A saw a young guy riding around in a tank top on a bicycle at high noon in the terrible heat this week, and it reminded me of “The Way, Way Back,” which made me want to list movies about summer that really capture the eyeball-searing drudgery, where your feet melt into your flip flops and you can see your bright red sunburned nose like a peripheral beacon between your eyes, no matter what you’re trying to do (like write something).
Boredom and summer heat lead to all manner of adventures in “Rear Window,” a completely undiminished and timeless Hitchcock classic. Some Hitchcock films seem sort of dated and hokey when you watch them now, but “Rear Window” relies on a strong and fascinating premise instead of special effects or gimmicks and, as such, is still completely wonderful.
James Stewart plays a roguish photographer confined to a wheelchair because of a broken leg. Bored and restless, he watches his neighbors from his own apartment window as they look for love, host raucous parties, get married and above all, try to escape the blistering summer heat. When he suspects one neighbor of murder, he must rely on help from his gorgeous girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly, who he has always underestimated, as well as the magnificent and savvy Thelma Ritter, who makes every movie better. If you know someone who doesn’t “get” Alfred Hitchcock, show them this.
“Jaws,” on the other hand, does have hokey special effects, or rather, one hokey special effect, the titular shark, but it is employed so judiciously that this movie has not diminished in its glory, either. Just think about it the next time you’re swimming in the Gulf; I defy you not to curl up your toes a bit.
From the opening scene when that poor inebriated girl gets yanked around in the ocean, to the most memorable and sun-soaked beach scene with the frantic Chief Brody, it’s what you don’t see that makes this movie so suspenseful. And it is the great buddy chemistry between Brody (Roy Scheider) and ocean scientist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) that gives the film so much more than just scares.
As two rather unlikely heroes who are then mixed in with the insane bravado of the salty sea captain, Quint, their final battle with a big rubber shark is so much more exciting than the digital thrills we get today.
Summer camp is a rite of passage for many kids and “Wet Hot American Summer” is a cult classic full of people who are probably your favorite actors and comedians now, including Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks. It’s a comedy in the purely ridiculous vein, unsullied by a hint of drama or romance. It is pure unadulterated silliness, and as such has a devoted following. I think this is one of those love-it or hate-it films; it strikes you as either brilliant hilarity or inane nonsense.
“Dazed and Confused” is another cult classic that takes place on the last day of school and into the wee hours of the first day of summer. It’s about the glorious promise of the future, specifically summer, and since summer is a concept that really concerns people in school who get a vacation, maybe this is the most important summer flick of all. We remember the carefree fantasy of summer long after we actually get to experience it, and, as these students in “Dazed and Confused” move forward through high school, the wistful impermanence of these days hangs in the air, alongside the haze of pot smoke and classic rock soundtrack, of course.
“The Way, Way Back” is a recent film that captures the bittersweet nature of growing up through a season that is so well defined we feel its passage most acutely. Summer is the most seasonal of seasons. The teenaged protagonist of this film reluctantly tags along with his divorced mom and her boyfriend to his vacation house.
Unwilling to play nice with the overbearing boyfriend, Duncan finds solace at a water park, where he secretly gets a part time job and finds a father figure in the wise slacker that runs the place, Sam Rockwell. Working on his tan and his self-esteem all summer, Duncan grows up and repairs his relationship with his mom. This is a particularly pleasant coming-of-age movie that takes on just enough of a character arc to deliver.
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