If blockbusters aren’t your thing, then check out these quieter, classic movies that remain astoundingly relevant in 2017. This is the rare summer movie list that will not have you seeing Spiderman or any Baby Drivers.
Maybe, it’s time to have a smarter summer movie experience.
1) My Beautiful Laundrette (1986)
In honor of Daniel Day-Lewis’ retirement from acting and the neo-fascism that has put London’s white and brown population at odds for decades, My Beautiful Laundrette is a film fit for a modern audience.
The film is directed by English filmmaker Stephen Frears and examines the lives of two star crossed lovers — Omar and Johnny. Gordon Warnecke is Omar, an ambitious Pakistani and Daniel Day-Lewis is Johnny, a gang-affiliated, xenophobe. The former high school lovers reunite to revamp a rundown laundromat in South London — a gift from Omar’s uncle
This year marks 31 years since the film’s initial release, and the film’s shameless takedown of of xenophobia, poverty, and sexuality, makes three decades seem inconsequential. The film’s plot is as simple as it reads, but the relationships are complex and nuanced.
My Beautiful Launderette is “a slice of life,” in the modernist tradition. However, Frears lulls the film in-and-out of fantasy with his fluorescent cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s R&B/80s Rock infused rendition of dripping water. In 2017, this totally 1980s film is what indie-loving moviegoers need.
2) A Man For All Seasons (1966)
If Hollywood were to condense the complicated relationship of President Donald Trump and former FBI director James Comey into a two hour long film, filmmakers would look to the quintessential martyr film of the 20th Century for inspiration. James Comey is in no way a martyr, and according to many historians specializing in the Tudor Period, neither was Sir Thomas More.
However writer, Robert Holt chisels away More’s problematic past as Lord High Chancellor of England in A Man For All Seasons. The film examines the unsteady relationship of Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More. After facing opposition in his effort to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon then marry his mistress Anne Boleyn, all Henry asks of newly appointed More, is to acknowledge the marriage between he and Boleyn. When More refuses to recognize the marriage or jump on the Protestant bandwagon — seriously, Comey… I mean More… where is the loyalty? — he is sent to the tower of London where he stands trial for treason.
More never acknowledges Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s marriage, and is eventually executed. With six Academy Awards, A Man For All Seasons is a tour de force and is strangely relevant.
3) Killer of Sheep (1977)
“Lost” along with hundreds of other student films in the UCLA Film and Television Archives, Charles Burnett‘s Killer of Sheep was able to see the light of day thanks to a grant by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh which allowed Burnett to buy the rights to the songs he used in the film. Killer of Sheep loosely follows the life of Stan, a working class black man living in Los Angeles with his wife and children.
The film has no identifiable plot other than Stan’s desire to escape the wage slavery that systematizes his day-to-day life. If anything, the narrative is driven by atmospheric tension and the gritty 1970s aesthetic of Los Angeles’ Watts District — a two and a half mile area of land that had been affected by rioting in 1965. The film rated as the 26th greatest American film by the BBC cannot be described, but has to be watched.
Burnett was a maverick in film at a time when black film was predominantly Blaxploitation and struggle narratives that ended fantastically. Killer of Sheep leaves its audience quite literally, speechless and grounded in reality.
4) Zelig (1983)
For all my pseudo-intellects, hipsters, fake deep/fake woke, third-eye seeing folks out there, do I have the movie for you! The next time you’re watching Forest Gump with a group, you can assert your superiority by calling the five time Academy Award winning film “unoriginal” because you’ve seen what it’s obviously built from — Zelig, a Woody Allen film.
I first saw this film in a European intellectual history class — could I seem more pretentious? For some reason after reading Descartes, Hume, Locke, Nietzsche, Freud — and so many other names that I have since forgotten — we were supposed to find some connection between their passé philosophy and the film’s protagonist, Leonard Zelig, the human chameleon.
I was too lazy to figure it out. I was more entertained by Zelig and his psychologist, Mia Farrow, as they tried to understand his condition — he physically changed to resemble whichever ethnic group he was near. Shot in the mockumentary style, Allen enlists the leading intellects of the time to provide insight and assess Zelig’s “gift.” The film hilariously mocks 20th Century history and the folly of a man who can not seem to secure an identity.
5) Quest For Fire (1981)
Quest For Fire is an anthropological nightmare, but Academy Award Winning director, Jean-Jacques Annaud, knows capturing a long shot of Neanderthals running past Mount Kilimanjaro is more aesthetically pleasing than it is historically accurate. As scientifically ludicrous as the film may be, one should applaud Annaud’s courage in risking the scorn of anthropologists everywhere for cinematic excellence.
The film follows a group of “Neanderthals” as they quite literally go on a quest for fire. On their journey they encounter several homo species: some fraught, cannibals, others masters of the art of kindling fires. However the subplot — the classic trope of socially unmatched lovers — propels the story beyond its nonsensical and uninformed take on primitivism.
Ika, played by a young Rae Dawn Chong, is separated from her clan and is kidnapped by a group of brute cannibals. Naoh, the Neanderthal, played by Everett McGill, kills the cannibals in a battle for their fire and releases Ika. Ika vies for Naoh’s protection, but he only recognizes her as a liability to his quest. However, Naoh eventually needs Ika’s help. The two fall desperately in love and the rest is prehistory!
On a serious note, Quest For Fire is worth the watch and is a captivating film for those who are curious about primitive, homo species.
P.S. After this, go see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and tell me how “far” we’ve come.