There is no time like the dog days of summer for watching movies. In the old days, the local movie theater was one of the few reliably cool places to sit on a hot summer day. These days, most of our houses are air-conditioned, and as the mercury rises outside, many of us choose to sit indoors with an edifying diversion that captures the spirit of summer. We experience relief from the old routine, but as the days pass, we long for a new start. We get a little bored, but then suddenly an adventure made possible by simply having nothing else to do presents itself to us. For Christians, summer is the epitome of our lives of faith—the “already” but also the “not yet” of the kingdom of heaven. Here are five of my favorite summer films, listed in chronological order, that may help you pass the time in the remaining dog days ahead.
1. Rear Window (1954). For my money, there is no better summer movie ever made. Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, and many film lovers regard him as the greatest director of all time. He was also a lifelong Catholic. Summer has always been my favorite time of year to watch Hitchcock’s movies, perhaps because so many of them feature warm weather as an element of pressure that contributes to a character’s unease, and none of them feels hotter than Rear Window. Starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, Rear Window is a film about watching and contemplation—about weighing social responsibility against private obsession. Rear Window keeps us on the edge of our seats, and it contains some of the most memorable moments in film history, including Kelly’s character, Lisa Freemont, coming into focus in her iconic black and white dress. When the credits roll, we may think a little less of human nature but a little more about our duty to our neighbors.
2. Jaws (1975). This is the movie that put Steven Spielberg on the map, and John Williams’ score made the movie a mega-hit. Once heard, no one can forget the terrifying main theme, alternating between two notes on a single tuba, before giving way to strings. A great white shark’s terror campaign against the holidaymakers of the New England beach town of Amity Island is the stuff of nightmares. Three men step up to put a stop to the man-eater’s reign: the brand-new police chief, Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider; an outsider academic, played by Richard Dreyfus; and a grizzled old seafarer, played by Robert Shaw. Together, the three men’s struggle represents the age-old problem of man vs. nature. Brody and his companions may finally “conquer” the monster, but the film franchise’s three sequels remind us that the reality of nature’s harshness always returns. When we treat even the scary stuff as “mere” nature, we may quickly find ourselves facing our mortality—a painful but necessary exercise for our souls.
3. The Sandlot (1993). As a military brat, I moved several times as a kid, and always during the summer. There was always a period of loneliness while I adjusted to my new surroundings, but before long I was a fixture in neighborhood bike rides, exploring sessions in the woods, and best of all, pick-up baseball games. Written and directed by David Mickey Evans, The Sandlot is the story of Scotty Smalls, a kid like me, who moves to a new town and suddenly finds his place of belonging—not because of his talent or even interest, but rather because he lives in an era where participation in the little platoons of society was simply presumed. The Sandlot has become a cult classic among summer films, with catch phrases like “You’re killing me, Smalls!” and “For-ev-er! For-ev-er!” It is a touching coming-of-age story from a bygone era, and it’s the perfect choice for family movie night with kids.
4. Stealing Beauty (1996). A late masterpiece from the Italian avant-garde filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, Stealing Beauty will inspire wanderlust in even the homiest of homebodies. Set in Tuscany and starring Liv Tyler in her first major screen role, Stealing Beauty is a fascinating depiction of exploring one’s roots and finding freedom within the boundaries of self-respect and the pursuit of virtue (if not altogether consonant with the highest standard of Catholic morality). Stealing Beauty reminds us that beauty really is a transcendental virtue that has a way of revealing truth and goodness more clearly. Moreover, we remember that beauty cannot be simply taken and possessed; rather, it is a mystery that must instead be given and contemplated. Put the kids to bed first, then pour a glass of wine and settle in for a sunny treat.
5. Mid-August Lunch (2008). Here’s something special for the foreign movie fans to round out the list. Written and directed by Gianni di Gregorio, Mid-August Lunch is a charming Italian film set in the extreme heat of summer in Rome, where everybody who’s anybody has fled to the countryside—that is, except for Gianni, his mother, and a host of other older women whose families have left them behind. Mid-August Lunch is a hilarious portrayal of intergenerational cooperation, which despite the foreign setting, should resonate with many American viewers who have cared for older parents in their twilight years. Coming in at just 1 hour and 15 minutes, you may have time to wash Mid-August Lunch down with another of Di Gregorio’s recent films, Citizens of the World (2019). Di Gregorio’s art makes aging seem hilarious, and Mid-August Lunch will appeal to anyone with a heart and a funny bone.
As we sit indoors and look forward to cooler days, may these films help us appreciate the magic of summer while it lasts.