Along with our virtual screening room, Film Independent Presents continues to recommend great stuff to watch, with regular streaming video playlists curated by Film Independent Senior Programmer Jenn Wilson.
Like a lot of people, I watched Palm Springs with Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti on Hulu last weekend. It’s such a fun movie—and it’s uniquely “Summertime” feeling got me thinking about Summer-season movies and what that means to me. This week’s Playlist is dedicated to all the great movies made to populate our hottest months. Some of these will be perennial favorites, and some are my own unexpected discoveries. And even though we’re all still in various stages of quarantine, I hope you all get to enjoy some vestiges of Summer—even if that means pulling a popsicle out of the freezer and pulling up one of these movies on your TV.
Camp movies are one of the most prominent Summer film subgenres, and I’m not sure they’ve ever been as popular as they were in the ’70s and ’80s. One of the greatest of these, Little Darlings (1980), stars Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol as two camp rivals who are competing to—you guessed it—be the first to lose their virginity. This one is unabashedly one of my favorite of the summer camp movies, because it happens to have two female leads and a big supporting cast of young women, a feature that most other camp movies don’t have.
The 1976 North Valley League Bears might be the crappiest little league team that ever was, but The Bad News Bears (1976) is the yardstick by which all films that fall into the “terrible sports team” genre will always be measured. Walter Matthau turns in one of his greatest performances as a down on his luck former-MLB-player-turned-alcoholic who reluctantly takes the job of coach to all the little kids who weren’t good enough to get drafted to the other teams. It’s rare to find a film that fully embraces the “winning isn’t everything” spirit like this one does, and we love it for all that it is and continues to be. Eat your heart out A League of Their Own, Major League, Slap Shot and Lady Bugs!
Yes, yes, I know. Everyone picks Jaws for their Summer movies list because Jaws started the Summer blockbuster trend. But I’m picking Close Encounters of the Third Kind—and not just to be contrary. While Jaws may be a good Summer movie, Close Encounters is a great Summer movie. Hard to believe, but Close Encounters was released the very same year as another little sci-fi movie called Star Wars (another great Summer movie), which possibly explains why, when asked to think about Steven Spielberg, you probably think Jaws, E.T. or even Schindler’s List before Close Encounters. But I’ll argue that the film is not only one of Spielberg’s strongest, but certainly one of the best science fiction films of the 20th century.
Car Wash (1976)—by the late, great Joel Schumacher—is a day-in-the-life comedy featuring the employees of the Dee-Luxe car wash, formerly at the corner of Rampart and 6th Streets in Los Angeles. I hadn’t seen this film until recently, and I highly recommend it to anyone not only because it’s hilarious, but it also features a stellar cast including Antonio Fargas as Lindy, a transwoman character who is actually treated as an equal among the carwash workers—a rarity in a 1970s film. Comedies that also manage to say something poignant about race and class in the United States are pure gold in my book.
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution is a brand new entry to the Summer films canon. This Netflix documentary tells the story of Camp Jened, a 1970s New York summer camp for people with disabilities. The story is told through people who attended the camp and through archival footage and pictures. Several of the people who attended the camp later were participants in the disability rights movement.
Stranger By the Lake is an LGBTQ French film about a popular Summertime lakeside cruising spot and the men who meet each other there. I saw this film a few years ago, and it really took me by surprise. I’m not sharing anymore details here because I want it to have the same surprise effect on you! The film was shot by the incredibly skilled Claire Mathon, the DP for the films Atlantics and Portrait of a Lady On Fire.
Raising Victor Vargas is a Summer film that really holds a special place in my heart. I used to show this film to a high school film class that I taught. Not only because I wanted them to see stories with characters who were Latinx, but because the film captures the complicated parts of first love when you’re a kid who doesn’t have good examples of romantic love in your environment. In the movie, Victor would really like to win the affections of Donna, but he’s so unsophisticated and obnoxious that he’s not appealing to her at all until she accidentally gets to see another side of him. Donna is such a beautifully written and complex character that it remains a wonderful film to show to teenagers.
My last pick is Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee because its not only a masterpiece, but it’s a great example of using a setting (Summer, New York City) to add to a film’s tone. The Summer in which the film takes place is hot, hot, boiling hot and adds to the racial tension that’s about to spill over into chaos. There’s many scenes showing how physically uncomfortable the characters are because of the extreme temperatures. Its so hot it doesn’t even get any cooler at night, and the characters lay tangled and sweating in their bedsheets. There’s a sense that there’s nothing they can do to escape the oppressiveness of this heat, and by the same token the oppressiveness of being treated less than by the business owners in their own neighborhood. The unhappiness of both their physical and spiritual existences finally reaches a boiling point as the neighborhood finally explodes into violent rage and protest.
Here’s where to find this week’s recommendations…
Little Darlings (1980) – dir. Ron Maxwell – Tubi (ads), online rental
The Bad News Bears (1976) – dir. Michael Ritchie – online rental
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – dir. Steven Spielberg – Showtime
Car Wash (1976) – dir. Michael Schultz – Starz, Direct TV
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020) – dir. James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham – Netflix
Stranger By the Lake (2013) – Alain Guiraudie – Kanopy, Shudder
Raising Victor Vargas (2002) – dir. Peter Sollett – Amazon Prime
Do the Right Thing (1989) – Spike Lee – Peacock, online rental
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(Header: Do the Right Thing)