School Movies

OK, some are better than others, but all the following movies set in one way or another in a school are worth renting, if for no other reason than to remember that you're not the only one having to deal with crap at school. And if you have any time left after watching all of these, revisit the school-themed slacker classics "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Dazed and Confused" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

"Dead Poets Society" (1989, Peter Weir, director) – If you believe that education is a helluva lot more than memorizing stuff for standardized tests—and if you're a dreamer at heart, you'll love "Dead Poets Society." No, you'll feel it as English professor John Keating (Robin Williams) tries to break through uptight barriers at a boys' boarding school and teach the young men the power of poetry, thinking for themselves and learning from each other. It's one of those films that the William Bennetts of the world hate, which makes me love it even more. Over on Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), two posts say it all: "Ok film but to serious" (sic) and "Ok film, but PC before PC started." See it and think.

"To Sir, With Love" (1967, James Clavell, director) – This may be the greatest school film you've never seen: It's hip, powerful and radical at the same time. Based on the novel by E.R. Braithwaite, the film starring Sidney Poitier and British hipster singer Lulu (who sings the title song) follows the now-hackneyed formula of good-hearted teacher going into a tough school and softening the hearts and sharpening the minds of the young people. This time, though, the teacher is a strong black man and his toughest charge is a cute mini-skirt-wearing blonde. And it's set in that mod-Brit period that is pure eye-candy. You'll fall in love with Poitier if you haven't already.

"School Daze" (1988, Spike Lee) – "School Daze" is not Spike's greatest film by far ("She's Gotta Have It," "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X" dominate the field), but it has some of the most memorable scenes on the big screen. The film takes a self-effacing and irreverent look at life on a historically black campus, as an unpopular college guy (Giancarlo Esposito) pledges a fraternity and navigates the perils of college life with guidance from professor Dap (Laurence Fishburn), as the drama between the Wannabes and the Jigaboos plays out all around. Remember, these nicknames were radical in the pre-Dave Chapelle '80s. The names of characters are downright Ken Stiggersian: Booker T., Half-Pint, Doo-Doo Breath, Mustapha, Double Rubber, Yoda.

"Election" (1989, Alexander Payne) – This delicious dark comedy pokes fun at the vicious popularity contests in high school, as the obnoxious pretty girl Tracey Flick (Reese Witherspoon) runs for student-body president, and a teacher who despises her (Matthew Broderick) tries to ruin her chances. It's not a kids' movie with all the language and sexual content, but it's a great spoof for adults looking back on the high-school years.

"The Breakfast Club" (1985, John Hughes) – Meet the Brat Pack in all their teenage (more or less) angst: Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall are five teenagers from disparate backgrounds thrown together in detention on a Saturday. The movie, although rather full of itself, was a step forward in the teen genre, making it look like talking about serious stuff could actually be cool. Alley Sheedy's misfit character was probably her best—until she played the lesbian artist Lucy in 1998's "High Art."

"School Ties" (1992, Robert Mandel) – A film about a Jewish boy hiding his heritage in a 1950s boarding school until a bigot outs him, and lessons are learned all around. The pre-superstar cast included pretty boys Matt Damon, Brendan Fraser, Chris O'Donnell and Ben Affleck.

"Paper Chase" (1973, James Bridges) – A great film about a law student (Timothy Bottoms) and his stern professor (John Houseman), sho pushes Bottoms to do things he never thought possible. There's also a complicated romance—between the student and the prof's daughter.

"Clueless" (1995, Amy Heckerling) – This hilarious parody of rich teenage bitches in Beverly Hills is a classic, and is big-screen revenge for every woman with memories of such high-school snits making life miserable. Alicia Silverstone headlines.


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