10 Essential Summer Movies

With Memorial Day- the unofficial start of summer 2011- come and gone, we’re fast approaching the official start of summer and all the glorious sun, bbq and (sometimes) lack of responsibility that goes with it. And while most of us wish we could have (500) Days of Summer, there are sadly a scant 93 days to laze when one abides by the rules of seasons and the calendar year. So as a lead-in to June 23rd, here’s a guide to 10 Essential Movies for Summer. In no particular order, of course, since summer should be as unscripted as possible.

Dazed and Confused
Richard Linklater’s classic romp through a day in the life of a handful of suburban teenagers is not only the perfect movie to make you appreciate all the politics, culture and fashion the ’70s had to offer, it also has one of the finest movie soundtracks ever compiled for play in a single movie. Songs by the likes of Alice Cooper, The Runaways and Foghat make you feel like you’re the high school kid being ogled by Matthew McConaughey. And that’s right on, man.

Wet Hot American Summer
Anyone who has either attended or worked at a camp will both cry and cringe at the over the top experiences of the campers and staff at Camp Firewood in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Screen this film on a day when your air conditioner’s broken and you don’t think there’s anywhere in the world with more miserable conditions than your living room. The mosquitoes, poison ivy and astrological events this lot faces off against will make your house feel like a resort.

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
Facing a parentless, moneyless summer for herself and her three siblings, Sue Ellen Crandell (Christina Applegate) cons her way into a high level job at fashion house General Apparel West. As Sue Ellen tries to juggle her job, her budding romance with Clown Dog delivery boy, Bryan (Josh Charles) and her desire to have a normal summer break with her friends, things go tragically awry (in a fun way) and as the viewer, you find yourself thinking this would be a pretty awesome way to get into trouble. Plus there are some bodacious early 90’s clothes and haircuts. Shout out to David Duchovny for his amazing LA Looks comb back.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
On the topic of summer jobs, I dare say Steve Martin’s conman, Freddy, has the best internship ever to be granted to someone looking for a little on the job experience. In a small town on the French Riviera filled with lonely women with deep pocket books, Freddy seeks the mentorship of Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine), a professional confidence man who wants nothing more than to see Freddy ousted from town. There’s gambling, romance, beaches and law breaking! Plus it’s hilarious; glorious summer escape flick.

Point Break
A list of summer movies is not complete without mention of Keanu Reeves surf soaked special agent, Johnny Utah. Seeking to break up a band of bank robbers that only strike during the summer, Utah makes himself a fixture on the rolling waves and goes under deep cover to crack the case. Every summer movie list deserves a surfer flick that makes you want to turn off the TV and go catch a wave and with a combination of crime, passion, waves and whoa, this is it. As far as these films go, Point Break makes the tastiest waves of them all.

Independence Day
While there could be a whole separate list of movies that are great to watch at the Drive-In or on a projector under the stars, Independence Day is the one that best straddles those categories. On July 4th, the day America claimed its independence from the British, the President (Bill Pullman) declares war on an army of aliens bent on ravaging the Earth of all its natural resources and the stage for an intergalactic battle royal is set. Will Smith leads the cast as a fighter pilot with astronaut dreams and Randy Quaid plays a suspiciously believable crazy guy who becomes a reluctant hero. In addition to amazing special effects for a film that’s 15 years old, it’s also just plain old fun to watch.

Stand By Me
Not just a summertime adventure story that introduced the world to a little fat boy (Jerry O’Connell) who would grow up to become handsome enough to marry supermodels, Stand By Me is a great story about the power of adolescent friendship and the benefits of an exploratory spirit. While Steven King’s story is outwardly about a group of friends (Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, River Phoenix and O’Connell) searching for the body of a missing boy, the story is equally about the discovery of who they want to become as men as it is about discovering the whereabouts of the storied corpse.

The Sandlot/ Little Big League
It’s a cheat to put lump these together but it would be even more shameful to exclude one. While baseball is America’s pastime and there are a dozen movies that could be “the summer baseball movie”, these two are the best examples of people partaking in the game they love. The Sandlot is a great film about a boy (Tom Guiry) who’s new to the neighborhood and new to his stepfather who desperately seeks to be accepted while still being who he is. He does this with the help of baseball prodigy Benny (Mike Vitar) and his group of dirt lot baseball friends. Little Big League has a great lesson about being passionate about something without being consumed by it. Sounds a bit weighty for a flick about a 12-year-old (Luke Edwards) who inherits a baseball team and its managerial duties, but it gets the point across with a lot of slapstick humor.

My Girl
Oh, Macaulay Culkin, you run us around the emotional gambit in this one. As Thomas J. Sennet, a socially awkward little boy whose best friend is Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky) the precocious protagonist of the story whose father (Dan Akroyd) owns a funeral parlor, Mac tries futilely to be the emotional stabilizer for Vada whose hormones and life seem to be out of control. At its core, My Girl is a sweet movie about young love and it’ll warm your heart and break it in under two hours.

National Lampoon’s Vacation
Clark Griswold’s (Chevy Chase) doomed quest for the perfect family vacation feels like the perfect summer movie for so many occasions. To inspire a family trip, to feel better about the catastrophe you’ve just embarked on/returned from, to have a laugh at someone else’s bad luck or to feel like you’ve travelled across the country at someone else’s expense (both monetarily and emotionally). There are dozens of great things to cite as making Vacation a quintessential summer film, but it’s really Clark Griswold’s tunnel-vision dedication to spending some “quality” time with his family that delivers the biggest, most memorable laughs. The dog, the grandma, the luggage rack, the hot chick in the fast car, they’re all tied together (precariously) by Clark and his cross-country road map to comic despair.

Since there’s a good chance one of your favorites didn’t make the list, just remember the summer’s not endless and there will be another 10 movies to watch when summer 2012 rolls around.