The 10 Most Overlooked Summer Movies

While the season technically isn’t over more than three weeks into September, with schools already in session and Labor Day on the horizon, we can go ahead and chalk up summer 2016. It’s second only to winter in terms of movies produced during the time, and unlike the yuletide films, summer movies just feel nostalgic. They have a sense of time and place unmatched by most. Think Jaws, The Sandlot, Dirty Dancing, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Heavyweights, Before Sunrise. There are too many to keep track of. So here’s a list of ten – plus a few extras – that you might have already seen, or just as easily could have forgotten about altogether.

1. The Way Way Back (2013) – When it came out three years ago, I remember watching this one based solely off the recommendation of a friend. I hadn’t even heard of it, let alone seen the trailer. Yet I left the theater excited, rejuvenated, awakened. The Way Way Back doesn’t do anything particularly fancy, nor does it mismanage the telling of its own story. The film is lighthearted and deep, buoyant from jokes and sinking from a sense a loneliness. In this depicted summer, stretching the lines of East Coast vacation homes, we’re able to laugh and to think. Comedies rarely deliver from both ends of the spectrum.

Where to watch: Available VOD

2. Summer with Monika (1953) – Similar to many young love relationships, Summer with Monika doesn’t end the way we’d like, substituting budding possibilities for a reckoning with the immediate future. In this picture from Ingmar Bergman, we follow two teens absconding their Stockholm families to make camp in the islands of Sweden. The boy lovestruck, the girl an ingénue. The film’s full of lust, regret, and a shockingly free spirit given the time period. Summer with Monika is essentially the inspiration to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. The major difference? This movie only needs one arrow while its successor requires a quiver. Bergman knows how to shoot drama with a keen, straightforward and understood angle.

Where to watch: Available VOD, Included with Hulu subscription

3. The Wackness (2008) – Likely the most polarizing movie on this list in terms of its debatable quality, The Wackness can be easily recommended because it never oversteps its narrative limitations, knowing where it needs to place its focus every step of the way. Plot lines falter, the tone’s too lax, but you always feel like you’re watching a summer in ’94 New York. Our leading guy Luke is a young man who comes into his own, finding friendships and enduring heartbreak, making sense of his surroundings through ladies and drugs and music. The longer you wait to exhale The Wackness, the higher it takes your disposition.

Where to watch: Available VOD

4. In the Bedroom (2001) – I firmly believe that In the Bedroom deserves to be recognized as one of the most shattering, heartbreaking American films of the 21st Century. Seriously, it’s up there with The Ice Storm and American Beauty when it comes to dismantling, disarming, and disbanding the concept of the Nuclear Family. But what makes this film so singular is its approach to common territory. A prodigal son home from school, falling for an older woman, dealing with her pesky and privileged ex-husband. In the Bedroom asks only the most difficult of questions, ranging from the consequences of parental decisions to impulsive solutions, hoping to unchain the shackles of bereavement. Todd Field’s film sticks to you like glue.

Where to watch: Available VOD, Amazon Prime

5. I Vitelloni (1953) – Standing as the film that thrust master director Federico Fellini into the worldwide cinema zeitgeist, I Vitelloni is one of those truly timeless, transcendent stories. The movie follows a group of early twenty-somethings near summer’s close, all masters of nothing, privileged and obstinate when faced with growing up. Watching the womanizing and listless scoundrels roam and wander is as amusing as it is deeply upsetting, causing concern as to whether or not these lost boys will ever leave Neverland to become men. And furthermore, in an even broader context, try to be contributing and ethical human beings. We’re left to wonder.

Where to watch: Available VOD, Included with Hulu subscription

6. Camp Nowhere (1994) – Time to namedrop a quintessential 90’s flick, a decade best known for B-movies where kids fight the so-called power. House Arrest, Blank Check, Man of the House are just a few examples. Camp Nowhere finds a group of kids who hate being shipped away to camp, so they collectively hatch a plan to create their fantasy getaway. They lie to their parents, run amok, have the best summer of their lives. We even get a kid playing guitar on the roof (which oddly enough happened more than you’d think during this era). I’m not sure I could actually convince myself into saying that Camp Nowhere is a good movie, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy its self-aware inadequacies. The movie’s impractical, over the top, and just the right amount of stupid fun.

Where to watch: Available VOD, HBO Go

7. Y Tu Mamá También (2001) – Alright, so Alfonso Cuarón’s film doesn’t match the overlooked description, but it is a movie that not nearly enough people have seen. Two friends set out on a roadtrip with an older woman, becoming entwined in a game of jealousy and control. This Mexican import dresses itself in seduction, heat, intimacy. You could call it a lust triangle, mapping a route to romance and towards an attachment to youth. Yet since this is a road movie, it’s the stops along the way that need to make the biggest impression and confide the thematic messages of the story. In that regard, Y Tu Mamá También leaves a noticeable, often palpable mark.

Where to watch: Available VOD, Netflix, Included with Hulu subscription

8. In America (2002) – The last great film from the once prolific Jim Sheridan, In America really isn’t a summer movie per say, although it does contain one of the finest dog day sequences in recent memory. As a family of working class Irish immigrants moves to 1982 New York, the audience is treated to a story that consciously appeals to every season. By doing so, we understand the change in the climate both literally and personally. Never is that clearer when the father, fed up by the scorching heatwaves and familial tension, drags a window fan down the middle of the bustling street. The moment lingers with you, bearing strong similarities to the last scene from The Bicycle Thief, one of the best films ever made. Sheridan used to tell magical movies, and for a brief portion of In America, his story wraps us up in the sweat and the smiles of summer. Covering the entire calendar year only makes us appreciate the brief warmth that much more.

Where to watch: Available VOD

9. Now and Then (1995) – For whatever reason, jogging my memory for summer movies from the female perspective felt damn near impossible. Then I scoured my collection and came across this absolute gem jam-packed with nostalgia. Set in 1970, four lifelong friends bike around town, chatting about the birds and the bees, getting caught up in the sort of mystery that only kids find themselves hypnotized by. It’s a story told through flashbacks, the girls now older and recollecting on their joint past. For that reason, what makes this film such a satisfying experience is the overwhelming arc each character gets and earns. By the end we know these girls and we know these women. Watching them command the screen is something we don’t nearly see enough of, now or then.

Where to watch: Unavailable VOD, currently on YouTube

10. The Descendants (2011) – Twist my arm enough and force me to make a list not only covering the most overlooked movies, but this millennium’s best, and I’d carefully consider adding this one to the bunch. Director Alexander Payne is one of our great dramatists, not just due to his ability to direct a film that breaks your heart, but because he directs his cast with such empathy that we smile and laugh through the tears. In The Descendants, a man loses his wife who he comes to learn was having an affair, a fact he’s told by the eldest of his two daughters. Pair that with family pressure to sell the inherited Hawaiian land that he’s the sole proprietor of, and you end up with a movie full of mourning, nagging family members in favor of ditching decorum for makeshift Manifest Destiny, and a momentum to seek what’s ultimately just. Few movies can be called perfect; The Descendants deserves consideration to bear such a distinction.

Where to watch: Available VOD

Others to watch: Kids, It Takes Two, A Little Romance, Indian Summer, Magic in the Water, Summer Catch, Little Manhattan, My Father the Hero, Summer School, Adore, Copenhagen, Summer Hours, The Kings of Summer, Captain Ron, Orange County

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