Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you the responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: Next weekend is Memorial Day, the traditional start of "summer movie season." So this week I want to know: what is the perfect summer movie?
The critics' answers:
"Both as one of the cinema's supreme works of entertainment — not that it is not also one of its finest art-objects — and likewise as one of the medium's most evocative presentations of the stifling (non-air conditioned) summer heat, Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window' (1954). Of course, recognizing that most of the summer's greatest pleasures come from sources other than the Hollywood blockbuster (Hitch's August 1st release was the #5 box office hit for its year), I should add an honorable mention for the summer holiday cinema of Eric Rohmer, with 'Claire's Knee' (1970), 'Pauline at the Beach' (1983) and of course 'The Green Ray' or 'Summer' (1986), as it was inelegantly — though appropriately for this context — renamed for its U.S. release, all worthy selections."
"In light of the recent highway robbery at the Nebulas, it's time for a reminder of the genius and perfection that is 'Attack The Block.' It's tight, funny, scary, and by the end genuinely exhilarating and inspiring. Perhaps its ultimate destiny is to be a cult classic as opposed to a blockbuster (which it certainly wasn't), but I don't care. 'Attack The Block' is all-time classic level awesome. Trust. Allow it."
"I know full well that this film isn't 'perfect' in any sense of the word (in fact, it hardly even skirts into 'awesomely bad' territory) — but I'm going to offer it up in the name of personal bias. When I think of 'summer movie,' the 1987 Dolph Lundgren flop 'Masters of the Universe' immediately comes to mind. Picture this: I was 6 years old, a total tomboy, and deeply obsessed with the He-Man cartoon and toy line (to this day, one of my saddest childhood moments was breaking my Castle Grayskull drawbridge door). If you can believe it, my parents were never big on going to the movies — they thought it was a waste of money. But when I caught wind of the film adaptation, I was relentless. My dad and I eventually reached an agreement that I'd help him with yard chores for a week to earn my ticket. And let me tell you: the experience was worth every toiling moment in the August heat. To this day, I can't smell fresh-cut grass or mulch without triggering the memory of my very first summer moviegoing experience. (Also, apologies to Frank Langella and Courteney Cox, but they'll never NOT be Skeletor and Julie Winston, respectively.)"
"To me, summer is a season of nostalgia, and nothing makes me more nostalgic than 'The Sandlot.' Every time I watch that movie, I'm transported back to my youth and just want play ball in the street with my friends until the sun sets. Unlike a lot of kids movies from the '90s, 'The Sandlot' is one that holds up well over time, and it never gets old. Also, Wendy Peffercorn is still a total babe."
"For me, the perfect summer movie is 'Jurassic Park.' It not only balances edge-of-your-seat adventure with great storytelling and welcoming moments of laughter, but it pushed the art of moviemaking forward with a level of special effects we hadn't witnessed previously. To me, that balance is what makes for a perfect summer movie. Solid storytelling that's fresh, yet familiar, and enough excitement to make us jump, laugh and clap as the credits begin to roll."
"My instinctual response to this question is to go with the summer action picture I still love the most: 'Die Hard.' (I suspect I won't be the only one picking it, but whatever.) Here's a film that has the requisite explosions, gunfights and scenes of hand-to-hand combat that one expects from a summer extravaganza. But 'Die Hard' does most of the rest of the shoot-'em-up pack one better by adding sharp characterizations, genuinely witty humor and real physical and emotional stakes to the mix. Even now, fans still remember the characters and dialogue in this film as fondly as they do its various inventive suspense and action set-pieces. How many can say the same thing about the recent superhero blockbusters that have increasingly polluted multiplexes during summer months? (It certainly helps that John McTiernan directs it all with a precision that's practically classical in the age of the shakycam.)"
"It's not a great film, but 'Independence Day' is to my mind the perfect summer flick, representing all that's right and wrong about that particular movie season. Roland Emmerich's 1996 film boasts a big, fun hook — aliens are going to destroy the planet — and executes it in such a way where there's a palpable thrill in watching your species get wiped out. There's no pathos, no resonance — the president's wife dies tragically but, really, nobody cares — and the movie's primary emotional response is, "Wow, look at how awesome event movies are!" To use the old critical cliche, for the film to work at all, you have to shut off your brain, but doing so definitely opens you up to the experience of its giddy, wonderful silliness. Plus, there's the significant pleasure of watching a young, cocky Will Smith become a bona fide action hero. With that confident grin and casual charm of his, he just swoops in and steals the movie, establishing himself as one of our most reliable summer stars over the next decade. 'Independence Day' has a lot of lame humor, weak plotting and melodramatic nonsense, but its rah-rah, us-versus-them spirit has set the tone for so many future blockbusters. And it's the first time going to a movie that I saw excited audience members knock around a beach ball inside the theater as if we were at a sporting event. In a way, I guess we kinda were."
