A Summer Spent in Cinema: the Best and Worst

I watched 37 movies over the course of a month this summer. I know this sounds like an absurd amount and, having actually accomplished this feat, I can confirm that 37 movies in less than 30 days is an absurd amount.

I found myself on the couch a lot this summer, and not only because of sheer laziness. After tearing a ligament in my knee in mid-June and having surgery shortly thereafter, the locked brace on my knee consigned me to near immobility. And so, with little ability to move and a summer schedule of sports suddenly deemed impossible, I searched for distractions.

This quest quickly led me to the cinema. I pored through compilations of all-time great movies and reviews from Roger Ebert and Greg Siskel. I unearthed the “Entertainment Weekly’s” “50 Best High School Movies” and vowed to watch all of them. I quizzed my mother about what movies I should watch. Soon, my Netflix queue swelled to over 400 titles.
For all my efforts, I will save you the full 90 hours and instead recap the best and worst films.

“The Big Sick” (2017)
It may be too soon to label it a classic, but this movie should eventually join the ranks of romantic comedies with “When Harry Met Sally,” “Say Anything,” and more. The magnetism between Kumail and Emily is palpable, and their story reads as authentic even in its most difficult moments. The arrival of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as parents and their resulting relationship with Kumail, though, is what truly elevates this movie to the next level. WATCH IT.

“Birdman” (2014)
I’m all for twisty storylines and metaphorical allusions. What I don’t care to watch is a vanity project for Michael Keaton and Edward Norton with an unrelatable plotline. It’s unlikely that, unless you are actually Michael Keaton who played Batman in the 1990s, you will empathize with a story about an arrogant, washed-up actor losing his grasp on reality as he seeks to escape the shadow of his past as a superhero named Birdman.

“Almost Famous” (2000)
Should be required watching for any music fan. Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical tale cultivates an organic image of Hollywood–from shimmering images of rock’n’roll to grounded scenes in dingy motels–and all of the people involved. We all have been wide-eyed William Miller entranced with the rock gods of Stillwater and Kate Hudson’s mesmerizing Penny Lane. Humor and the soundtrack ground the film. WATCH IT.

“The Virgin Suicides” (1999)
As the title hints at, it’s not the cheeriest movie, but it is a brilliantly made one. A typical Sofia Coppola film, the combination of beautiful aesthetics and grim storyline creates a haunting and visceral film about adolescence, defined by its mysteries and the loss of it. Emotional performances, particularly from Kirsten Dunst, establish the vulnerability, isolation and enigma at its core. It’s A film about youth and innocence unlike any I’ve ever seen before. WATCH IT.

“Superbad” (2007)
The title says it all. Silly juvenile humor which loses its appeal after about ten minutes. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, thinking that eventually a compelling storyline would emerge, only to find that I instead wasted a good two hours of my life.

“Basic Instinct” (1992)
I actually enjoyed watching this movie but only with the understanding to take it for what it is: a campy movie with a slightly under-cooked thriller storyline. It’s rated R and certainly lives up to that rating. If you have a few hours to spare, “Basic Instinct” is entertaining, but you could definitely SKIP IT, and your life wouldn’t be over.

The Shining” (1980)
One of the all-time great horror movies. Stanley Kubrick’s careful filmography and editing contribute to the cramped and chilling atmosphere as much as Jack Nicholson’s frenetic performance as a man slowly slipping into insanity does. WATCH IT… but maybe not at night.

“Dunkirk” (2017)
Boats blow up. Unnamed and unidentifiable British actors crawl through sand and swim in an ocean. Timelines overlap. The script has, maybe, ten words total. Oh, and Harry Styles was there. An excruciating 90 minutes with my grandparents in a freezing theater. Unless you need to be reminded that World War II was brutal, SKIP IT.

“Dazed and Confused” (1993)
This is one of those movies that has suffered from hype surpassing substance. There is no plot to this movie, and I mean this literally. The entire premise is “watching a couple guys figure out how to waste a couple hours at the start of summer”–that’s it. Matthew McConaughey’s performance is star-making and his “alright, alright, alright” is the highlight of the film. Besides those five minutes,

“Gone Baby Gone” (2007)
The Affleck brothers team up for this film, which serves as both celebration and indictment of the Boston communities they grew up in. The fast-paced plot of this mystery engages almost immediately, and Amy Ryan strikes gold with her portrayal as the mother of a kidnapped girl–she plays victim and anti-hero so as to invite our sympathies and disgust. It does require an ear for thick Boston accents and a generous use of profanity. The moral ambiguities stuck with me much longer than the run time.

“Harold and Maude” (1971)
The best for last. I felt obligated to watch this movie after nicknaming my new scar “Maude” and my new knee ligament “Harold,” and it has already become one of my favorite and most-referenced movies of all time. Its dark humor meshes quite well with its warmth and heart. The love story at the center of this story achieves the delicate balance of “so unbelievably believable.” A true gem. WATCH IT and, if you want to sing out, sing out.