As the summer days and the first half of the year slip away, the time is right for a recap of the best films so far before we dive into the rich cool waters of a prestigious fall season. Last year’s eventual Best Picture and Best Director combo (Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker) was a late summer release, one that failed to captivate audiences in theaters as expected, but it rode its status as a critical darling (and Bigelow’s historic implications) all the way home. No film thus far has that kind of cachet, but a couple of summer titles might find themselves camped out on Oscar’s doorstep.

Oscar Nomination Locks_______

The Best Picture field remains at 10, which means that two box office faves from this blockbuster season have likely snagged spots. Wait for it…Toy Story 3 and Inception. No surprise, right? Toy Story 3 has one of the most emotionally and narratively nuanced stories of the year and it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking animated features or live action. As for Inception, director Christopher Nolan may as well have implanted the idea of a nomination in the minds of Academy voters. Even so, the real trick will be finding out if he slipped it deep enough to earn the win he (and his faithful fans) have been dreaming of for some time now.

Powerful Performances________

I’m amazed that a performance from the early portion of the year remains extremely vivid, especially considering I’ve never been a huge fan of the actor in question. Who is it, you’re wondering? Well, it’s none other than Ben Stiller from Greenberg. The guy has weaseled his way into my psyche playing a downright annoying character I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with outside the confines of the screen. Go figure. And in terms of actresses, I have a similar begrudging respect for Annette Bening who has never dazzled me as she has others, but this year she’s had two plum roles in Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child and the summer indie hit The Kids Are All Right from Lisa Cholodenko, which means that she could, if the studios play their cards right, earn lead and supporting nominations.

The Rest_______________________

Every year critics bemoan the dearth of quality films and prematurely announce the death of cinema. Over the past decade, I’ve joined that hallowed choir a few times myself, but I won’t do it this year. I wouldn’t proclaim this year one of the best ever, but it has produced a number of movies that teased and tickled my passion for motion pictures. I’ve enjoyed the revenge of the nerds (Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs the World), the crotchety old-timers (Michael Douglas in Solitary Man and Robert Duvall in Get Low), the feisty young girls (Noomi Rapace from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire and Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone), and the incomparable Joan Rivers who certainly is a piece of work.

So far, but thankfully there’s much more to come. (tt stern-enzi)