With the first day of summer quickly approaching – June 21 to be exact – I find myself aching to make this summer break count. If you’re a rising senior like me, you’re probably familiar with this restless feeling. After all, it is our last summer break before we enter – pause for dramatic effect – the real world.
But it’s difficult to be excited when June gloom is in full effect, even in Indiana. With nothing else to do, I’m prepping for sunny skies and high temperatures the only way I know how: by watching movies. I’ve narrowed down a list of five films that I consider essential summer viewing to help you do the same.
“Wet Hot American Summer” (2001), director David Wain
Where does one begin with “Wet Hot American Summer,” the summer camp comedy that bombed when it was initially released but has since gained a cult following and spawned two spinoff shows on Netflix? I could probably dedicate an entire article to the film, as I saw it for the first time just a few months ago and it’s already one of my favorite movies of all time.
Set in 1981 at the fictional Camp Firewood, the main story follows a group of counselors as they navigate love and relationships on the last day of camp. Don’t be fooled though – the film packs an absurd number of plotlines into its 97-minute runtime. From talking vegetable cans to secret weddings and drug-fueled trips to town, the comedic style of “Wet Hot American Summer” is equal parts absurd, surreal and just plain dumb. It’s perfect.
“True Stories” (1986), director David Byrne
“True Stories” is a film unseen by many but practically worshipped by those who have seen it. The film is comprised of a series of vignettes all set in the fictional town of Virgil, Texas. The offbeat town is preparing for its 150th-anniversary celebration: a festival that culminates in a city-wide talent show extravaganza. Along the way, we meet a cast of eccentric yet loveable characters.
David Byrne’s signature surrealist style fills every frame. From his deadpan narration to the extravagant musical numbers, this film’s idiosyncratic style is a direct reflection of Byrne’s intense curiosity about what many people would think of as mundane. Even though this film is somewhat satirical in its exaggerated depictions of suburban life, Byrne’s interest feels sincere.
“The Green Ray” (1986), director Éric Rohmer
If quiet, meditative films about girlhood are your thing, I have the movie for you. “The Green Ray” follows Delphine, a French woman who reckons with her loneliness and anxieties while on holiday.
Delphine is one of the most complex female characters I’ve seen put to film. She’s sad, but she doesn’t want to be sad, and she doesn’t know how to stop being sad. She’s lonely, but she doesn’t want to be lonely— but she also enjoys solitude. She craves companionship, but she doesn’t want a shallow connection.
The dreamy French landscapes and improvised dialogue give this film an atmosphere that I can only compare to that of “Call Me by Your Name,” another Europe-set romantic drama.
“The Lost Boys” (1987), director Joel Schumacher
Perhaps the most “eighties” film on this list, “The Lost Boys” is a horror-comedy classic. The film follows two teenage boys who discover a gang of vampires in their quiet California beach town. These vampires aren’t you’re average Dracula-types – they’re “cool kids” who ride motorcycles and worship Jim Morrison. If this was a John Hughes movie, they’d have their own table in the cafeteria.
With iconic lines like “They’re only noodles, Michael” and a nostalgic soundtrack with covers by Echo & The Bunnymen, Roger Daltrey and INXS, you’ll be reaching for a pair of Ray-Ban Classics and a dangly earring right after the credits roll.
“Bones and All” (2022), director Luca Guadagnino
Like “The Lost Boys,” “Bones and All” tells a coming-of-age story through a horror lens. Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet star as Maren and Lee, respectively. They’re a pair of outsiders on the edge of society who find each other and embark on an odyssey across America to look for Maren’s estranged mother. Oh, yeah – they're also cannibals.
Few filmmakers know how to experiment with genre better than Luca Guadagnino. This talent is evident in “Bones and All,” which is structured like a road movie and blends genres like horror, romance and coming-of-age. It’s a sometimes horrifying, always beautiful story about identity and acceptance, and it’s a perfect watch for a blistering summer afternoon.