"A perfect summer movie has lots of action that is 'bigger than life.' My favorite summer blockbuster? 'Independence Day,' no hesitation."
"You didn't specify 'blockbuster' here, so I'm going with 'Wet Hot American Summer.' It is *the* perfect summer movie. Summer camp and wacky comedy from the likes of Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain (and miscellaneous 'State' alumni)? Yes, please. While it's not a commercial success, it offers the perfect setting for a summertime film by tugging at the ol' nostalgia strings with a story of trying to find love during the last day of camp. Underneath all that silly comedy beats an honest heart — how many of us haven't waited until the last day of school or the last day of summer camp to tell someone how we feel, knowing that if they reject us, at least we won't have to face them every day for several months or even a year? Okay, but really, it's probably the most hilarious movie ever made, and with the oft-sub-par track record of summer comedies amid big action titans, 'Wet Hot American Summer' proves that you can make a great summer comedy… about summertime."
"My ultimate summer movie is 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day.' 1991 was my summer between junior and senior years in high school and I spent it at Boston University at 'film camp.' Here's where I first got my hand on a Bolex 16mm camera (you cranked it!) and swallowed mass doses of the film snob canon: Kurosawa, Truffaut, Fellini, Bergman, early Scorsese, Altman, Frederick Wiseman, Errol Morris and, yes, 'Battleship Potemkin.' When I got home to my high school friends I was a million times more cultured than they — but I also hadn't seen 'Terminator 2.' I went into that 'T2' screening with my nose so ridiculously turned up at its populist taste that it's a wonder my friends didn't deck me. But I enjoyed it. Of course I enjoyed it — I had blood in my veins. During the tail end of the summer, right before school started, I ended up seeing it four times in the theater because I had a friend who worked there and could get us in for free, and also had friends who were old enough to drive. During this thin window of late August, early September, 'Terminator 2' was something of a symbol of the freedom I was about to taste as a high school senior, one who would babble on and on about the use of camera movement and cross-cutting in action films."
"Since summer is typically the season for action blockbusters, it's probably fitting that the first name that comes to mind is the director who gave us 'Jaws,' Steven Spielberg. That movie kept me out of the deep end of the pool until I was about 17, and Spielberg also gets credits for prompting my first masculine crisis, as I stifled tears watching 'E.T.' But my all-time favorite action-adventure film, and thus my #1 choice, has to be 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' Of course, in terms of pure summer heat, it doesn't get much better than Mookie, Tina and a bowl full of ice cubes. 'It's the hottest day of the summer. You can do nothing, you can do something, or you can… 'Do The Right Thing.''"
"'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' It plays beautifully indoors on a hot summer day, or outdoors at night on a portable screen after hot dogs and beer. You can take your mom or your kid brother or your date and not worry they'll be bored or restless or offended. Irresistible."
"The phrase 'summer movies' to me has always meant action films. Opening night of 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' remains my all-time most exciting summer event-movie experience, but that’s too great a sci-fi picture to leave in the summer movie ghetto, so I’m going to pick 1995’s infinitely less defensible but super-fun 'Die Hard With a Vengeance.' Yes, of course 1988’s original is a better movie, but everything about this third installment, starting with that gleefully dumb title, is as magical as a bottomless tub of popcorn. After sitting out 'Die Hard 2,' which hasn’t aged nearly as well, John McTiernan brought his gift for tension and clean, thrilling, easy-to-follow action sequences back to the franchise for this sprawling adventure set over the course of one very long, very hot day in New York City. The opening titles get through exactly one chorus of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 'Summer in the City' before shit starts blowing up. Samuel L. Jackson steps into the franchise as Bruce Willis’s best-ever foil, playing a pawn shop owner drawn reluctantly into the action via… you guessed it, a racially inflammatory sandwich board our hero, John McClane, is made to wear. Which makes this already one of the weirdest summer blockbusters ever and we’re only halfway through the first act. There are lots of reasons to be wary of the next installment in the apparently immortal 'Die Hard' franchise, but the most dire sign is that it’s scheduled for release Valentine’s Day weekend instead of between May and July."
