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What was the best movie you watched this summer?

New or old, streaming or in theaters — it’s time to tell us what blew you away

Pietro (Luca Marinelli) in hiking gear sits atop a mountain reading a book, with more snow-topped mountains behind him, in The Eight Mountains Image: Janus Films
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Apologies to those devoted to the September equinox, but summer… is over. And in the rear-view mirror, a surprisingly major season for movies.

Queen Barbie reigned supreme at the box office, with Quality Films like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Oppenheimer right up there, too. We live in a wild time in which a new Wes Anderson movie (Asteroid City) outgrossed a new DreamWorks animated flick (Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken) and an A24 movie about Love and Stuff actually found a footing among the blockbusters (that’d be Past Lives). Even Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was solid, despite arriving in a Marvel slump.

Money, of course, isn’t everything. Lots of smaller films roared in their own circles this summer, from Matt Johnson’s comedically searing tech drama BlackBerry — which gives It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton all the meat to chew on — to Tori and Lokita, the latest film from the Dardenne brothers, which crept over from the festival circuit onto VOD and the Criterion Channel without much fanfare. Then there’s the sheer amount of movies that hit streaming over the summer, which make them feel like new. Yeah, the Jackie Chan-inspired action comedy Polite Society and junk-food dino thriller 65 may have premiered earlier in the year, but they felt like summer releases when they finally dropped on Peacock and Netflix.

This is all just the new stuff. But the dog days of summer are also the perfect time to play catch-up, whether it’s with the minted hits of the winter and spring or with old films you’ve been meaning to get around to for a lifetime. I’m OK admitting I had a mostly good time watching The Flash this summer, but as far as spectacle goes, I had a deliriously transcendent time watching The Big Hit, a Mark Wahlberg-led heist movie from Hong Kong stalwart Kirk Wong that is firmly in the X-Treme ’90s Mountain Dew Cinema Canon. No one is allowed to slam a movie for being “a sugar rush,” “a roller coaster ride,” or “a live-action video game” until they have seen The Big Hit.

Out of all the movies I watched this summer — Nimona lovely; The Thin Man zippy brilliant; How to Blow Up a Pipeline hot damn; Mafia Mamma? What the… — the best movie I watched this summer was The Eight Mountains, now streaming on the Criterion Channel. Adapted from a slim novel by Paolo Cognetti, the story chronicles the lives of two men who meet in the Italian Alps as kids, go their separate ways, then reconnect at a pivotal moment. Pietro is a city kid from Turin whose father is dying to touch grass and goes to the extreme to do it, relocating his family to Grana, a prime spot for glacier hiking. There Pietro meets Bruno, a scrappy kid from the village who dreams of just sticking to his “mountain people” heritage and making cheese. But Pietro’s parents take a liking to the kid with absent parents, taking him under their wing to find him an education. Nothing goes as planned; as teenagers, Pietro loathes his father, Bruno is absent from the life he knew, and the two eventually drift apart. When they meet in their 30s, the core drama of The Eight Mountains unfolds, anchored by actors Luca Marinelli (The Old Guard, Martin Eden) and Alessandro Borghi (On My Skin) as the grown versions of the two boys.

Directed by Felix van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) and Charlotte Vandermeersch, The Eight Mountains strikes a profound balance between the intimate flickers of friendship and the vastness of the Italian landscape. This is not a movie draped with green-screened matte shots; van Groeningen and Vandermeersch clearly hauled cameras, crew, and their acting troupe to mountain peaks to frame pithy scenes of two men talking in ways that are typically exclusive to IMAX nature films. At a hefty two and a half hours, the screenplay deep-breathes its way through the ups and downs of Pietro’s and Bruno’s lives, paths of conflict and beauty that neither of them can predict. The Eight Mountains’ title refers to the Indian cosmological concept of how the world is laid out — eight mountain ranges and eight seas arranged around one enormous peak, Mount Sumeru. Vandermeersch and van Groeningen use the backdrop of the Alps to imbue a simple everyday relationship with that level of spirituality. Even while trapped in a tiny room with COVID watching the film on a laptop, I was blown away by that effort.

So now it’s your turn: What was the best movie you watched this summer? Because, with all due respect to The Nun II, we’ll need some movies to watch in the fall.

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