For those summer days when the mercury rises that touch too high to handle staying outside, there’s nothing better than retiring into air-conditioned cool and putting on a good summer movie. From dream vacations and summer romances, to the season acting as a metaphor for family dysfunction or ominous deeds, a good summer flick can inspire everything from passion to big belly laughs.
A beautiful, aching dream of a film, David Lean’s Summertime stars Katharine Hepburn as Jane Hudson, a self-described “fancy secretary” from Akron, Ohio who is finally experiencing her dream vacation to Venice. She just didn’t realise that being on vacation could be so lonely, when everyone else she meets in the canal city seems to be in a couple. Then she encounters a local antiques dealer who is handsome, smart, sophisticated, and seemingly completely besotted with her. Is this the romance that she’s been waiting her whole life for, or will life disappoint her again? If you don’t break down into tears at the final scene at the train station, sorry to break the news to you, but you may in fact actually be a robot.
Rear Window (1954)
So it’s the height of summer, but you’ve broken your leg and are confined to your apartment in a wheelchair. Never mind, your apartment overlooks all the others in the complex and your neighbours are an entertaining bunch to watch. But what about that fellow in the apartment over there? Where’s his wife gone? You don’t suppose he may have…killed her? Alfred Hitchcock’s superbly crafted did-he-or-didn’t-he whodunit makes summer part of the suspense, as the heat and humid rain reflect the heightened drama both in the claustrophobically searing apartment complex and in the suspicious minds of James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
How do you like the sound of an anarchic comedy set at an American summer camp, starring Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks and Janeane Garofalo? “Amazing. When’s it coming out?” we hear you say. Well, it came out over 10 years ago and is now, quite rightly, considered an absolute humdinger of a cult classic. From watching the camp counsellors take a trip into town that all of a sudden devolves into something out of Trainspotting, to learning that Paul Rudd is NOT the person you should be trusting with your kids’ lives (“It’s your job to make sure kids don’t drown!”), this is dumb comedy done right. And let’s not even get into the camp chef’s unhygienic relationship with kitchen appliances. This is one to throw on the TV after a summer barbecue with friends and laugh yourselves stupid to.
M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
The film that introduced Jacques Tati’s genial and bubbling Monsieur Hulot character to the world, this gently satirical movie poked fun at the French middle-class summer holiday. M. Hulot takes himself on vacation to a sunny seaside resort and encounters a variety of colourful characters steeped in caricature and class conflict. Much of the film’s spectacular physical humour stems from Hulot’s bafflement at the strange objects and activities that people occupy their time with while at leisure, and he can’t help but annoy everyone else in the vicinity with his clumsy enthusiasm. A perfect farce that everyone from wee kids to your curmudgeonly great uncle can find joy in.
Still Walking (2008)
A modern Japanese classic, Hirokazu Koreeda’s Still Walking traces a family’s attempt at reconciliation over the course of one long summer day. Kyohei and Toshiko Yokoyama gather together their children every summer to commemorate the death of their eldest son, Junpei, who drowned years before while saving the life of another boy. Surviving son Ryota has recently married a widow who has her own son and still feels the oppressive spectre of his elder brother in every one of his parents’ criticisms towards him. It makes for a gentle, nuanced study of how family dynamics can subtly change, and how a summer’s day can sizzle with unspoken, resentful secrets.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
“Maggie the Cat is ALIVE!” If ever a film bottled the intense heat peculiar to that of an Elizabeth Taylor performance, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is certainly the most electrifying dose. Taylor slinks through this Tennessee Williams adaptation like a heat-seeking missile, cutting through the humid southern summer as a woman angry and mystified at her alcoholic, football playing husband’s sour indifference to her in the face of his best friend’s death. Taylor and Paul Newman as the husband trade verbal blows that threaten to burn down not only their relationship but Newman’s entire extended family.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
The ultimate teen summer romance film, Dirty Dancing takes every cliché about summer, love, romance and sex, throws it against a wall and makes sweet, sweet dance moves to it. Jennifer Grey’s Baby is swept up by Patrick Swayze’s Johnny Castle while on her family’s summer vacation. Castle, a dance instructor from the wrong side of the tracks, sees something in her that no one else has acknowledged. It’s your standard girl-comes-of-age-over-unforgettable-summer storyline, but it’s done so well that you’d bet she had the time of her life.
For those of us who have to spend our summers reluctantly working, there’s Adventureland. James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a college kid whose summer plans for a European getaway are upturned by financial crisis. Instead of Paris, he’s stuck working back in his hometown in a crappy amusement park, where the games stall he oversees is so rigged that no one will ever win the “giant-ass stuffed panda”. But this summer purgatory may have its salvation in the form of Em (Kristen Stewart), a fellow park employee who presents some pertinent lessons for James to learn as he straddles the uncomfortable divide between adolescence and adulthood.
The Long Hot Summer (1958)
Summer in America’s deep south was clearly a favoured cinematic motif in the 1950s, and it has never been as sultry as in this sunshine and mint soaked flick. Paul Newman is a drifter who wanders into a southern town and catches the eye of the town’s tyrannical paterfamilias, Will Varner (Orson Welles), who thinks the stranger might be just the man to melt the heart of his icy, spinster daughter, played by Joanne Woodward. She of course takes supreme umbrage at such an idea…at least until Newman starts walking around without a shirt (she’s only human, after all). And knowing that as they were falling in love onscreen, Newman and Woodward were falling in love off it too, well, that’s just the romantic icing on the cake.
Barton Fink (1991)
For a dose of a summer turned sinister, there’s no better alternative than this Coen brothers joint. Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a New York playwright who has come to California to write for the movies. But the wrestling picture he’s been assigned is giving him one hell of a dose of writer’s block. Holed up in his hotel room, Fink is assailed by annoying neighbours, mosquitoes, the oppressive heat and his own quickly unravelling mind. The summer heat itself becomes a part of Fink’s surrealistic nightmare, culminating in a hellish meltdown.