Summer movie recap: Or the six movies everyone should have seen this summer

Graphic by Julia Read

Nothing goes better together than a 100-degree summer day with 97 percent humidity and an afternoon at the movie theater. This winning combination meant that much of my summer was spent at the movies, and while the air conditioning was always worth my time, the movies tended to vary.

In fact, a lot of the movies were quite bad.

However, there were some films that transcended the air conditioning and made for true cinematic nirvana. This list of six films contains the very best of the summer movie crop (June-August), and even some of the best films of the past year.

“Eighth Grade”
Just when I thought I had finally suppressed my cringiest middle school memories, Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, “Eighth Grade” came along and re-established every embarrassing memory I tried to forget.

The film follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher) in her final days of eighth grade, and the experiences of embarrassment, fear, and humor that come with it. Kayla’s story is not unique (it is similar to all of our own personal middle school miseries), but that similarity is what makes the film so special.

Even when the film shows the true cringey-ness of eighth-grade life, it never provokes laughter aimed at Kayla. Instead, the empathy and reliability that Burnham and his star bring to the film force the audience to truly relate with an eighth-grade girl, and the pain and humor that come with being one.

Like “Eighth Grade,” Ari Aster’s debut feature, “Hereditary,” makes the audience feel a relatable sense of discomfort, albeit through a supernatural lens.

The film follows the Graham family as they reckon with the pain of a loss in the family and filial horror. Unlike most horror films, the true terror of “Hereditary” does not come from the supernatural or the jump scares, but instead from the slow, unrelenting portrayal of grief and the damage that family can cause.

This sense of despair that envelops the entire film is most prevalent in Toni Collette’s portrayal of a mourning mother, Annie Graham, whose pain is magnified by the film camera.

“Hereditary” uses the surreal nature of the horror genre as a tool to painstakingly portray the trauma of loss.

“Minding the Gap”
I never thought that a documentary about skaters would be one of the best portrayals of systemic familial abuse and the decline of the middle class ever aired on screen, but Bing Liu’s debut documentary, “Minding the Gap,” proved me wrong.

The doc follows three skater teens: Bing (the director of the film), Kiere, and Zack, as they grow up dealing with wealth inequality, familial abuse, and loss in a small Rust Belt town.

While the film is marketed as a doc about skateboarding, the actual activity of skateboarding only appears in beautiful flowing transitions that connect the lives of its three subjects. Because the director is a subject of the film and is close with his co-stars, we get a fully three-dimensional view of these young men.

By the end of the film, I felt that I knew them personally, and when the credits rolled I was not ready to let them go.

“First Reformed”
Leave it to the man who wrote “Taxi Driver” to be the first person to make a film that truly captures the existential dread of climate change.

Paul Schrader accomplishes this in his newest film, “First Reformed,” which stars Ethan Hawke as a small-time pastor whose concept of faith is questioned when he must deal with a troubled environmental activist. Hawke displays what can only be described as a career-defining performance, playing a character haunted by an impending sense of doom.

While the film itself is inherently nihilistic, the small tads of pitch-black humor allow the audience to commit to the horrid world Schrader creates.

“Mission Impossible: Fallout”
It would be wrong to make a list of the best summer movies and not mention a traditional blockbuster, and “Mission Impossible: Fallout” is one of the best blockbusters of the decade.

The sixth film in the franchise (directed by Christopher McQuarrie) follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team as they race against the clock to stop a nuclear disaster.

But let’s be honest: the plot of this film is merely a vehicle for the spectacle of the set pieces — my personal favorite being when Hunt has to climb up a rope and fly a helicopter, that Tom Cruise actually learned to fly, in order to save the day.

The sheer absurdity and technical mastery behind these jaw-dropping stunts are the straw that stirs the film’s drink, making it the most fun film I have seen in a long time. Also, I can’t forget to mention that Henry Cavill’s character reloads his fists like shotguns. Go see this movie on a big screen.

“Sorry to Bother You”
The polar opposite of “Mission Impossible: Fallout” is Boots Riley’s anti-capitalist comedy “Sorry to Bother You.”

Reilly’s debut feature follows Cash Green (Lakeith Stanfield) as he struggles to choose between financial success and his morals as he rises up the ranks of the world’s most powerful call center.

To be honest, explaining the plot of the bizarre and wholly original film is a futile exercise. Instead, it is best to just describe the moments that make the film truly special.

For instance, the film’s use of Cash’s “white voice” (dubbed by David Cross) as a means of satirizing the way capitalism monetizes and exploits race for profit is one of the best pieces of American satire of the 21st century. “Sorry to Bother You” is a flawed film (especially in the last 20 minutes), but it also has some of the most exciting moments I’ve seen on screen in a long time.


So, there you have it, a completely arbitrary list of the six best films I saw this summer. However, I do want to quickly mention one film that came out before the summer that particularly stood out this year. That film is Lynne Ramsay’s, “You Were Never Really Here,” which is a masterpiece and deserves to be remembered as one of the best films of the decade.

These six films made this last summer a great time for the movies… as long as you avoided “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom.”

Ben Hafetz is a Media Studies and Politics double major at Pitzer College. He likes to not only see movies, but also tell his friends why they should or should not like certain ones.

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