I’m just going to put it out there: I stole the idea for this week’s Five Most list. It’s not even borrowing. It’s just flat-out theft.
My good friend Matt Singer over at Criticwire.com came up with a fun question for his weekly critic survey: With Memorial Day weekend coming, what is the perfect summer movie? So many answers popped into my head, I thought, “Huh. This is kinda like a list.” The possibilities are endless: They could be blockbusters, movies that take place during the summer, movies that provoke fond childhood memories of the season, or ones that are just plain hot.
Here are five of my picks for the ultimate summer movie. Don’t forget your sunscreen.
“Point Break” (1991): This was my choice for Singer’s survey. I wrote of Kathryn Bigelow’s crime thriller, starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze: “Clearly the correct answer is ‘Point Break.’ It’s got surf, sun and sand, action and adventure, plenty of partying and bad-ass adrenaline junkie activities like skydiving. Everyone’s gorgeous — buff, shirtless guys and tanned, bikini-clad women. And it features that classic summertime activity: robbing banks while wearing masks of the U.S. presidents. It’s just well-crafted, knowing escapism. Vaya con dios.”
“Jaws” (1975): The original blockbuster, it’s the little movie that became a huge pop culture sensation. Sure, the tangible nature of the effects in this killer-shark tale seems quaint and maybe even a little cheesy now in retrospect, given the computer- generated spectacles to which we’ve grown so accustomed. But this early Steven Spielberg film remains one of his best, with his masterful method of creating suspense; he did a lot with a little, and he knew even then that it’s what you don’t show that can be the most frightening. Admit it: “Jaws” made you think twice about going in the water.
“The Seven Year Itch” (1955): Very few images earn the hyperbolic, over-used adjective of “iconic,” but the sight of Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grate, letting the breeze blow up her billowing white dress, truly does. Monroe’s playfully seductive charms were on full display in Billy Wilder’s comedy, based on the long-running stage show, as the flirtatious neighbor who tempts the married Tom Ewell during a long, hot New York summer. Cooling off with air conditioning and a glass of ice water isn’t nearly so sexy.
“The Flamingo Kid” (1984): This is one of those childhood-memory picks for me — it defined what a coming-of-age movie should be, with its ambition and disillusionment, awkwardness and romance. Young, charismatic Matt Dillon plays a kid from Brooklyn who falls under the spell of a wealthy member (Richard Crenna) of the Long Island beach club where he works as a cabana boy during summer 1963, to the dismay of his working-class dad (Hector Elizondo). This was back when Garry Marshall still made good movies, not all-star, meandering messes inspired by holidays.
“Do the Right Thing” (1989): Not the most upbeat or feel-good of examples, granted. But it simply radiates heat, from the record-setting, sweltering Brooklyn day on which it takes place to the tension that builds between residents of various ethnicities to the flames that engulf the neighborhood pizza joint in a climactic, riotous frenzy. This is still one of Spike Lee’s best films, easily — an expert blend of style and substance, of sharp writing and colorful characters. To this day, I can’t hear Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” without thinking of its significant use here.