Film files: Summer films and TV shows to cure your finals-week blues

The woman in focus looks up, in front of the man out of focus in the background.
Film columnist Hannah Eliot SC ’24 recommends “Chungking Express” (1994) to those looking to delve more deeply into foreign films or something more challenging. (Courtesy: Janus Films)

As the heat sets in and summer grows closer, it’s a great time to find some new (and old) films and TV shows to entertain yourself in the coming weeks. Finals are soon, and hopefully this list — including some of my all-time favorites — will offer you some escape and help you out if you feel like procrastinating, taking a study break or finding something to look forward to after finishing your last exam. 

“Y tu mamá también” (2001)

In “Y Tu Mamá También,” Alfonso Cuarón tells an intimate, sexually charged story of two teenage boys taking a road trip with an older woman to a secret beach, set against the backdrop of early 2000s Mexico steeped in class conflict and other types of sociopolitical turmoil. I would say that this is probably one of my favorite films of all time, if not my favorite. The cinematography is stunning, and the acting is some of the best I’ve seen. Cuarón’s organic process of filmmaking allows him to construct complex characters who are shaped by both personal and national identity. In doing so, he gives his viewer a realistic lens into a moment of sociopolitical tension in Mexican history. 

“High Fidelity” (2020)

Set during the summer in New York City, “High Fidelity” centers on Rob (Zoë Kravitz), the owner of a Brooklyn record store who’s flailing in the aftermath of her biggest heartbreak, courtesy of ex-fiancé Mac. Desperate to figure out why she’s had so much trouble with love, she tracks down her exes on a quest of self-discovery to answer that question. The fact that this show was canceled after only one season is a crime. Zoë Kravitz is totally mesmerizing as Rob. Another highlight of the show is Simon (David H. Holmes), Rob’s employee and gay ex-boyfriend, who gets his own episode, in which he relives his Top 5 heartbreaks. I watched this show for the first time as a senior in high school; rewatching it as a sophomore in college has only deepened my love for it. Rob is a deeply flawed character, and the series bares her flaws with refreshing realism, making her highly relatable. Finally, the soundtrack of this show, curated by Questlove, is one of the coolest I’ve ever heard.

“Dazed and Confused” (1993)

This film is such a comfort film of mine and holds a special place in my heart. It tracks the adventures of Texas teenagers on their last day of school in 1976. While the film has a stacked ensemble cast — including Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and more — it orbits around Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London), who drifts easily among stoners, jocks and geeks. Pink is both a star quarterback and a stoner, which presents a dilemma when his coach demands he sign a “no drugs” pledge. This film is unique in how it feels like a documentary, as if it were literally filmed on the last day of high school in 1976, and no one had any idea they were being filmed. Not only is the soundtrack insane, but, be it the hazing, driving around, acts of vandalism, smoking weed, clinking beers, philosophical ramblings or hookups, every moment is thoughtfully captured, thanks to the fluid camera work and editing. This film shows life in high school for what it is, and the loose attitudes of its characters have a genuine touch to them. Wildly entertaining, “Dazed and Confused” is the kind of film with which you can simply sit back and live in the moment with its characters. It makes you feel a little reckless, aimless and hopeful in all the right ways.   

“Chungking Express” (1994)

This is such a ridiculously beautiful film. Directed by Wong Kar-wai, this Chinese film centers around a take-out express restaurant and the various individuals who cross through it. The film combines two different storylines — one that is more of a crime noir, the other, a rom-com — both suffused with the sweltering Hong Kong heat. The characters in this film don’t seem to know who they are. They wander around as loose individuals without families or homes, struggling with heartbreak and desperate for lovers they can never have. “Chungking Express” is beautiful, haunting and surprisingly funny. As this film deals with some heady, complex themes, I would recommend it for those looking to delve more deeply into foreign films or something slightly more challenging.  

“The Sopranos” (1999-2007)

It’s time for you to finally watch “The Sopranos.” No matter w​​hat excuses you’ve made in the past — or if you’ve somehow never heard of it — this show is more than worth the watch. This HBO series from David Chase follows the life of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a depressed Italian mobster who begins to go to therapy. The writing and acting in this show, particularly Gandolfini’s performance, are exquisite. In my eyes, it’s a masterpiece.

“American Honey” (2016)

“American Honey,” a film that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, is also one of the most immersive I’ve ever seen. While it feels a bit too long, it pulls you in for the ride as it follows Star (Sasha Lane), a teenage girl who runs away from home with a traveling sales crew that drives across America’s heartland selling magazines door-to-door. She falls in love with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), and settles into the crew’s lifestyle of hard-partying and shirking the law. Like “Dazed and Confused,” this film is more or less plotless and channels the liberating feeling of being young and reckless. However, “American Honey” comes with more ragged edges. It doesn’t shy away from baring the ugly side of youth, of running toward an uncertain future only to find that it is no better than where you came from.  

“Blue Crush” (2002)

Rounding out this list is an old guilty pleasure. I grew up surfing, so it’s possible that watching “Blue Crush” over and over again as a kid was not a universally relatable experience. Nevertheless, this is still a fun watch with or without the nostalgia. The real draw of “Blue Crush” is not the acting or the script, but the visuals — from Oahu beaches to insane surf shots — which make up for an overly dramatic plot line. While this film takes itself a little too seriously, it sticks out as one of the few films about female surfers in a world of male-dominated surf films, silly dialogue and all. On a quality level, the superior surfing flick is still “The Endless Summer,” but this one is perfect if you’re looking for some escapism and mindless entertainment.

Hannah Eliot SC ’24 is from San Francisco, California. She likes to surf and is on the search for more documentaries to watch.

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