As the readers of this blog know I am a huge movie buff year-round. Unfortunately sometimes I grow weary of the blockbuster movies that are usually popular in the summer. For some reason I don’t usually like super hero movies. I’ve always prefered characters that I can relate to, even in a complete fantasy. For instance, Harry Potter may be in a complete fantasy world but his character and skill-set are mostly things I can relate to. The Incredibles is one of the few super hero movies I like because it moves super heroes into a real world setting and it makes me laugh. Most super hero movies are very show-offy and just for the fluffy special effects.
Christy Lemire, an AP movie critic I follow, recently posted a list of her top 5 summer movies. I have to admit I’ve only seen 1 of the movies she lists but I thought the idea was a fun one, especially for me given my usual distaste for summer movies. I had to make a list of 6 because I just couldn’t leave one off. So here goes:
1. Up- Up is one of my favorite movies. It is the story of an elderly man that fulfills his dream to go to Paradise Falls (a promise he made to his beloved wife) by flying his house to South America. It is a sweet, funny, endearing movie that never fails to move and inspire me. Just the first 5 minutes are more moving than 90% of the current romantic movies made.
The reason why I think it qualifies as a summer movie is its focus on travel (I actually saw it in Hawaii and then loved it so much to see it 2 more times in the theater when I got home.). The spirit of adventure and freedom also feels very summery. I think without a ‘summer vacation’ you lose a little of that sensation as an adult and a movie like Up reminds you to be a little more bold.
2. When Harry Met Sally- I love Norah Ephron’s writing, whether in book or movie form I think she is hilarious. Hidden in the romantic banter is nuggets of wisdom and insight. I could easily pick You’ve Got Mail as that is a favorite of mine but I went with WHMS because it begins with a road trip with lots of conversation. To me that is an ultimate summer experience. I must admit that usually such trips are ripe with peril for me but the idea of hitting the road and enjoying the conversation of a good friend is very American and very summery.
Perhaps because so many weddings happen in the summer but it seems to me you have to pick one romance in such a list. People always compare WHMS to Annie Hall but to be honest I like it better. I think Annie Hall is kind of boring and it did not make me laugh near as much as WHMS. It just didn’t- let the name calling begin.
For more of my thoughts on romantic comedies check out these posts-
3. Endless Summer- A summer movie list absolutely demands a beach movie. I LOVE the beach and fantasize about it on a daily basis. Endless Summer is a landmark documentary that introduced many people to the sport of surfing. In 1966 director Bruce Brown follows surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August (perfect last name for a summer movie!) as they introduce people around the world to surfing. They travel from Hawaii, New Zealand to Africa and Australia. The idea is that by surfing around the world summer never ends. What a glorious concept! What a happy thought!
Having tried surfing myself it is amazing what these athletes can do and what a thrilling experience it must be. Other good surfing documentaries are Step Into Liquid and Walking on Water. All 3 films are available as an instant stream on netflix. It will make you want to go to Hawaii and try surfing for yourself.
4. Inception- I picked Inception because for my money it is the best blockbuster type of movie ever made (was going to pick Raiders of the Lost Arc but this is even better). It is the puzzle piece of a movie where Leonardo DiCaprio goes inside dreams to attempt to retrieve and ultimately change the behavior of the subjects. Eventually an inception becomes so complicated that there are over 4 levels of dreams within a dream. In fact, the final ending it is unsure whether there are even more levels.
I think Inception transcends the action movie genre because it has so many well developed characters surrounding the action and special effects. All of the acting is really good, especially Marion Cotillard as DiCaprio’s wife. Her scenes give an emotional resonance to the film that is missing in most big budget action films. I also love Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon Leavitt.
I also like that it is a movie 100 people could see and all feel differently about. I like a movie that doesn’t spoon feed you a moral or a message. I’ve seen it probably 7 or 8 times and I still don’t know what the ending is. To me chatting about movies and books is a very summery thing. Something you just don’t have time for the rest of the year, so Inception makes the list!
5. 12 Angry Men- This may seem like an odd choice because it is such a small movie. The reason it made the list is because heat is such a critical element to the story. Told more like a play, 12 strangers (all played by amazing character actors) must deliberate on a murder case during a hot stifling summer day. The more they talk the more heat is used to convey stress, emotion, loneliness and anger.
Henry Fonda is excellent as the stick in the mud who insists on conversation but his performance is really the easiest to pull off. Lee Cobb and Ed Begley as the most explosive jurors are wonderfully nuanced but ALL of the actors are great. Its remarkable that a movie set in one room with a mere table and some pencils for props can be so compelling. Perhaps it is because human beings are compelling enough when written well without all the explosions and special effects.
You feel hot watching the movie. I’ve always wanted to see this in the theater but haven’t gotten to do so. I wonder if the power of movie to invoke heat and temperature would be missing in a live theater?
Still, an excellent movie for anyone interested in a good script, great acting and perfectly executed sets.
6. 5oo Days of Summer- My last choice is another romance. This movie uses Summer in a more broad sense. Summer comes to mean the time of a romance; hence it lasting for 500 days instead of 90. It is an artsy movie without being annoying telling the story of two young people Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gorden Leavitt who have a 500 day romance. It’s a simple story but told so creatively that it does not feel simple.
First it is told in a non-linear way with days 5 followed by day 453. This might sound confusing but it totally works. There are also other creative touches such as a mid-movie musical number and a scene that floats into a charcoal drawing. I also love the scene where a split screen gives two versions of an evening- what is actually happening, and what the character anticipates happening. Brilliant. All of these methods, however, could be incredibly irritating if done in a showy way but they aren’t. It just melds into the picture and makes sense. Plus, the chemistry between all the performers is really good. This is especially important for Deschanel who plays a kind of unlikable character, but she’s so likable it works.
It also has the guts to end in a bittersweet but perfect way. This is the movie I would recommend for someone that wants to feel summer all year round.
So there is my list. What would you have on your list of summer favorites? Please share!