"Not sure it's the best, but every July 4th, I make it mandatory that my friends and I watch either 'Independence Day' or 'Armageddon.'"
"I have to go with 'Jaws,' even though it's often blamed for ushering in the mindless blockbuster summer movie season we now suffer through each year. Despite its questionable legacy, 'Jaws' was still what so many summer flicks are not: a great movie. Steven Spielberg just beginning to realize the extent of his powers; a patience for character development; scares we'll never quite be able to shake (yes, the movie says, there is something down there coming after your legs). Released in the summer and set in the summer, 'Jaws' is my clear choice."
"'Independence Day.' I was in college when that movie came out, and it's the first time I ever felt like part of some nationwide communal event. Stuff blowing up, America, Will Smith punching aliens in the face, WELCOME TO EARTH. I still smile just thinking about it."
"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."
"'Independence Day.' Not the proper auteur answer but it's the first film I remember it literally taking a week to plan and see. I saw it in DC where the Uptown ran it 24 hours a day for the first three weeks. Every screening was packed; lines went up and down the block. It was amazing."
"The perfect summer movie falls into one of two categories for me. One is a bit on the rare side, and that's the big summer blockbuster that actually manages not to disappoint and has some ideas within it. Those have included 'The Dark Knight,' 'Jurassic Park,' and 'Back to the Future' (though obviously I didn't get to see that one until a bit later…), but as a general rule most years don't wind up having one of those, so I have to rely on the second category, which is smaller indie movies that work as welcome respites from explosions and alien invasions. Some of those have included 'Bellflower,' 'The Wackness,' 'Garden State,' and 'The Go-Getter,' though the perfect one for me was "(500) Days of Summer." It was everything that 'Battleship' is not, thankfully."
"Summer movies, of course, call to mind escapist fare. I like at least a little bit of substance in my escapism, so I'd have to look to the work of the man who has delivered more smart warm-weather entertainment than any other filmmaker ever: Steven Spielberg. As a child of the '80s, I'd absolutely go with one of his seminal films from that era. And what Spielberg picture delivers more heart, soul, emotion, and excitement than 'E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial,' which I saw multiple times in the summer of 1982? (Ask me tomorrow and I might choose 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' though.)"
"If you're asking what the perfect summer 2012 movie is I'm going to say 'The Avengers.' In my 'Avengers' review I pretty much sum up (in my opinion) the criteria for the perfect summer movie: 'I should be able to laugh, grip my seat, and loudly cheer at the screen.' It might have started before the Memorial Day plunge but looking over the schedule of upcoming releases I don't see anything that will compare to 'The Avengers' — sure 'Prometheus' and 'The Dark Knight Rises' should be good, but I predict they'll be missing that laugh credential the perfect summer movie requires. As far as the perfect summer movie prior to 2012, I have to say that 'Independence Day' rocked my 13-year-old socks off and is to this day one that I laugh, cheer, and applaud while watching on a hot summer night."
"The perfect summer movie is thrilling, adventurous, romantic and overall fun. A movie that will be worth the price of admission, not only for your entertainment dollar but also gives you good reason to stay out of the miserable heat and spend two hours in a comfortable air-conditioned theater. With that in mind, I feel the perfect summer movie is 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' It fits all the qualities listed above plus it’s super funny and exciting, and spawned many sequels. This is the mark of any successful summer movie. A very close second is 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,' a movie that defined fun and exciting for me during the summer of 2010."
"While I'm tempted to go with the ones that started the 'traditional' summer blockbuster season — 'Star Wars' or 'Jaws' — I have to concede that the perfect summer movie is 'Independence Day.' Roland Emmerich (yes, Roland Emmerich) took the time-tested formula of a summer movie — Stars! Effects! Humor! Epic Set Pieces! Bill Pullman! — and rolled them into a streamlined, crowd-pleasing blockbuster experience that hammered down on all four quadrants. Is it a perfect movie? Not at all. But its missteps are noticeably forgivable in the hot, hot heat of the summertime."
"I gotta go with 'Ghostbusters.' It had a little of everything: comedy, scares, a catchy song, a love story, a big special effects finale, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man… I was about 10 years old when that movie was released and I probably saw it in theaters 6 or 7 times. I watched it about 3 months ago and it still holds up."
