9. Dazed and Confused
Before he gave us the “Before Sunset” series and “Boyhood”, writer and director Richard Linklater “Dazed and Confused” us in 1993 with this hilarious teenage comedy about the last day of school in 1976. All sorts of fun ensue as students drink, smoke and try and pick up chicks.
Like “American Graffiti”, this film features an iconic first-rate classic rock soundtrack which runs throughout the film. Matthew McConaughey was recently on Saturday Night Live and gave us the origin for his famous line “alright, alright, alright” which he says was his first line of dialogue in his acting career. He says he borrowed the phrase from “The Doors” singer, Jim Morrison.
Other notable actors from the film include Jason London, Joey Lauren Adams, Adam Goldberg, a small part from Ben Affleck and “Resident Evil” star Milla Jovovich.
10. Dead Poets Society
Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard lead a group of students at an all-male New England prep school in the 1950s who are encouraged to “Seize the day” (carpe diem) by their new English professor John Keating (Robin Williams). The students form a club of “Dead Poets” in a cave off-campus and explore reading poetry to each other and getting to know each other better.
All the acting is profound including Hawke whose character is very shy and reserved having to fill his big brothers’ shoes who was the school’s valedictorian. Williams does what he does best in riding the line between making us laugh and bringing a tear to our eye with his profound wisdom. Although not liked by everyone, the “O Captain, my captain” ending is one of my favorite film closures of all time.
11. Donnie Darko
Director Richard Kelly has one of the greatest obscure and wonderfully offbeat film in Donnie Darko released in 2001. So far, it appears to be his only film which was anyone liked. His subsequent films “Southland Tales: and “The Box” were very poorly received. Few films in recent memory have sparked so much conversation and interpretation. The film is nearly impossible to describe to someone other than to say “you have to see this”.
In short, the film centers on a loner teenager who encounters a strange rabbit and participates in events that may or may not have actually happened. Donnie has a hard time in school, not really getting along with his classmates. Luckily, he finds a girlfriend who tries to help him through his difficult time.
“Sideways”, “About Schmidt” and “Nebraska” writer/director Alexander Payne gives us this dark comedy about high school student Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) who is running for school office and becomes involved in an awkward relationship with one of her teachers (Matthew Broderick). The teacher decides he would like a more competitive election so he convinces a football player (Chris Klein) to run against her.
Definitely awkward at times and not for kids, this film brings us lots of funny moments especially the ones where Broderick gets in hot water and has to explain and weasel his way out of trouble. Anyone who has ever run for high school office would find this one very funny and glad things like this did not happen to them.
13. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Director Heckerling is back with her initial high school romp with a screenplay by Cameron Crowe. Although appearing in “Taps” with Tom Cruise the year before, this film is really when everyone took notice of Sean Penn playing Jeff Spicoli, the ultimate stoner/slacker/surfer and the bane of his teacher Mr. Hand’s (the magnificent Ray Walston) existence.
Every excess is here in droves: lots of sex, lots of inappropriate conversations and innuendos, lots of dope and then there’s that one scene with Phoebe Cates. Other hilarious members of the cast include Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judge Reinhold. The exchanges between Penn and Walston are worth the price of admission alone.
14. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
“Bueller…???…Bueller…???…Bueller???” Can it get any better than Matthew Broderick portraying everyone’s favorite high school kid determined to have the best day playing hooky from school with his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) while being pursued by Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones)? There are too many great scenes to mention while the trio evades Ferris’s parents and Principal Rooney having many adventures throughout the city of Chicago and using a Ferrari.
It’s hard to believe John Hughes wrote the script for the film in six days! There has been a lot of talk over the years of a sequel, but it never materialized. At various points in his career, Broderick has expressed both regret and happiness another film was never made.
Sandy and Danny (Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta) fall in love, then try and keep their relationship going when they discover they are both attending Rydell High School in this 1970s classic musical. One of the amazing things about the film is how it has endured still being performed on and off Broadway and at middle and high schools across the country.
The film was the highest grossing film of 1978 and the accumulated domestic box office grosses are more than $188 million. “Fonzie” Henry Winkler was offered the role of Danny but turned it down as he thought it was too similar to the role that made him famous. The original Broadway production opened on February 14th, 1972 and went on for 3388 shows. Sandy and Danny’s love is likely to endure forever.
Few teen comedies could be any darker than this 1989 high school black comedy about a popular group of “Heathers” who make fun of others and their friend Veronica (Winona Ryder). Veronica meets mysterious newcomer, JD (Cristian Slater), and begins a relationship where the two decide they are going to take their revenge on the popular kids. Veronica discovers she is in over her head with JD and tries to make things right.
The film walks the line of parody and showing us the dangers of bullying others. The themes and issues shown at the school are still as relevant today as they were when the film was released in 1988.
17. Hoop Dreams
The only documentary on the list, this 1994 film introduces us to William Gates and Arthur Agee, two Chicago high school students who have big dreams to someday go to college and play professional basketball. The film shows us all the ups and downs of their lives including the pressures of getting good grades, finances and staying healthy. Film critic legend Roger Ebert selected this film as his favorite of 1994 and of the 1990s and says it is the “Greatest American-made documentary of all time”.
There was controversy when the film was not nominated for a Best Documentary Academy Award as the members of Academy who selected films in this category were not documentary filmmakers themselves. The rules were changed after these events took place. Unfortunately, it was too late for “Hoop Dreams”. The film still serves as an inspiration for all high school athletes.