There is just one kind of summer movie for me, and blockbuster is not part of the definition. The exception may be Jaws, but it’s a classic and a blockbuster in the 1970s meant an entirely different thing than it does today. But my summer picks are usually not just for sheer entertainment, they evoke something more. They bottle some of the summer magic I long for the rest of the year. It is this hallucinatory combination of emptiness and endless possibility, this transitional time between past and future, a time when you let things go and prepare for new challenges, a ripe time for misbehaviour, but for pushing your limits too, a time for childlike fun and dreams, a time when the only thing on your mind can be the heat, a time of discovery, a time when you let yourself just be. For a more comprehensive view of my summer movies, you should first have a look at these other ten favourites.
Point Break (1991)
This is a film that takes my mind to rebellious summers and endless beach days as a way of life. It’s just the perfect blend of fearlessness, atmospheric scenery and entertaining action (mainly thanks to the two leading men, Keanu Reeves, as rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah, and Patrick Swayze, as the leader of a gang of surfers who moonlight as bank robbers) to pull you in and linger with you long after the ending credits, like the sand in your toes after you put your shoes on. You can’t really explain a cult movie, and that’s why you have a new appreciation for it every time you see it. You are allowed to be part of it and make your own version of it. And I just have to mention the style part and the classic beach staples. I talked about them here.
Stand By Me (1986)
Why I came around to watching this movie only a couple of years ago, I can’t really say. But there is no doubt that if I had seen it when it was released it would have become one of my childhood movies, a movie I would watch every summer and think of the rest of the year. But the thing is I related to it even now, in my thirties. Because it is not aimed only at children, but at adults, too, bringing back the exuberance of those years, but also stating some truths that you might find hard to believe so early in your life that would hold firm long after you’ve passed teenagehood. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” The most bittersweet truth of them all. This is a film I can not wait to watch with my son. There are not many of the kind anymore.
Il sorpasso (1962)
A one-day joyride that takes you through the entire range of human emotions, from slapstick to tragedy. This is the ultimate Italian road trip. A sunny, lazy day in 1960s Rome evolves into a madcap trip taking us through the most beautiful landscape, from Rome to Tuscany, giving way to wonderful surprises and hidden depths. Isn’t this what a road trip is all about? A journey of discovery and self-discovery.
American Graffiti (1973)
It captures the spirit of late 1960s teenage world of small-town America the way I imagined and read about it. The energy, the rock ‘n’ roll, the car-based culture (everything seems to be happening around one), the confused teenager in that crucial point of their life (which everyone can relate to) – the transition from high school to college/faculty and/or life – that summer of big decisions, big plans and transformations, and the last night of insane fun before life arrives.
12 Angry Men (1957)
This is a very realistic thriller, despite the confined place where it takes place, inside a little room where a jury in a murder case must reach a verdict on the hottest day of the year. The heat literally gets to them, it puts pressure on the jurors and drives them to cast their vote. It is the thirteenth character in the film. The heat makes them sweaty, it makes them thirsty, it makes them fatigued, it makes them nervous. They don’t want to stay crammed in there for too long. To watch on a hot summer night, without the air conditioning on.
Little White Lies (2010)
Every August a close group of friends go on holiday together, gathering at the beach house of one of them, Max (François Cluzet), at Cap Ferrat. Only they bring along their relationship problems as well. We get the illusion of a leisurely summer holiday, but what soon surfaces is an interlock of loves, jealousies, infidelities, frustrations and compromises. It’s like when you want to live an idyllic summer, breaking away from the realities of life and blocking out the problems you deal with the rest of the year (and even the thought that nothing bad can happen in summer), but realise you can’t.
Brilliant and terrifying, Hitchcock-style. Jaws is plain and simple a great adventure movie, the kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat, getting you to identify with the characters and asking yourself what you would do if you were them. It is a story that scares the hell out of the audience from the very beginning (skillfully using the power of the unseen – it is what you don’t see that scares you the most), which is why, I think, it is perfect to watch on the idle days of summer.
photo: film stills from, except for the first one, a Point Break poster by Chungkong Art / 2-Point Break (Largo Entertainment/20th Century Fox) / 3-Stand By Me (Columbia Pictures) / 4-American Graffiti (Lucasfilm/Universal Pictures) / 5-Il sorpasso (Incei Film/Sancro Film/Fair Film) / 6-12 Angry Men (MGM) / 7-Little White Lies (Les Productions du Trèsor)/EuropaCorp/Caneo Films) / 8-Jaws (Zanuck/Brown Productions/Universal Pictures)