"When I think of summer movies, I think big-budget blockbusters that blend plenty of action and plenty of heart without over-thinking it. So, I'd say 'Independence Day' is at the top of my list. It just never gets old. Massive alien attack, the entire world is at risk, but then it comes down to a cocky marine, a snarky scientist and a drunken pilot — all Americans, mind you — to save the day. Jaw-dropping scenes of destruction are bolstered by hordes of memorable characters/performances and Roland Emmerich's deft tension-building, then topped off with a finale that is unapologetically patriotic and celebratory. It's a recipe filmmakers are still trying to copy (looking at you, 'Battleship') to little avail. Its specifics may now feel a little dated, but this story of so many people putting aside their differences to fight for all humanity is still such a totally satisfying movie that I can't turn away from."
"The first summer blockbuster is still the best of its kind. Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws' not only made me terrified of the water forever, but the director engineered a supremely entertaining horror film filled with iconic imagery, characters, dialogue, score, etc. It's a completely satisfying package in any season and one that changed the game forever."
"This is the answer I think everyone of my generation gives, but come on, it's 'Jurassic Park.' Not only is it this perfectly calibrated machine of entertainment and terror and visual spectacle, but it crosses that summer movie threshold of just completely saturating the culture. It's probably the first time I remember a movie just being everywhere, not only something my friends and family had seen but something referenced in commercials, by grown-ups, by everybody. The fact that it still holds up as a legitimately great movie only makes it a feat more difficult to repeat."
"I'm going with 'The Fifth Element,' which I saw at exactly the right age (11) with zero information about it, other than it involved Bruce Willis and had a cool poster. 'The Fifth Element' has pretty much everything: wildly overqualified actors chewing scenery (Gary Oldman), extremely costly production design (France's most expensive movie at the time, every penny onscreen), all manner of well-choreographed mayhem, gratuitous female nudity and Tommy 'Tiny' Lister as the president of the universe, which seems like the kind of future I'd want to live in. I watch it every few years, and it still holds up remarkably well as a fast, witty and overstuffed tribute to teenage notebook doodlings writ large."
"If we're talking about the perfect summer movie in terms of event pictures, then my choice is 'Terminator 2' — a film that's larger-than-life in terms of scale and star (Schwarzenegger), and was made with a skill and an inventiveness that too many like-minded efforts fail to even attempt."
"I'd have to go with the original summer blockbuster, 'Jaws.' Not only is it set on the beach in July (who wants a summer blockbuster that takes place at Christmas?), it's exciting, funny, scary, quotable, and full of memorable moments and characters. The plot is easy to follow but not insultingly simple. Is there anything else a summer blockbuster should have? A giant shark, maybe? It has that too."
"The perfect summer movie for me is 'Terminator 2.' This was actually the first R-rated movie my sweet mother took me took see (thanks, mom!), which wound up having a heavy influence on my passion for the film industry. It's the greatest action movie of all time. But the perfect summer movie is 'Twister.' This is a movie with almost every genre in it — horror/crime (killer tornadoes!) comedy (Phil Seymour Hoffman's Dustin, the comedic relief!), drama (which woman does Bill Paxton really love!?), suspense (who will survive and what will be left of them!?), sci-fi ('That's no moon, that's a space station!'), and action (let's chase these mother f***ing tornadoes and figure out how to better understand them!). And it has robots (Dorothy!)."
"The ultimate summer movie is 'Dazed and Confused.' Just the other day I was thinking about how full-time work now negates most of the excitement I used to feel when summer arrived. Now there are no summer jobs, no lazy days by the pool, and no endless nights where I'm just driving with my friends. Richard Linklater's second movie perfectly captures a teenager's excitement toward summer. There's the initial rush where you leave the school grounds without having to return for months. Once that feeling fades, a pleasant aimlessness follows. Because Linklater followed his newly-minted freshmen and seniors with empathy and warmth, their experiences are a vessel for us to relive hours. For better or worse, I can't help but think about summer with nostalgia, so 'Dazed and Confused' is the best reminder of what the season used to feel like. And I'm not talking about warmth or humidity."
"I'm wholly aware my own anticipation for 'Prometheus' may be clouding this, but when I think of this week's survey, I keep returning to 'Alien.' The seeming prerequisite of a summer movie is 'big,' and while I'd totally agree, I'd also add transporting; films that take the audience out of their element, with grand scope, thrills, new ideas and new worlds. 'Alien' is, of course, such a picture, working on a broadly appealing and purely visceral level, but infused with plenty of personality, and the truly bizarre as well. Plus, and possibly most importantly, 'Alien' remains a tremendous audience, big screen experience."
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on May 21, 2012: