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Summer of cinema

A checklist of the season's hits and misses

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Best Cameo: Tobey Maguire in Tropic Thunder. Runners-up: Robert Downey Jr. in The Incredible Hulk; the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Worst Cameo: Mariah Carey in You Don't Mess With the Zohan. Runners-up: Deepak Chopra in The Love Guru; Richard Petty in Swing Vote.

Breakthrough Male Star Of The Summer: Robert Downey Jr., who after decades in the business has finally emerged as a bona fide star thanks to Iron Man and Tropic Thunder.

Breakthrough Female Star Of The Summer: Penelope Cruz, who finally crashed through the language barrier by delivering her best English-speaking performances in Elegy and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Biggest Star In Bad Movies: Brendan Fraser, who appeared in two turkeys that nevertheless emerged as commercial hits: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ($98 million) and Journey to the Center of the Earth ($95 million). On the other hand, Mummy did cost $145 million, which brings us to our next category ...

Biggest Stateside Flop: Speed Racer, loss of $77 million (gross: $43m; cost: $120m). Runners-up: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, loss of $59 million (gross: $141m; cost: $200m); Babylon A.D., loss of $58 million (gross: $12m; cost: $70m); Meet Dave, loss of $49 million (gross: $11m; cost: $60m); The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, loss of $47 million (gross: $98m; cost: $145m).

Best Counterprogramming: Sex and the City. Even the unbelievably misogynistic ravings of threatened fanboys couldn't prevent this TV adaptation from emerging as a $152 million smash. Runners-up: Mamma Mia! ($132 million); What Happens In Vegas ($80 million).

Worst Counterprogramming: Made of Honor. Opening against Iron Man to begin the summer box office race on May 2, this even had the audacity to bill itself as "the romantic comedy event of the summer." But it wasn't even the romantic comedy event of the month, as this $46 million earner immediately got sideswiped by What Happens in Vegas the following weekend.

Smartest Counter-Counterprogramming: The Strangers. This awful horror yarn had been sitting on the shelf for a long time -- heck, I covered it in my Summer Preview for 2007 -- and had it been released at any other point in the year, it probably wouldn't have made a nickel. But anticipating the irrational male backlash against Sex and the City, Rogue Pictures opened it on the same day (May 30) as an alternative for the open-mouth-breathers. The result was a $52 million gross for a picture that only cost $9 million.

Most Ignominious Opening: The Midnight Meat Train, which premiered nationally on 102 screens and ended up grossing -- yes, you're reading this right -- $83,361 during its entire run. Locally, it didn't even open at a first-run theater, debuting at the discount theater in Matthews.

Summer Movies I'm Most Sorry To Have Missed: Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, two documentaries about controversial figures.

Summer Movies I'm Most Grateful To Have Missed: Space Chimps and Fly Me to the Moon, two animated flicks about earth creatures (monkeys and houseflies, respectively) in outer space.

Most Overrated: Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

Most Underrated: Get Smart.

Best Performance: Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Michelle Pfeiffer fully deserved an Oscar nomination as Catwoman in 1992's Batman Returns. Here's betting the Academy won't skip a memorable Bat-villain twice. Runners-up: Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz in Elegy; Richard Jenkins in The Visitor; Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder; Steve Coogan in Hamlet 2; Don Cheadle in Traitor; Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight.

Worst Performance: Joan Allen in Death Race. Oh, Joan, has it really come to this? Runners-up: Mike Myers in The Love Guru; Jennifer Hudson in Sex and the City; Helen Hunt, Matthew Broderick and Colin Firth in Then She Found Me; Luke Ford in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor; Tyrese Gibson in Death Race.

Worst Film: The Love Guru. This grotesquerie is almost as unwatchable as Mike Myers' The Cat In the Hat. Runners-up: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor; The Strangers; Star Wars: The Clone Wars; Then She Found Me.

Best Art-House Film: Elegy. Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz star in this adult drama whose understated approach belies its emotional wallop. Runners-up: The Visitor; Roman de Gare.

Best Mainstream Film: The Dark Knight. Easily shaking off the label of "yet another superhero movie," this pitch-black morality tale adds unexpected gravitas to the proceedings, resulting in a haunting masterwork that earns its accolades. Runners-up: WALL-E; Tropic Thunder.

Top 15 Moneymakers

1. The Dark Knight -- $505 million

2. Iron Man -- $317 million

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- $315 million

4. Hancock -- $227 million

5. WALL-E -- $218 million

6. Kung Fu Panda -- $213 million

7. Sex and the City -- $152 million

8. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian -- $141 million

9. The Incredible Hulk -- $134 million

10. Wanted -- $134 million

11. Mamma Mia! -- $132 million

12. Get Smart -- $128 million

13. You Don't Mess With the Zohan -- $99 million

14. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor -- $98 million

15. Step Brothers -- $98 million

(Through Sept. 2. Source: www.boxofficemojo.com.)

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