"Short Term 12"
Along with memorable roles in "The Spectacular Now" and "Don Jon," Brie Larson cemented herself as the Next Big Thing in this summer's "Short Term 12." The film is funnier and more optimistic than its premise suggests -- a young woman working at a facility for abused and abandoned kids must come to terms with the demons of her own childhood -- and that is in no small part due to Larson's unforgettable performance.
"Spring Breakers" is not for everyone. But if you can stomach Harmony Korine's candy-colored bacchanalia of writhing young bodies, ample drug use, amateur crime sprees and James Franco in a grill, you'll also find an entrancing examination of the American Dream in the 21st century and probably the best rendition of Britney Spears's "Everytime" ever captured on film.
"This Is the End"
Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen's raucous comedy gave us a hilarious satire on the apocalypse film drama, a fan fiction version of what it's like to be a Hollywood celebrity and one of this year's best executed rape jokes (not that there's much competition among well-executed rape jokes). Michael Cera re-imigained as a coke-addicted, sex-obsessed jerk is an achievement in and of itself.
Washington politics are crowding the TV landscape, from dramas soap-y ("Scandal") and "serious" ("House of Cards) to comedies broad-minded (the ill-fated "1600 Penn") and partisan ("Alpha House"). The HBO comedy "Veep" is its own political animal, featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus out-Elaine-ing herself as the shrewd, self-involved Vice President Selina Meyer.
One of this year's most triumphant films is about a tale both familiar (a young girl wants a bike) and eye opening (she lives in Saudi Arabia, where riding a bike is extremely taboo for women). Also remarkable is that "Wadjda" is likely the first feature film made in Saudi Arabia -- by a female filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour, no less.
"The Way Way Back"
"The Way Way Back" is a summer coming of age tale done right, with fantastic performances by Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell. An adolescent, discovering first love and dealing with his mom's bullying new boyfriend, gets a little closer to becoming a man with the help of a free-spirited water park employee.