What’s this? A new Top 7 Tuesday?!?! Yes it is, and hopefully we will be running these weekly, like they’re supposed to. This week’s topic, School Films, sounds like an easy one. But it isn’t, mainly because there’s so many ways to look at this topic and to make a top 7 list. Do you make a list of just 80′s high school films? Easily one can do that, listing films like Better Off Dead, Summer School, Porky’s, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and School Daze. We even have horror based ones, like Ginger Snaps, Heathers, Scream, Carrie and The Craft. Let alone all the 90′s ones that came about, like the American Pie films (before the straight to DVD drivel), Can’t Hardly Wait and 10 Things I Hate About You. They even went as far to make Not Another Teen Movie, a great little film making fun of all those stereotypical high school comedies. Of course we also had films such as To Sir With Love, Higher Learning, Stand And Deliver, Boyz N The Hood, Dangerous Minds and The Principal that dealt with the harsher side of schooling. One of my favorite trilogies, The Substitute series, isn’t on this list because, well, my list turned into something completely different. I think it’s a showcase of what you can do with the school theme, without making it only about the school. If that makes any sense.
No college dorm room would be the same without an Animal House poster, but it’s just so much more than that. One of the best anti-establishment films ever, directed by John Landis and written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller, it is about the Delta Tau Chi who are the bottom of the barrel slackers. When watching this film at a young age, it made me fall more in love with John Belushi (I was a big SNL fan) and the rest of the misfits that inhabit this fraternity. Not only is it a great gross out comedy, it’s one of the best of all time. Toga! Toga! Toga!
When I randomly caught Blackboard Jungle on TV at my grandparents house at the age of 8, I was blown away by this rough and tumble look at a high school in the inner city and the teacher who was trying to make a difference. The story has been done a million times, especially in the last 20 years, and it’s because it’s as relevant now as it was then. Glenn Ford is the teacher who has to battle with the students who are anything but socially acceptable when it comes to school. With amazing turns by Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow, it was also the jump off point for the rock and roll revolution with the song ‘Rock Around the Clock’ performed by Bill Haley and His Comets. Just an amazing film that deserves so much more recognition.
Not the Ben Folds Five song of the same name, Brick was a film that truly took me by surprise when it came out in 2005. Rian Johnson crafts such a story that you would never think would take place in a high school and suburbia, the hardboiled detective story. A film noir for a new age, the film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan Frye, a kid at an unnamed California high school, who is trying to find out where his ex-girlfriend Emily is because she’s been taken by someone inside a black car. I don’t want to go into much detail with the plot, because like the best crime stories, you want to see it unfold in front of you for the first time. An amazing debut film by Johnson, he followed it up with the fun The Brothers Bloom.
My favorite teen sex comedy of all time (because it’s so much more than that), Fast Times At Ridgemont High was where my first crush on film, Phoebe Cates, was seen by me(then when I followed it up the following day with Gremlins, my love was complete forever). Sean Pean is amazing as Spicoli who I continuously quote to this day (Hey buds, let’s party!). Judge Reinhold jerking off in a bathroom and getting caught, while wearing a pirate costume from a fast food restaurant is just so funny to type out and even funnier on the screen. It even has one of the most amazingly sincere depictions of a young woman losing her virginity, showing it from the girl’s point of view (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s, to be exact). The older I’ve gotten, the more I can understand the pain and sadness from that. Ray Walston is also amazing as the teacher Mr. Hand. And always remember, no shirt, no shoes, no dice.
When I first saw Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, I didn’t like it much. It was just a film I saw, had a few chuckles and that was that. I was 18 when it came out and to be honest, I knew a kid just like Max Fischer and he was annoying and I couldn’t stand thinking about this kid while watching the movie. I truly loved the soundtrack and I thought it might go the way of such films that I preferred the soundtrack over the movie (I’m looking at you, Spawn!). A couple of years later, while I was living in Ohio, I watched it again and something clicked. I got the movie. I loved Schwartzman’s Fischer, his relationship with Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and their shared love for his teacher. Since then, I’ve watched the film over a dozen more times, showing it to people I like and using it as a litmus test as to whether I should continue to have any relationship with them (there’s a few films on this list). When Criterion put it out, it was a no brainer for me to buy it and to continue to fall in love with it every time I put it in my DVD player.
What can I say about Battle Royale that so many people haven’t already? One of my favorite films of the 2000′s, it’s an in your face depiction of the horrors of humanity and how people will do anything to survive if given no other choice. Even when they’re high school students. It’s a film I think would easily fit in perfectly within the Criterion Collection. And it would give Kinji Fukasaku more love for this film. It’s a violent film, but one that has its reasons. It’s meticulous with its insanity, and with Takeshi Kitano as Kitano, the man who is behind the detention (so to speak) of these students who have been chosen to kill one another off until there’s one left. I love this film, hands down, and even though it doesn’t take place in a school, the whole class trip angle is one I like to tell people before showing this film to them and when they finish it, they’ve been changed in one way or another. If you can afford it, get the Arrow Films Blu-ray set. It’s a bit pricey now, but it’s worth every cent.
I remember a girl back in high school was surprised I loved The Breakfast Club. I asked her why and she said, “Well, what guys like this film?” Well, I’m a guy who loves this film and I’ve met many through the years as well. Infinitely quotable, relatable and characters you will never forget. A very small cast (seven in total throughout the film until the end), it has some of the best young actors at the time, bouncing off one another so perfectly, you’d feel you were truly in high school. The only thing I wasn’t used to was the whole detention thing, because in NYC we didn’t have that. Or maybe I was such a good kid I never got sent to it in the first place. But when you have Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez and Anthony Michael Hall, each playing a specific caricature of a student, but slowly fleshing them out in the film and we see all these different sides by them just speaking to each other. Paul Gleason as the asshole vice principal who just wants Nelson’s John Bender to punch him, it’s as tense a scene as you’d get in any film in general. John Hughes wrote such a sincere look at this time of these kid’s lives and when the film ends, who knows if they’ll still hang out like they did that one afternoon or just ignore one another in the hallways. The point is they all had this true moment with each other and that’s what I love about the film. That and the soundtrack is amazing.