From Iron Man 3 and Fast & Furious 6 to Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel, this summer had its fair share of trilogies, franchises, sequels, and reboots. But amidst the fast cars, superheroes, and supervillains of the summer, two other trilogies came to an end. These were not blockbuster movies; in fact, these two trilogies offer a refreshing departure from typical Hollywood trilogies. Read on to find out what movies these were and why they were my favorite films of the summer.
First up: Before Midnight, a romantic drama directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock), starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and written by all three of them. Before Midnight is the third film in a trilogy that began with Before Sunrise in 1995, followed by Before Sunset in 2004. These films are the story of Jesse and Céline, an American man and a French woman who first meet on a train in Europe in Sunrise. After a night of walking around Vienna and engaging in deep conversations about love and life, they make a promise to meet again at the Vienna train station in six months. It is left up to the audience to decide whether or not they keep this promise—that is, until the truth is revealed nine years later in Sunset. In this sequel, Jesse and Céline meet again in Paris, where Jesse is doing a book tour after having written a novel inspired by his night with Céline all those years ago. The title, like the title of the first film, comes from the constraint on Jesse and Céline’s time together; Jesse has a plane to catch and can only stay with Céline for one hour. They reflect on how their lives have changed since they first met, and it is amazing to me how much is conveyed—by both the characters and the filmmakers—in so little time. Again, the end of the movie is left open to interpretation; Jesse is reluctant to leave Céline, but it is unclear whether he will miss his plane so that he can stay with her for one more night.
Before Midnight picks up nine years after the events of Sunset. Jesse and Céline are now—surprise—married and have twins. Midnight is a departure from the earlier films: the movie is longer and more serious, and the characters are older, wiser, and not as carefree. And unlike the other films, this one isn’t about some chance encounter: this is their life now, for better or for worse. After almost two decades, Jesse and Céline have changed in ways that are surprising, at times saddening, but above all real.
I can’t think of any other film series that follows the lives of an ordinary couple and chronicles how they evolve over the years. The Before movies are also unique in that they take place in real time (Before Midnight departs from this structure slightly, but it still takes place in one day). Moreover, the same length of time passes in between each film’s release as in the characters’ lives. Like its predecessors, Before Midnight is very dialogue-based and character-driven, and the conversations are so well-crafted and fascinating to watch, even when you’d like to look away.
In The World's End, Gary King (Simon Pegg) is a thirty-something alcoholic who refuses to grow up and move on from his teen years. He is determined to gather his old friends together so that they can complete the Golden Mile, a pub crawl of 12 pubs in their hometown that they had attempted unsuccessfully as teenagers. As the five men return to their hometown and the night of drinking commences, the characters’ histories are revealed, and old insecurities and tensions arise. This sets the stage for an interesting and very funny film, even without the sci-fi aspect. But this wouldn’t be a “Cornetto” movie without some type of eerie occurrence; Gary and his friends soon discover that the inhabitants of their hometown have been replaced by alien robots. They must fight off the invasion and save their lives and possibly all of humanity, but first…the pub crawl.