Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top 10 Back-to-School Movies

Editor's Note: I wrote this for somebody else, and I believe it is now legal and appropriate that I can post it on my own blog. (If not, oops!) As an aside, I picked up this assignment on the very day that John Hughes passed away -- Aug. 6. Weird.


Without the work of the late John Hughes, this wouldn’t be much of a list.

Hughes wrote and/or directed some of the most popular movies of the ’80s, bringing fame to some relatively unknowns at the time and reassuring all of us that the perfect high school experience is but a myth.

School is intertwined in American culture, so as you embark on a new academic year, carve out some time to salute the American school experience with one of these Top 10 Back-to-School Movies (in no particular order and with an added bonus that I just couldn't leave off) . . .

Sixteen Candles (1984)—A husband forgetting your birthday is one thing; realizing that your parents and entire family dropped you off their radar is another. Molly Ringwald’s character Samantha Baker deals with all the drama of turning 16, without any acknowledgment or even a cake. At her side are the King of the Geeks (Anthony Michael Hall) and best friend Randy. And far, far away is the most awesome Jake Ryan in his Porsche. Sixteen Candles is chock full of teenage crushes, high school parties and general teenage angst.

Just seeing this photo whisks a girl back to 1985. I wish I had been sent to Saturday detention. I would have sat far, far away from Ally Sheedy and probably equidistant from Molly Ringwald and her sushi. As the day wore on, I would have inched closer to Judd Nelson.


The Breakfast Club (1985)—The entire movie is based in the library and near-empty halls of Shermer High School as five kids come together for Saturday detention. If you love John Hughes, then you’ll love his brief cameo as Brian’s (Anthony Michael Hall) father in the closing scene. Don’t blink.

Pretty in Pink (1986)—Written by John Hughes, this one is so full of teenage angst that you might find it too realistic and maybe a little dark. Instead, focus on the endearing relationship between Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (Jon Cryer). Be patient with Blane (Andrew McCarthy) and go ahead and dislike Steff (James Spader) all you want. Two very different worlds collide, as they often do in American high schools, but with a very enjoyable soundtrack.

Grease (1978)—If you scoff at the High School Musical movies, remind yourself of this piece of cinematic work. Danny (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and their respective entourages break out in spontaneous bursts of song at the beach, on the bleachers by the track, in the school’s garage, at sleepovers, you name it. They even perform a little dance competition at . . . well, the high school dance. No spoilers here. It’s a musical.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)—Sure, Ferris skipped a day of school, but this is a shoo-in for the Back-to-School Movie List. The very popular Ferris (Matthew Broderick) has nothing to run away from at his upper-middle-class school, but he fakes an illness so that he and girlfriend Sloane and best friend Cameron can explore Chicago, via Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)—This is a back-to-school movie? You bet. When John Stark (James Dean) moves to a new town and enters a new school, you should know nobody will be the same. This is classic cinema, with quintessential ’50s lingo and garb throughout. Natalie Wood and Dennis Hopper round out a classic cast.

Footloose (1984)—Kevin Bacon as the streetwise Ren McCormack created quite a stir back in the mid-’80s when he moved from the big city to a small Midwestern town. This modern-day James Dean, with his Walkman and all that fancy footwork, singlehandedly transformed a city with no musical soul into a dance-crazed, freewheelin’ town. But not before he struggled with being the new (and rowdy) kid in town, navigating the halls of a new school and trying to make friends with members of the popular crowd.

Back to School (1986)—What’s a back-to-school movie list without the namesake movie? Rodney Dangerfield plays a wealthy business owner who goes back to college. He just happens to enroll at the same college his son attends. But the dad throws better parties.

Freaky Friday (1976)—Not that anything is wrong with the 2003 remake with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, but Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster? Classic. Besides, what teenager would whine about trading places with the very cool Jamie Lee Curtis? But Barbara Harris messing around in your business? Totally different matter.

13 Going on 30 (2004)—What girl doesn’t want to bypass her 13th year? Especially when she hosts a pretty stinky 13th birthday party. Oh, but what a tangled web Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) weaves when she wishes for an older and improved self, fast forwards herself by 17 years, finds that cute boy turns out to be a not-so-wonderful adult, and that she (in adult form) isn’t what she thought she should be either. It’s like a female version of Big, but with better clothes.

Clueless (1995)—This one isn’t so much about high school as it is about the clothes. And the cars. And the popular crowd. So maybe it is about high school. Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) plays matchmaker for teachers, new students and herself. Ultimately, after makeovers and matchmaking, she uncovers a better Cher—one who has more depth than she even expected.