I don't know what kind of movies you're into—that's an incredibly intimate thing to know about a person. I only know what kind of movies I'm into. And even then, who really knows—maybe I just needed to stare at something for a little bit and whatever Netflix suggested felt like it hit the spot because it was simply there. So the first in what should probably be a number of disclaimers here is that all of these movies may not even be "good," but they are at least "fun," and at the very least they are something to stare at for a little bit of time. They are particularly those things when they are viewed in the summer. I'm not sure why.
So, when your depleting mental health could use a little hit of Reese Witherspoon or fictionalized shark attacks, scroll down and make a selection.
THE MAN IN THE MOON (Amazon Prime)
Here's what I remember most about seeing this movie when it first came out back in 1991: a bed on a porch (I have wanted a porch bed ever since), a swimming creek, a first crush, and absolutely nothing bad happening at all lalalalalaican'thearyou. The coming-of-age tale is set in Louisiana in the summer of 1957, and stars Reese Witherspoon, Jason London, Sam Waterston and Tess Harper.
Roger Ebert called it one of the top 10 films of that summer, writing, "Nothing else [director Robert Mulligan] has done approaches the purity and perfection of The Man in the Moon. As the film approached its conclusion without having stepped wrong once, I wondered whether he could maintain the poetic, bittersweet tone, and avoid the sentimentalism and cheap emotion that could have destroyed this story. Would he maintain the integrity of this material? He would, and he does."
COCKTAIL (Amazon, $2.99 — sorry it's not free but there was no way in hell I wasn't including this Cruise Classic)
The movie begins with Tom Cruise's character, Brian Flanagan, leaving his Army pals and heading home to New York on a Greyhound bus. The opening sequence gives us a glimpse of 1980s NYC—from Port Authority bus terminal, to one of those old redbirds, to the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue stop in Queens, where we meet Flanagan's uncle Pat, proprietor of Pat's Place (an Irish pub). Anyway, Flanagan wants to make a million bucks, and this movie will take you on his journey. It all ends with the Beach Boys hit "Kokomo," which I have included above in lieu of the trailer, because I would like for it to be stuck in as many New Yorkers' heads as possible today. I just think it would put everyone in a better mood. Pipe it into the subways, MTA. Anyway, this movie is wonderful, and I will watch anything that stars the delightful Tom Cruise, I don't care how many people he has brainwashed into Scientology—not my business! Great, great actor.
This movie is mostly (possibly only) good because of its stellar cast: Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer, and Phoebe Robinson. The trio elevate the simple plot, delivering in the laughs, observations and physical comedy arenas. Their adventure revolves around a trip to, yes, Ibiza, and sure, it's a little scattered—part "vacation hangout movie" and part rom-com—but maybe that's okay?
GIRLS TRIP (HBO and Amazon Prime)
The much better version of the "vacation hangout movie" is Girls Trip, where four friends (Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, the wonderful Tiffany Haddish, and Queen Latifah), also known as the "Flossy Posse," take on New Orleans for the Essence Festival. Never has a movie so hilariously tackled both friendship, and the dangers of too much absinthe.
JAWS (Amazon Prime)
I have a very deep, nostalgic attachment to this movie which I won't bore you with, but I will say it is the perfect summer movie and I watch it every year. I'm not just saying that because it birthed the summer blockbuster in 1975, but it did. Anyway, was there ever a more perfect trailer, even? It begins: "There is a creature alive today, who has survived millions of years of evolution without change, without passion, and without logic. It lives to kill. A mindless eating machine. It will attack, and devour, anything. It is as if God created the devil, and gave him jaws." CUT TO SUMMER BEACH SCENE.
DO THE RIGHT THING (Amazon Prime with free Cinemax trial, or rent for $2.99)
This Spike Lee classic is set on the hottest day of the summer in 1980s Bed-Stuy, highlighting the neighborhood's racial tension. It was called "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress, when it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. And in its review, the NY Times called it "one terrific movie... Though the action is limited to one more-or-less idealized block in Bed-Stuy, the scope is panoramic. It's a contemporary 'Street Scene.' It has the heightened reality of theater, not only in its look but also in the way the lyrics of the songs on the soundtrack become natural extensions of the furiously demotic, often hugely funny dialogue." And the cast is incredible, including Lee himself, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, and Samuel L. Jackson. For audiences at the time, this was the big introduction to Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez.
DIRTY DANCING (Amazon Prime)
We had just dropped my older brother, his friend, and their dates off at the New Haven Coliseum to see U2 on their original Joshua Tree tour. My brother had on a denim jacket with a giant patch on the back featuring one of the band's album covers. I was a little jealous, but my parents were taking me to see Dirty Dancing to kill the time before we had to pick them back up. That was the summer of 1987, when everyone called me Jenny and it didn't occur to me to mind. I had just turned 11, an awkward age that made me about a minute too young for both the concert, and this particular movie. But I blushed my way through it, left knowing what an abortion was, and have revisited it time and again as I've gotten older. Until they recreate Kellerman's in the Catskills, I will rewatch this movie every summer.
MOANAandCOCO (Netflix and Netflix)
These are particularly good if you want to watch something with children, but they are also very good to watch alone, as an adult, as I have several times. Animated movies like these are fantastic because even when things get a little dark, you know in the end everything will be alright. And that's a nice feeling since we are currently living in a hellscape timeline that could end in a number of catastrophic ways.
I had never heard of this movie (or the book it's based on) until it turned up on Hulu and Hulu would not stop suggesting it to me until I hit play. It stars Emma Roberts and Dave Franco as two NYC teens with unbelievably great smiles, which is not the plot of the movie, simply worth noting. Roberts's character hails from Staten Island, where she meets Franco in a diner after signing up for a batshit insane game called Nerve. After that, you'll need to suspend disbelief as you fly through this techno-thriller, which is pretty wonderfully soundtracked. (When you are done watching please throw away your phone.)
ANY SUPERHERO MOVIE
"Comic Book Adaptations" is my favorite movie genre, any time of the year. Personally, I have watched Black Panther about 14 times this summer because it is currently my niece and nephew's favorite movie. I am trying to get them into Wonder Woman now, which is available to rent on Amazon Prime (and is free if you have an HBO Now account). I'm also partial to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, but if you want something a little lighter, maybe go for 2002 Tobey Maguire-era Spider-Man, or Paul Rudd's first go-around as Ant-Man. And people really seemed to love Thor: Ragnarok, which is now on Netflix.