Top 10 films for the American summer

Our pick of the best scorching summer flicks from the states to watch inside with the curtains closed

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English summer, what's that? While there are a smattering of sun-dappled Brit film classics (Pawel Pawlikowski's My Summer of Love, hello) there's nothing like a bit of conducive weather for making summertime cinema, as it's been proved across the pond. To complement our States of Independence focus on US creativity, here's a selection of films sprung from American Summer.

HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES (2013)

Daniel Patrick Carbone's haunting, atmospherically dreamlike debut feature, which screened at Tribeca, shows he's one the US's freshest filmmaking talents. It takes us into the world of 14-year-old Eric (Nathan Varnson) and his younger brother in '50s New Jersey as they struggle to make sense of a tragedy that has struck in one hazy summer - a season reflected not only in the lushly shot woodland surrounding them but also the heat of pent-up rage and hormonal angst. Out in the UK on Friday 1 August.

DOWN BY LAW (1986)

Stinking hot, no air con, and pissed off? You'll feel for the three jail cellmates - a pimp (John Lurie), a DJ (Tom Waits) and an irrepressibly cheery Italian tourist (Roberto Benigni) - who try to make a break for it onto the bayou in this early Jim Jarmusch black comedy. Resentment simmers in the sultry heat of New Orleans summer as the beat-down chancers sweat their rotten luck in the swamps. Rereleased in the UK on 5 September.

THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (2011)

Indie filmmaker David Robert Mitchell was the talk of Cannes this year for his smart and stylish arthouse horror It Follows. His bittersweet debut feature The Myth of the American Sleepoverwhich follows a bunch of teens on a round of parties in suburban Michigan on one long summer night just before the new school year, had already flagged him as a director to watch through its spot-on depiction of intense emotions, and the urge for new - in this case, pretty harmless - experiences.

Revisit our recent Cannes interview with David Robert Mitchel

KIDS (1995)

Another snapshot of a group of teens that leads up to a summer's night of partying, this seminal indie from Larry Clark is as shockingly hard-hitting and cynical as Mitchell's is tender and nostalgic. Penned by Harmony Korine, it sees Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson in their first roles, plus New York street-cast skate kids Leo Fitzpatrick and Justin Pierce, and shows naiveté is far from bliss in the era of AIDS, in which "life-defining experience" takes on a whole new damning meaning.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (2013)

If you're not in the mood for traumatic provocation, director James Ponsoldt's Sundance hit - adapted from a novel by the same writers as (500) Days of Summer - brings a softer-edged shot of refreshing sincerity to the oh-so-familiar summer love motif. A popular high school senior on the brink of alcoholism (Miles Teller) forms a bond with a sci-fi nerd and obsessive planner (Shailene Woodley) after he falls asleep trashed on her front lawn.

DAZED & CONFUSED (1993)

Nothing beats Richard Linklater's cult indie for capturing the laidback languor and ready-for-anything mood a long summer can put us in. Set on the balmy last day of school in '70s suburban Austin, it sees a bunch of teens endure hazing rituals, cruise around in cars and smoke weed in a loose sprawl of directionless possibility. The kids themselves are already too flippant and cynical to see these as significant moments. As rebellious jock Pink (Jason London) says: "If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life - remind me to kill myself."

Revisit our interview with Richard Linklater as he looks back on Dazed's legacy.

DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)

Teens open a fire hydrant to get some relief from high temperatures, flooding a passerby's car and drawing the cops, in one of several stand-offs that see racial tensions come to a head in a Brooklyn neighbourhood in this classic, set on the hottest day of summer and directed by Spike Lee (whose '70s-set thriller Summer of Sam pinpointed the tension in another American hot season, in which a serial killer's on the prowl). Do the Right Thing's production designer went to town with red and orange paint to change the location street's colour scheme to up the feeling of scorching heat.

MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012)

While that good ol' American tradition of summer camphas spawned some of the best slashers from Friday the 13th on, director Wes Anderson, working with co-writer Roman Coppola, tapped the setting for his own typically charming and whimsical quirk involving loveable misfits. Introverted pen pals Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) run away together, dodging boy scouts that try to capture them to reach a cove they name Moonrise Kingdom and pursue their budding romance.

Revisit our interview with Wes Anderson on the film. 

WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001)

This critically panned but hugely entertaining lunacy from director David Wain has become a cult fave, and also revels in teens' ability to go bonkers when out of parental supervision and in the hedonistic summer sun. A collection of episodic gags set on the last day of camp in 1981, it's a take-down of American summer movie cliches, from horny, hormone-addled teens to river-rafters in peril, that suits an eve when your brain's too melted to think straight.

STAND BY ME (1986)

We couldn't leave out what is probably the most iconic coming-of-age summer movie ever made in the States - Rob Reiner's classic Stand By Me. Like many teen summer films that deal with the loss of innocence, its buoyant comedy has dark edges (it's based on a tale by horror master Stephen King after all), as four boys in '50s Oregon go on a hike to look for the missing body of a dead kid, telling fireside stories and dodging trains.

 

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