and for all that not everyone from South Central L.A. is as tough as the streets. And “Earl” for its shoestring-budget movie parodies like “2:48 p.m. Cowboy,” which still makes me giggle.

9. “Amy”: In an era when even superhero movies have trouble portraying memorable villains, the documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse trotted out three of the year’s most compelling bad guys as the singer’s father, husband and manager seemed to be in a competition to see who could deliver the most devastating betrayal of her trust.

8. “Straight Outta Compton”: The reigning box-office champ isn’t as brash, raw and in your face as its subjects, N.W.A. But it’s close.

7. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”: You still have to wonder why, in an era when Sony is making a movie based on emojis, studio executives thought they could generate buzz with a film version of a barely remembered 1960s TV spy drama starring B-list (at best) actors. Having said that, “U.N.C.L.E.” was stylishly entertaining and surprisingly funny.

6. “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”: Much like “U.N.C.L.E.,” this 1960s TV retread seemed like a bad idea when the franchise debuted in 1996. But it’s always had a not-so-secret weapon in Tom Cruise, who, for the latest installment, repeatedly strapped himself to the outside of a military transport plane during takeoff. When everyone else is relying on green screens and computers, Cruise consistently risks his life in these practical stunts, and the results are thrilling.

5. “Magic Mike XXL”: There’s zero plot. There’s no antagonist, no denouement. There’s barely any conflict or adversity. And there’s certainly no character growth. “XXL” flies in the face of so many basic Hollywood rules, it could be mistaken for an experiment in deconstruction by an avant-garde Danish film collective. The result is so surreal, though, it’s almost genius — or at least as genius as two hours of dry humping can be.

4. “Jurassic World”: Chris Pratt is solid, Jake Johnson is hilarious and Bryce Dallas Howard, depending on whom you ask, is either ludicrous or a feminist icon for running around the jungles of Isla Nublar in heels. But the best things about this cool blast of nostalgia are the goofy “Godzilla”-style ending and that ridiculous, “Yo, I got this” head nod from raptor Blue.

3. “Ex Machina”: This intimate, unsettling look at artificial intelligence is part love story, part science experiment. Thanks to its extraordinary leading lady (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s” Alicia Vikander), the modestly budgeted film brought a robot to life in ways the following week’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” simply couldn’t, despite having spent something like eleventy billion dollars on its titular RoboSpader.

2. “Inside Out”: Someday you’ll be able to explain to your kids why, while they were busy laughing at the cotton-candy elephant Bing Bong or the antics at the Hollywood-style Dream Productions, you were quietly weeping at this animated tale of an 11-year-old girl and her emotions.

1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”: Much like “Magic Mike XXL,” there’s very little plot. It’s basically the big-screen equivalent of an 8-year-old playing with a bunch of rusted toy cars in a sandbox. But the two hours of rolling thunder is exquisitely filmed by the franchise’s caretaker, George Miller, making “Fury Road” the summer’s most dazzling experience.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. Find him on Twitter: @life_onthecouch

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