Summer may have just started, but is anyone else’s brain already in vacation mode? Are we all ready to be sitting on patios in the sunshine, sipping margaritas? If you need a little inspiration, or if you’re unable to head out into the sunshine just yet, now is a good time to dip your toes into summertime vibes with some hot weather movies. Below, I’ve pulled a list together of some of my all-time films for the summer season that you can find in the VPL catalogue (sorry, no Palm Springs or Fire Island just yet). But this list is by no means exhaustive (keeping it to five was a struggle, as you’ll see), so feel free to share your own favourites in the comments!
Really, any movie in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy would be a good choice (take your pick of locale: Vienna, Paris, or Greece), but since Before Sunrise is the first in the series, it’s best to start there. The 1995 film takes place on a single summer day. Jesse (American) and Celine (French) are on separate paths, but those paths cross for a moment on a train. Deciding to make the best of fate, they disembark and spend the rest of the day (and night) wandering the streets of Vienna, deep in conversation. That’s literally the whole plot, so your enjoyment of this kind of movie hinges on how much you love listening to people talk. The acting is so naturalistic that it’s easy to mistake Ethan Hawke’s and Julie Delpy’s performances as improvisations. The Before trilogy holds a special place in cinema history for its sequel rollouts: Before Sunset catches up with Jesse and Celine nine years later, this time in Paris. It’s a treat to see how they’ve matured, and we’re gifted another glimpse into their lives with Before Midnight, which takes place another nine years later, this time in Greece. But Before Sunrise holds a special charm owing to Jesse and Celine’s youth, with all their naïve philosophizing, and the will-they-or-won’t-they pull between them. These are two actors who play beautifully off each other, Delpy with a keenly European romanticism (and prettily messy French girl hair) and Hawke with the depth to match it (he has recently come out with what is, in my opinion, the correct take on the “are superhero movies art” debate—something very in line with Jesse!).
This iconic film turned 30 years old last year, but it’s still as fresh as ever. Best friends Thelma and Louise take off on a fishing trip, but their journey takes a sharp turn once Louise kills a man who is trying to assault Thelma. The two decide to flee to Mexico, cutting through the Utah desert in a 1966 Thunderbird convertible before concluding with that famous ending. Thelma & Louise has since been categorized as a “neo-feminist road movie”, but despite making a massive splash upon release and its enduring popularity, the film is described by The Guardian as following “female outlaws trapped in a patriarchal world in a film that remains a biting outlier”. And truly, despite being parodied by everyone and their mother (The Simpsons episode “Marge on the Lam” is an episode-long spoof), Thelma & Louise is still unique (though I do feel the 2002 Britney Spears movie Crossroads owes a lot to it). But back to the summer vibes: you’ve obviously got a whole lot of steamy desert scenery, but you’ve also got memorable early 90s outfits like muscle tees tucked into high waisted jeans (they make great Halloween costumes).
Speaking of road movies! The film that brought international attention to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (who would go on to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Roma), Y tu mamá también is Cuarón’s take on the American road movie. In the sizzling heat of a Mexican summer, best friends Julio and Tenoch embark on a rural road trip to a stunning beach with the older, married Luisa. But it’s not just some teenage boy fantasy. During the drive, they come up against sexual frustrations, class issues, and lingering personal resentments (the title translates to “And your mother too” for…reasons), set against the backdrop of a shifting political landscape. The film stars irl best friends Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna (a telenovela heartthrob at the time), whose friendship has endearingly endured their respective successes in Hollywood. The film also courted some controversy around its rating; it earned an NC-17 rating due to its sexual content and drug use, but was edited down to an R to make it more palatable to American audiences. If you’re worried about that, the poster tells you all you need to know.
This spot was supposed to go to A Bigger Splash, the 2015 psychological thriller that is the second installment of Luca Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy, but we don’t have it in our catalogue. So instead I’m dedicating this space to another Italy-set thriller: 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Ripley follows the journey of sociopathic conman Tom Ripley from New York to Italy, where he ingratiates himself into the lives of the wealthy and attractive couple Dickie Greenleaf and Marge Sherwood. Things get weirder from there. Fans of aesthetically beautiful movies should eat this right up: filmed in the sun-drenched Italian vistas of Positano and Ischia, the film practically radiates summer vibes—reflected in the tanned skin and rosy cheeks of the film’s gorgeous cast, each of whom, I think, are captured here at the peak of their beauty. Both The Talented Mr. Ripley and A Bigger Splash (a remake of sorts of La Piscine starring Alain Delon) feature sunny European locales and (spoiler) obsession-turned-death; if that combination floats your boat, you might also want to check out Purple Noon (an older Ripley adaptation, also starring Delon) and Summer of 85.
I’m cheating a bit with this one, but for good reason! Founded by partners (romantic and business) Ismail Merchant and James Ivory in 1961, Merchant Ivory Productions went on to become essentially its own genre. Per Wikipedia: “A typical ‘Merchant–Ivory film’ [is] a period piece set in the early 20th century … featuring lavish sets and top British actors portraying genteel characters who suffer from disillusionment and tragic entanglements. The main theme often surrounded a house.” Beyond the structure, Merchant Ivory films are known for being languorous and sumptuous, with long shots reveling in beautiful scenery, like a summer vacation spent sunbathing in a garden. Howards End brings us to the titular fairytale-esque English country house of the Wilcox family, covered in ivy and shrubbery as any good country house is; Maurice is less sunny but nevertheless features romance in a field of billowy grass (recreated in Ivory’s latest film, Call Me By Your Name); and A Room With a View takes us to Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside, where the hot Italian sun encourages a passionate romance between Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson (all three of these adaptations based on novels by E.M. Forster). The duo’s early films like 1965’s Shakespeare Wallah are set in Merchant’s native India—more hot weather! So really, you can take your pick.