Quickly, I am reminded that summer in Charlottesville is humid. This season in the Chung household always meant sleeping in until the start of camp, water balloons and bubble wands in the backyard, cold buckwheat noodles and shaved ice, but best of all (the main attraction, the premiere staple of summer!): family trips to the movies. There’s nothing better to beat the heat than escaping into the cool darkness of the theatre, the latest summer blockbuster. So, here’s a list of films to watch (MPAA ratings included) that evoke that summer-y feeling, yes, the unbearable heat, but the sweeter side of summer too: lazy days by the water, hot grills, fireworks, vacations. It’s that time of self-discovery and revelation, time spent out in the world, time spent with the people we love who love us.
The Incredibles (2004, dir, Brad Bird) Rated: PG
This superhero family is hitting the silver screens again this summer, so now may be a good time to revisit their more than decade-old debut. In this world, superheroes have a bad reputation for ruining people’s lives in the wake of their saving them. Mr. Incredible is forced to exchange his tights and mask for a normal suit to become Bob Parr: a normal insurance salesman with a wife (formerly Elastigirl) and three kids (two of whom have already shown they have their own set of super-skills). Everything is unbearably normal until a mysterious assignment calls him back into the field of action. At its core, this movie is one about family, the transgressions of a father, and how we define ourselves in relation to others. If director Brad Bird’s delightful voicing of Edna Mode isn’t enough to take your mind off the heat, Frozone and his now iconic snippet of dialogue is sure to do the trick.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012, dir. Wes Anderson) Rated: PG-13
It’s 1965 on the New England island of New Penzance, home to Camp Ivanhoe, Khaki Scout territory. One morning, just as the camp is winding down for the summer, 12-year-old orphan Sam Shukusky is nowhere to be found. On the other side of the island is a house called Summer’s End, home to two lawyers and their children, three younger boys and a 12-year-old girl named Suzy. Suzy and Sam met last summer during a church play put on by the local children and became pen pals. Over their year apart, the relationship develops and they make a pact to run away and live together in a tent on a secluded cove of the island. Both kids are smart, mature, they wear a nearly impenetrable emotional flatness (an Andersonian trademark) that ultimately reveals a delicate sensitivity. Anderson’s aesthetic obsessions—symmetry, a soft-pastel palette, attention to the minutiae of production design—all evoke an almost twee nostalgia (I don’t mean this pejoratively). The film transports you to the time of first loves and summer camps, a place where real adventure is possible.
The Goonies (1985, dir. Richard Donner) Rated: PG (but maybe should be PG-13)
My first and only viewing of The Goonies was actually in Charlottesville. It was the summer of 2008 and I was a camper at a UVA summer program. Though I was not a particularly unruly child, my mother insisted I do something this summer so she could have some time to herself. I understand the need for that, as did the camp counselors because one day they corralled all the campers into a big lecture room and turned on this movie: four friends, older siblings, treasure maps, and booby traps, what else is there to say? Now I’m back in Charlottesville, for the first time since those camp days, this time as a graduate student. The landscape has changed a bit: the dorms we stayed in have since been replaced by new, air-conditioned dorms, the shop on the Downtown Mall where I bought my first hair bow is now a boutique pet supply store. But some things, like the Blue Ridge dressed in its morning fog, seem like they’ve always been there, always will be. Though I haven’t yet re-watched to see for myself if The Goonies holds up, there’s no doubt (as evidenced by its cult status) this movie will always be there for the restless and bored children of the world.
Rear Window (1954, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Rated: PG
Hitchcock’s technicolor thriller unfolds from the vantage point of a small Greenwich apartment in the middle of a massive heat wave. Jimmy Stewart plays Jeff, a professional photographer who has been confined to a wheelchair following a racetrack accident. To forestall cabin fever, Jeff spends his days looking out the rear window of his apartment to an open courtyard, spying on his neighbors who keep their own windows open to keep cool. One night, he wakes to the sounds of a loud summer storm and witnesses what he is convinced is a murder. He resolves to solve the crime himself, assisted by his nurse (Thelma Ritter) and girlfriend (Grace Kelly). The premise of Rear Window is that morbid fascination with what is happening just outside of our small worlds, that impulse towards voyeurism. In many ways, to me, this movie is a love letter, an ode to cinema. It says: sometimes on a hot summer day all there is to do is sit in your apartment and watch the plots of other people unfold.
Roman Holiday (1953, dir. William Wyler) Rated: PG-13
Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) is overwhelmed and bored by her strictly regimented life. One night during her tour of the European capitals, she feigns illness so she can experience Rome for herself, but not before her doctor gives her a sedative to help her sleep. American journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), finds her on a park bench. Thinking she’s drunk, he brings her back to his apartment in the interest of safety. Upon realizing who she really is, Bradley promises his editor an exclusive interview with the princess and spends the day with her. Roman Holiday overflows with genuine charm and beauty. It’s a romantic comedy that feels fresh even sixty years later. I mean, can you think of a better way to spend a summer day than cruising through Rome on a Vespa with your new short hairdo?
Call Me By Your Name (2017, dir. Luca Guadagnino) Rated: R
Reading books, listening to music, swimming at the river, going out to dance at night—all in the dreamy splendor of a northern Italian summer. It is in this milieu that Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) finds himself increasingly attracted to Oliver (Armie Hammer), a good-looking American graduate student who is interning for Elio’s father for 6 weeks. This movie’s soft aesthetics (the remarkably curved bodies of bronze statues, a delicate soft-boiled egg, the elusive hues of water) work to craft a tender coming-of-age film.
More summer viewing:
The Sandlot (1993), Jaws (1975), My Life as a Zucchini (2016), The Florida Project (2017), Stand By Me (1986), Eighth Grade (2018), The Way Way Back (2013), The Kings of Summer (2013), American Graffiti (1973), Adventureland (2009), Rashomon (1950), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Some Like It Hot (1959), Summertime (1955), Before Sunrise (1995), Le Rayon Vert (1986), Blissfully Yours (2002), Pierrot Le Fou (1965), La Ciénaga (2001)