14. Adventureland (2009, Dir. Gregg Mottola)
Two years after he helmed the excellent comedy Superbad, Mottola wrote and directed Adventureland, loosely based upon his own experiences working at a similar amusement park in his youth. The film takes place in the magical summer of 1987, as college graduate James Brennan (played with nebbish, geeky perfection by Jesse Eisenberg) winds up working at the eponymous theme park.
The film’s ensemble cast, which includes Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Kristen Stewart, Matt Bush as the manic and out-of-control Frigo and a brilliant Ryan Reynolds, of all people, is terrific. Mottola captures the late eighties so well it almost feels like a film of the period; the soundtrack definitely helps create a feeling of nostalgia. Mottola had a quite a summer, and he has flawlessly recreated it here.
13. Wet Hot American Summer (2001, Dir. David Wain)
The summer camp film is a genre itself, and it was only a matter of time before a movie came along that gave these movies the spoofing they deserved. Director David Wain and co-writer/co-star Michael Showalter were more than up to the challenge, creating a work that is both an absurd send-up of and a glowing tribute to the summer camp film.
The ensemble cast is an embarrassment of riches: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Ian Black, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Ken Marino, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Rudd are just a few of the actors who were given carte blanche to go over-the-top and beyond.
Like many great cult comedies, the film was largely ignored by audiences and detested by critics, but time has been more than kind to this film. Comic highlights including the counselor’s trip to town montage that quickly spirals out of control and Christopher Meloni’s genius performance as Gene, the camp cook still suffering from ‘Nam flashbacks.
12. Swept Away…by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (1974, Dir. Lina Wertmüller)
Lina Wertmüller has always been a filmmaker unafraid to shock and offend, and few of her films have had the kind of reaction that Swept Away received. It was deemed controversial and explosive when it was released, and Wertmüller’s satirical take on class warfare and the battle of the sexes still has the same bite today as it did forty-one years ago.
Mariangela Melato plays a rich woman who winds up in the middle of the ocean with a Communist sailor, played by Giancarlo Giannini. While on her husband’s yacht, she was free to torment him with her demands, their roles subtly switch once they arrive to the island. What begins as a struggle of wills turns into something else entirely, and this film is still challenging audiences all these years later.
11. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983, Dir. Harold Ramis)
Few mainstream comedies are as instantly relatable while simultaneously cartoonish as the original Vacation. Written by John Hughes and directed by Harold Ramis, Vacation is a relentless deconstruction, or more appropriately, demolition, of the typical American family road trip. All hapless patriarch Clark W. Griswold wants is a nice family vacation to Wally World, a Disneyland-like amusement park. As played by Chevy Chase, Griswold is a fool of hilarious proportions.
The film conveys the hopeless obsession that many have with planning the perfect family vacation, and most honest adults will admit to having at least one Griswold-like moment while traveling. Co-starring Beverly D’Angelo, and featuring great comic performances by Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, Eddie Bracken and John Candy, Vacation is one of the key Hollywood comedies of the 1980s.
10. The Sandlot (1993, Dir. David M. Evans)
“You’re killing me, Smalls.” Audiences saw quite a few baseball films in 1993, but none of them still resonate as well as The Sandlot. Over a long, hot summer, a ragtag group of neighborhood boys play baseball, goof around, lust over the local lifeguard, learn life lessons and attempt to avoid the vicious dog, The Beast.
One of the things that the film understands so well is how sports can help connect people, and create lifelong bonds. The Sandlot remains both funny and heartwarming, and it will remain one of the key films about baseball…forever.
9. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953, Dir. Jacques Tati)
Jacques Tati will always be one of cinema’s most cherished clowns. To see one of his films is to witness expertly crafted comic joy. Tati was a filmmaker with an eye for detail, his jokes are designed so meticulously sometimes you’re not sure whether to laugh or applaud. In this film, his beloved Monsieur Hulot has come to a beachside resort for a much-needed vacation, but winds up, in his endearing way, making a bit of a mess of things.
There are some truly wonderful gags here, such as when Monsieur Hulot goes boating or attempts to fix his car. But the film is more than a string of jokes and punch lines. There’s a poetic sweetness to the film that’s missing from most comedies. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is a film that rewards repeated viewing; in fact, it seems to get funnier and richer with detail each time.
8. Stand by Me (1986, Dir. Rob Reiner)
If one were to rank a list of the best film adaptations of Stephen King’s work, surely Stand by Me would be near the top of that list. Even King himself has stated his fondness for it. The film follows the adventures of four young boys as they travel from home in search of the dead body of a missing boy. Director Rob Reiner deftly mixes drama, comedy, and suspense; and while the film definitely deals with serious subject matter, the film itself never feels too morbid or maudlin.
A major reason behind the film’s success has to be the four lead performances by Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell and Corey Feldman. Their portrayals are revelatory; there’s a reason why all four actors are still well known today. For many viewers, this writer included, Stand by Me remains a defining motion picture about the summer experience.