It’s July 1st so obviously we’re mired in the most blockbuster-centric portion of the movie calendar. Now, listen, I don’t mind that. I love a good blockbuster. I like being reminded of why I fell in love with movies in the first place because, as much as I love a movie like Boyhood, I can guarantee you that 13 year old me would’ve rolled my eyes to death at the concept for Boyhood, let alone the actual movie. But there is a certain malaise that sets in every summer when we’ve been inundated with the big, dumb, and loud sequels that come at us in droves this time of year. They all start to blend together and if that particular summer’s offerings are subpar to begin with (I’m talking to you, 2016), then I start to feel all the more bombarded, like I’m experiencing the end of an Iron Man movie in real life.
So as we near the halfway point of the summer movie season, I thought I’d offer you a handful of films that shy away from the blockbuster fare you’re likely to get at the theater over the next two months but that still feel like summer. I may be tired of crazy explosions but I don’t really want to watch The Revenant when it’s 108 degrees outside, you know? (Okay, so I really don’t want to watch The Revenant ever but you get what I’m saying.) I have no real criteria for this list other than I tended to lean towards fun and light over dark and heavy, and I went in with the general idea that none of my choices could involve large doses of car chases, gun fights, or heavy special effects. Also, they are presented in no particular order. Enjoy and please tweet/email me some of your choices for this list.
Major League (1989) – Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes
There’s nothing more summer-y than baseball. In the spirit of well-roundedness, I decided I’d only include one baseball movie on this list and wound up at Major League. It’s not my favorite baseball movie (61*) nor is it the best (Field of Dreams) but I think what Major League does best of all is give you a real sense of the marathon-like nature of baseball itself. It’s not just about winning the Pennant or reaching a milestone; it’s about the day to day life of a summer in a clubhouse and the slough that can be to get through. Also, if you were to put together a list of the “Top 10 Fictional Baseball Players From the Movies” (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t, honestly), Major League absolutely dominates that list and that seems important.
Chef (2014) – Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sophia Vergara
One of my favorite movies of 2014, Chef exudes the essence of summer to me in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. I guess it’s the road tripping and the implied heat of the various settings and the overall feel of the excitement of summer. Regardless, Chef is a fantastic little movie (we did an episode on it back in 2014) that deals heavily in charm and mouth-watering kitchen scenes (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say).
Almost Famous (2000) – Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit
I almost cut Almost Famous from the list because, as long time listeners of the show know, I love this movie so much that I can find a way to include it on just about any list. My “Top 10 Action Movies of the 70’s” would somehow involve Almost Famous. But at the end of the day, the central premise of the movie involves a teenager spending the summer (and the end of his senior year in high school) road tripping across America with a rock band. There’s nothing more summer-y than that.
The Way Way Back (2013) – Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette
Again, longtime listeners will know of my affection for this movie. We did an episode on it near its original release date and I continued to gush over it for the rest of the year. My feelings have not changed. The Way Way Back should be the summer movie coming-of-age tale for its generation but unfortunately it hasn’t gained much traction with the younger crowd. Undaunted, I will continue to scream of its many virtues from every roof top to which I have access. It is one of my very favorite movies and it features a number of outstanding performances, especially that of Rockwell who will never not be great in pretty much anything he ever does, ever.
The Goonies (1985) – Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman
HEYYYYY YOOOOOUUU GUUUYYYYYSSSS!!! Okay so I cheated a bit here since there is, in fact, a car chase at the outset of The Goonies. But the point of The Goonies is not the car chase or the special effects or the pulse-pounding action. It’s just a bunch of weirdos pooling their strange talents (street smarts, mouthiness, booby traps, cheerleading skirts, and the Truffle Shuffle) in order to save their homes from destruction and thereby preserve their respective childhoods. As a youth, I wanted nothing more than to be a Goonie and you’re darn right I’ve made the pilgrimage to Astoria to visit the Goondocks. Summer adventure at its finest.
Disturbia (2007) – Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Ann Moss
Be honest, this one caught you off guard didn’t it? A relatively forgotten Hitchcock remake/knock off from the few weeks between Shia’s Even Stevens days and his total meltdown, Disturbia is a fabulous piece of suspense with a fun conceit that indirectly plays on the “boredom” of summer. There’s really nothing ground breaking about this movie and yet it works because it is less concerned with the mystery element and more concerned with what happens when the mystery gets solved.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis
Imagine what it must be like to go to Wes Anderson’s summer camp. With his absurd attention to detail, I would have to believe that would be the most summer-y summer camp of all time. Moonrise Kingdom is a gorgeous little taste of that. I think it is oddly Anderson’s most accessible film and probably my favorite overall. The setting, of course, reeks of summer but so do the themes (adventure, exploration, the vulnerability of childhood, drunken Scout leaders, etc.) and Anderson meshes them all together so incredibly well.
Love & Mercy (2015) – Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
If an alien landed on your property anywhere between 1960 and 1990 and asked you to explain the concept of summer in America, I’m pretty sure you’d just hand him a Beach Boys album. And he’d be like, “Oh wow, I totally get it now. I’m no longer going to destroy your planet.” Love & Mercy goes to some pretty dark places (usually a big no-no for summer-y movies) but in its flashback segments, the music of the Beach Boys and the creative genius of Brian Wilson washes over you and you forget you’re watching a movie about how a famous rock star went crazy for a couple decades.
Orange County (2002) – Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Schuyler Fisk
Someday (with all my spare time and even more spare money I have just laying around) I will start a Criterion Collection for regular movies focusing on the mainstream movies I love that have somehow been lost to the winds of time. Orange County will feature prominently in this hypothetical series. Pretty much no one remembers/cares about Orange County and that’s a crying shame because it is hilarious and also sometimes I reference it in conversation and people just stare back, blankly. (Side note: My wife got my Orange County reference the first time I threw it out in our early dating days and it is unquestionably a top five reason why we are still together.) It lands here ostensibly because it’s all about a young man’s quest to find himself as he embarks upon his last summer before college but really because I just want people to go rent Orange County so we can all talk about it.
Stand By Me (1986) – Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
This is probably the quintessential coming-of-age summer movie, of course, but I’m not one to avoid clichés if they are apt so…here we are. Stand By Me is so committed to its coming-of-age-ness and so locked into its role in the lives of every child of the 80’s that I actually refused to watch it for a very long time. It felt like by my watching the film and seeing the end of these kids childhoods, I would in some way be forfeiting my own childhood and would be forced to head off into adulthood. Wow, that got way heavier than any of us were expecting, huh? But anyway, Stand By Me is great and everyone should be forced to watch it (and then immediately head off into the workforce, I guess).