Top 5 High School Movies That You've Probably Never Never Seen...But Should
As some of you may know this past weekend was my ten year high school reunion. It went exceptionally well even if it felt a little odd. Because of this experience, I decided to take a nod from friend and colleague, Kyle Anderson, and create a list of high school films. There are dozens of classic high school films out there (The John Hughes canon comes to mind) And while I am a John Hughes fan, those movies have been seen by everyone. The list I have created is made up of five high school films you probably haven't seen.
Better Off Dead (1985) Dir. Savage Steve Holland
It would be difficult to create a list of high school cinema and not include John Cusack His second film credit is Sixteen Candles for crying out loud! To compound the connection, Cusack starred in Grosse Point Blank, a film about a hitman returning to his ten year high school reunion (I could write an entire article about that film being the Unforgiven of 80s teen movies but that's for another time) This film as well as his lead in Hot Tub Time Machine have hims as one of the classic 80's "teen-genre" actors.
This film follows Lane Meyer (John Cusack) a young man obsessed with his girlfriend-who breaks up with him at the beginning of the film for the captain of the ski team. He spends the majority of the film thinking about ways to off himself before making friends with an adorable foreign exchange student who gives him confidence. This film might sound like typical 80's fare, but stands apart for it's David Lynchian take on lost love in high school. The absurd world Lane inhabits is world of rocket-building little brothers, homicidal paper boys, drag racing-Howard Cosell imitating Asians and singing hamburgers.
The plot is familiar but the what keeps you watching are the over the top dream sequences and characters. It's an over-the-top version of what high school felt like as opposed to what it actually was. This film should be required viewing for any fan of the high school film.
Three O'Clock High (1987) Dir. Phil Joanou
Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszcko) is assigned to do a piece for the school paper about new student Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson). It's rumored that Buddy is a psychopath and when Jerry touches Buddy on the shoulder while asking for an interview, the bully demands that the two fight at 3 O'Clock.
This solid if simple premise leads us through a film that has such a sense of kinetic energy, it continues to raise the stakes in every scene before finally building to a rolling boil . I applaud this films sense of urgency as we see that Buddy is not your average bully- he's batshit crazy and would likely kill Jerry if given the chance. Once we know that Jerry is doomed, we get enthralled as we watch him do whatever it takes to get out of this predicament. The list includes: theft from the school store, Paying someone to beat up Buddy & making out with a (Hot) teacher to get detention. All the while, Jerry has to contend with his "New Age" girlfriend, Sponsoring Teacher (Jeffrey Tambor) and a hard -ass Principal. This film is like a well orchestrated train wreck, you can't take your eyes off the screen as things continue to get more and more hilariously uncomfortble.
Just One of the Guys (1985) Dir. Lisa Gottlieb
Mistaken identities and gender switches have been a staple of comedy of hundreds of years. This film is a (very) loose version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night...with boobs.
College student, Terry Griffith (Joyce Hyser) dreams of having her articles taken seriously by her professors and comes to the conclusion that she's not taken seriously as a journalist because she's a woman. She decides to attend a high school as a boy to prove her theory and figures she'll get a story out of it. Along the way she meets up with Rick (Clayton Rohner) a lovable loser with a James Brown obsession. She coaches him in his appearance and builds his confidence enough so that he can ask out the most popular girl in school-and surprise, Terry falls for him.
This premise may sound like old hat (and it is) but it pulls it off better than most other teen films that have tried it. Instead of an average "teen sex comedy" you get a farce, which is lofty goal for a high school film. Though you don't buy for a second that Terry is a boy (and wonder why anyone else buys it either) you care about the characters and want them to succeed, even if they don't, it's fun to watch them try.
Can't Buy Me Love (1987) Dir. Steve Rash
This film was eventually remade into the film Love Don't Cost a Thing in 2003. So you may be a little more familiar with Nick Cannon playing the lead. High School nerd, Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) is a high school nerd that dreams of being excepted into the "IN' crowd. He finds his opportunity when the most popular girl in school needs $1,000 dollars to replace a damaged suede outfit before her mother finds out. Lucky for her Ronald has been saving for a telescope and decides to pay for the damage. The catch, she act as his girlfriend for a month-wherein he will become popular by association.
Let's get this out of the way right now-I CAN'T STAND GREYS ANATOMY! But I do enjoy Patrick Dempsey's 1980's and early 90's milieu better than anything he's done in recent years. Come to think of it, it's kinda like Kim Cattrall- she was bomb in Big Trouble in Little China, but Sex and the City gives me abominable diarrhea-huh... Anyway, this film isn't as good as the Shermer High School films, but it's fun and has a decent message. The other major thing that struck me about this movie is it was more realistic view of what high school is like-it takes liberties to be sure, but it washes from comedy to drama in a more organic way than most films in this genre.
Brick (2005) Dir. Rian Johnson
This is the film on the list that throws the curve. Not only is it made in the 2000's, it's a film noir. I chose it simply because I'm certain that most of you are unaware of its existence and deny yourselves the beauty of a work of art.
Brenden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a loner who gets a mysterious phone call from his ex that sends him spiraling down the rabbit hole into a world of sex, drugs and violence. Brenden will get to the bottom of this mystery-or die trying. This is a straight up noir that masks itself in the teen genre.
Brenden is crafty and tough as nails, every bit as good as Hammett's Sam Spade or Stark's Parker. And the other characters are nothing to slouch at-old crime archetypes made fresh and new by the setting of high school. I would say more but I don't want to spoil it. all I will say is that this quickly became one of my favorite films.
So there you have it, my list of uncommon High School Flicks, Check 'em out. If I missed any that you think should be on the list send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org Also check back next Monday for a NEW VIDEO!