Friday, July 6, 2012

What are the best summer movies?

There are some movies that epitomize a season.

Of course, they’re usually Christmas or Halloween movies, but summer movies have carved out a place in cinema history as well.

With temperatures hovering at a stifling 95 degrees of late – and with very little relief in sight – a lot of people have been forced to embrace indoor activities in recent days.

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to reminisce about the best summer movies of all time.

Without further ado:

10. Indian Summer (1993): This little known gem follows a group of 30-somethings as they revisit their childhood camp one last time before the owner – played by a fun and feisty Alan Arkin – shutters the compound forever. The cast includes Diane Lane, Bill Paxton, Kevin Pollak, Elizabeth Perkins, Julie Warner and Kimberly Williams-Paisley, among a handful of others. While there are plenty of laughs – including a running prank gag – the true heart of the movie is the relationship of the characters. Some of them are still struggling to grow up and others have grown up but aren’t happy with where they landed. It’s a coming of age story about a group of people that came of age together and who now must travel into adulthood together.

9. Deliverance (1972): This is clearly a movie for men – whether or not they want to squeal like a pig. ‘Deliverance’ is one of those movies that scared men from the forest – for a good long time. It still holds up as a pop culture reference and a cautionary tale of what happens when things go wrong and you’re far away from help. Starring Jon Voigt, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, ‘Deliverance’ is the story of four men that embark on a river-rafting trip – and have a few problems with the locals. This movie is not for the faint of heart – but the cinematography is still breath-taking today.

8. Friday the 13th (1980): Yeah, I included a slasher film. To be fair, this isn’t my favorite ‘Friday the 13th’ movie. That honor goes to the sixth installment in the franchise. I also don’t think it’s the scariest. That honor goes to the second movie in the franchise. I do think that the novelty of having a female serial killer – and a then unknown Kevin Bacon getting an arrow through his throat – is worth the price of admission alone. Plus, the “surprise” in the waning moments of the movie is an example of when horror was great – and not crap like the ‘Paranormal Activity’ movies.

7. Wet Hot American Summer (2001): This is another time warping summer camp movie – this time set in 1981. The film stars Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, and Christopher Meloni – among a bevy of others. The film is never going to win any awards – but it is steadfastly funny – and it still holds up today. Personally, I'm a huge fan of Meloni's character -- but Rudd is always reliable too, and this movie is no different from any of his other fare.

 6. Dazed and Confused (1993): This movie showcases incoming freshman and outgoing seniors on the last day of school in May 1976. There’s lots of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The movies stars Jason London, Joey Lauren Adams, Milla Jovovich,  Ben Affleck, and Matthew McConaughey – in an absolutely scene-stealing role. The movie’s biggest claim-to-fame is probably the rampant drug use – but there’s also a simplicity in the film that is appealing. The young cast was mostly unknown at the time, but the central themes of the film spoke to an entire generation. It just happened to be mine.

5. Weekend at Bernie’s (1989): This is one of those movies you either love or hate. I look at it with a whimsical shade of nostalgia. ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ is the story of two slackers that carry their murdered boss’ body around and pretend he’s still alive – even though the murderer is trying to finish him off. Starring Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ is never going to win any awards. It is one of those movies, though, that you can’t help but laugh at.

4. Jaws (1975): If ‘Deliverance’ kept people out of the woods, then ‘Jaws’ kept people out of the water – and then some. ‘Jaws’ is more than just an animal eats man movie, though. It’s about small town politics, the end of innocence and one man’s drive to protect the community and his own family. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider, ‘Jaws’ is one of the few 1970s movies that still holds up – and holds up well. The sequels are bad (Jaws 4 being one of the worst movies ever made), but the original is still a masterpiece. I pity the person that tries to remake this classic – but I know it’s coming.

3. Stand By Me (1986): This coming of age tale inspired by a Stephen King short story is about four boys that go on an overnight trip to see the dead body of a young boy. Starring a young River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell, the movie has laugh-out-loud funny moments and unflinchingly real moments. It’s clearly the finest work both Feldman and O’Connell have done. The movie’s strength, though, is in the quiet moments between Wheaton’s Gordie and Phoenix’s Chris – two profoundly different characters that are bound together. The four boys learn a lot about life (and death) during their short trip – and the character Chris’ story is profoundly prophetic given what happened to Phoenix years later.

2. Little Miss Sunshine (2006): Another road trip movie, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is about a dysfunctional family that is forced to take their malfunctioning van on a long trip so that daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) can perform in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Steve Carrell and Toni Collette make up the rest of the family. While there are plenty of hijinks in the movie – and there are – there is also an emotional undercurrent to the film that is undeniable. The bond these people share is profound. And, even though the adults all have their own set of problems, they all are willing to do anything for Olive. Plus, the dance scene at the end is not to be missed.

1. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983): No matter how you feel about Chevy Chase today, back in the 1980s he was a comedic genius. ‘Vacation’ is one of those movies that most viewers can still quote lines from. It introduced the world to Clark Griswold – and all his nutty family members. Also starring Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Randy Quaid, Dana Barron, and Christie Brinkley, ‘Vacation’ helped cement the horrific family road trip into the Movie Cliché Hall of Fame. It’s still hilarious, though – even the unfortunate part about the dog.

Honorable mentions go to:

Almost Famous (2000): This movie probably got more attention than it should have at the time, but the truth is it deserved almost all the praise it got. It’s not perfect, but it is still entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.

The Graduate (1967): Great music. A catchphrase that still stands up today. A terrific cast that includes Dustin Hoffman. What else could you ask for?

American Pie 2 (2001): The first movie is the best in this franchise, but the second movie has some unforgettable lines and a truly memorable end-of-summer beach party. The franchise should have ended here, though.

Sleepaway Camp (1983): I don’t care what anyone says, Angela is one of the best movie slashers of all time. Plus, this franchise didn’t even attempt to hide the cheese – and I’d rather have a movie embrace the cheese on purpose than stumble into it by accident.

Super 8 (2011): This summer classic has the heart of ‘E.T.’ and suspense of ‘Alien.’ I don’t know why it doesn’t get more attention. It deserves it. In 20 years, I’m hopeful this movie will get accolades it so richly deserves.

Adventureland (2009): Jesse Eisenberg is always reliable and this one of only two movies that Kristen Stewart doesn’t suck in. There’s nothing new about the film – but the actors and director still make it feel fresh.

Meatballs (1979): Dumb laughs. They really are. It’s still a time-honored classic, though, and I would be remiss in leaving it off the list.

What do you think? What movies do you associate with summer?


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