This is the seventh post in my “The Best Films Set In…” series. The setting can be a place (like Tokyo), a location (like the beach), or a time (like Winter). In these posts I’m going to pick my 5 favourite films that are set in that particular place/location/time and explain why I like them. Up this week is The Best Films Set In…High school.
I loved this film when it came out, but rewatching it recently as an adult I came to understand how dark it truly is. Every character in this film is flawed (some far more than others), and the things they do to each other in pursuit of their own gain or pleasure is often deplorable. A very smart satire on high school life and student politics. My favourite Alexander Payne film and quite possibly Reese Witherspoon’s best performance.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982)
The picture above is enough to make me crack-up and want to see this film again. 30 years on and it’s still current and one of the best films set in high school. A coming-of-age film and a stoner flick that has equal parts laughs and life lessons – and who can forget that soundtrack? Funnily enough, I’m not the only person who really likes this film. In 2005 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010)
Sassy - that’s the first word I think of when I think about Easy A. A thoroughly modern high school film inspired by the classic novel The Scarlet Letter, and the best high school film to come out in recent years. Emma Stone is simply fantastic as the quick-talking schoolgirl who uses the school’s gossips to start a rumour that advances her social standing in the student population.
Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)
It’s 9 years since I saw this film in the cinema and I still feel upset when I think about. High school isn’t all about parties, sports and politics – there is also a darker side, and people who just don’t fit in. Based in part on the horrific 1999 Columbine High School shootings, Elephant follows several characters during a short time period before a shooting occurs at their school. Winner of the Palm d’Or in 2003, the skilful cinematography and editing in this film make it an extremely intense and disturbing watch.
Guilty Pleasure pick: The Faculty (Robert Rodriguez, 1998)
Yes I am serious. This is my favourites list remember, not yours! When this film came out I absolutely loved it. Don’t you remember being at school and thinking, “why is that teacher so weird”?That’s because an alien parasite had taken over their body… obviously! A great teen horror flick that has a fantastic 90s grunge soundtrack -I love the use of the remade version of “Another Brick in the Wall”. 14 year-old me totally crushed on Josh Hartnett back then too (what happened to that guy?)
Films that were suggested but I haven’t seen [so couldn't consider] included: Heathers, Rock’n'Roll High School (terrible I know), Carrie, Class of 1984, The Breakfast Club, Hoop Dreams, Sixteen Candles, Blackboard Jungle.
Films that I didn’t include: Brick is a film I love, but it was the high school setting that was my only real issue with the film. It felt like it should have been in college and that the kids were doing things beyond their years…(yes I know that was kind of the point). 21 Jump Street was one which was suggested but I left out. I really liked the film, but I wonder if I will remember it a few years from now? I need to re-watch it. Mean Girls is a great high school film, as are American Pie and Clueless – but these don’t rank among my favourites. Clueless has arguably had the biggest influence on pop culture - I wonder how many of us would be saying “whatever” if we’d never seen this film? The Virgin Suicides is a film I really admire, but as most of the film takes place in the girls’ bedroom, I wouldn’t really consider it a “high school” film. Donnie Darko and High School Musical were also suggested, but I really don’t like these films (sorry!).
What do you think of my list? Which of your favourites have I left out?