Filmsmiths ‘Essentials’ Series: Back To School!

“Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell”

Whether you like it or not, summer is coming to an end, and with the end of summer comes the return of school. Being forced to trade in the hammock and baseball bat for a desk and pencils can be a real bummer, but the Filmsmiths team have put together a list of our favorite back to school movies to help ease those end of summer blues.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Zachary Liles:

What better way to celebrate the return of school, than to immediately begin fantasizing about playing hooky?

John Hughes’ classic film about the world’s coolest teen is everything that was right about film in the 80’s. The character of Ferris Bueller, played by Matthew Broderick, is the slick, literally too cool for school kid that we all wanted to be. Not only does the audience idolize Bueller, but so do the other characters in the movie.

Jeffrey Jones as Ed Rooney, the bumbling yet determined vice principal who is dead set on catching Bueller, is one of the greatest movie villains of all time.

Ferris Bueller really is the kid that to some degree or another, we all wish we could have been in high school. Cool, adventurous, and one step ahead of all the adults trying to keep him down.

The film is as well-made as it is fun to watch and this isn’t even to mention it has some of the most successful fourth wall breaks in the history of cinema. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is always worth watching, so go do that.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dylan Clauson:

Dazed & Confused, directed by Richard Linklater, follows a group of high schoolers in the 1970s as they celebrate the last day of school with drugs, beer, and raging hormones. It’s basically Superbad (2007) but better and in the 70s.

Dazed & Confused has everything you could hope for: Ben Affleck covered in paint, borderline pedophile Matthew McConaughey, lots of weed, and an amazing soundtrack. One of the funniest and most underappreciated drug comedies, Dazed & Confused is a must-watch when it comes to high school movies.

Mean Girls (2004)

Eliza McGowan-Stinski:

You wanna know what ‘back to school’ movie is soooo totally fetch?!?

If you’re immediate thought was, “Stop trying to make fetch happen, Gretchen. It’s NOT going to happen,” well then you go, Glen Coco, you guessed it!

The limit of awesomeness simply does not exist for the 2004 movie, Mean Girls.  It honestly wouldn’t be a list of movies that have something to do with school without a book full of humiliating secrets, a horribly ignorant sexual education teacher, and a designated color to wear on a designated day of the week. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to crawl right out from under that rock you’ve been calling home for the past 13 years and grab some popcorn. Written by the wonderful and hilarious Tina Fey, it’s about the only movie I can consistently and accurately quote in daily life. Whether that’s because I’m bad at movies and memory things is for you to decide…

Starring Lindsay Lohan as the awkward new girl to school/America, and Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, and Lacey Chabert as these so called “mean girls,” this film has become iconic over the years for it’s clever humor, sadly unrealistic yet kinda realistic relatable-ness, and an oober talented cast. Yes, there are a ton of other movies that are probably much better that I should have talked about, but HELLO here we are, I love it, and so should you and the rest of the humans. Now also go see Pay It Forward, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, Scream, The Breakfast Club, and Struck by Lightning, please! Just whatever you do, don’t watch Mean Girls 2. It will never make fetch happen.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Abi Haggart:

There are a handful of movies that I would watch anytime anywhere. However, there is only one movie with the distinct honor of being framed and hanging on a wall in my bedroom – that’s The Breakfast Club. The John Hughes Bratpack 80s masterpiece became the center of my world right at the end of my senior year of high school and it reached a new level upon entering college. I met people who loved it, could quote it, or who had never seen it but wanted to know what the hell the fuss was about. My obsession cooled off after my college graduation but ask me how I feel about The Breakfast Club any day of the week and you will be met with a coy smile and a cliché twinkle in my eye.
The Breakfast Club is a classic. It is at the top of my list of “Movies My Children MUST Watch”. It is at the top of my list of “Movies YOU Should Watch Right Now”. Yes, it is full of stereotypes and some would argue no real plot – but so is life. That’s the point. Life isn’t a movie and The Breakfast Club transports you straight back into the hell that was High School to answer the question – what if a bunch of people that never interact socially were stuck together? I’d say TBC is pretty fucking accurate: the judgement, the clashes, wondering what happens after high school is over, and if we’ll all just end up like our parents anyway. These struggles and ideas are gritty and uncomfortable in the way that only real life can be. That’s why I love The Breakfast Club and it’s why you’ll never be able to convince me it’s not one of the best movies in existence. Don’t like that?

Eat my shorts.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Patty Williamson:

For me, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the ultimate back-to-school film of choice. It includes some of the most iconic “teen” scenes in cinema history. Yes, this includes the Phoebe Cates bikini scene, but also Spicoli’s interactions with Mr. Hand, and Judge Reinhold attempting to be suave in his pirate-themed fast food uniform. But it’s also a film that captures an era perfectly.

Based on a book written by Cameron Crowe who enrolled in a California high school for a year to do research on what life is really like for teens in high school, the film was directed by then first-time filmmaker Amy Heckerling. The combination of Crowe’s background as a Rolling Stone writer and Heckerling’s fresh approach to filmmaking allows the characters to have a depth rarely found in teen flick fare. The film captures the transition from childhood to adulthood, depicting a number of teens trying to figure out who they are, while taking some sort of control over their lives. Of course, that includes their first attempts at a number of “adult” activities, including sex, working jobs, navigating relationships, and even driving.

While Roger Ebert originally called the film a “scuz pit of a movie” when it was released, Fast Times handles its subject matter with a deftness that defies teen movie clichés. The teen boys and girls are negotiating gender role expectations and educating themselves about sex in the only way they can; through experimentation. As is often the case in teen movies, there’s a lack of adult guidance from parents or teachers. But the way sex is handled in this film is realistic, rather than glamourous. And while the film is a comedy at its heart, it includes dramatic moments. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance as the innocent and somewhat naive Stacy Hamilton deserved an Oscar. And who doesn’t miss the days of Sean Penn playing fun roles like Jeff Spicoli, before he became…Sean Penn…ACTOR. The film also marks the film debuts of Forest Whitaker, and Eric Stoltz, and Nicholas Coppola (who decided to change his name to Nick Cage for his later film credits).

From the acting to the writing to the music choices, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the perfect back to school movie.

Brick (2005)

Rian Johnson’s directorial debut is not exactly what you expect when you think about high school, but it’s still more than applicable. A classic noir story updated to take place among a small modern high school, Johnson deftly manages to play the mystery of a missing girl and a bad drug deal in a perfectly paced manner. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s characterization of Brendan carries the film as the clever antisocial on a desperate hunt to save the ex-girlfriend he still loves, but his quips are constantly met with fists.
Johnson’s fast-paced editing blends perfectly well with Steve Yedlin’s beautiful camerawork, and the main theme from Nathan Johnson (Rian’s cousin) has remained in the back of my mind since I first saw the film as a high schooler myself.
‘There’s a thesaurus in the library. Yeah is under “Y”. Go ahead, I’ll wait.’
It should be noted that Brick sits as my second favorite film of all time. The Graduate is my third favorite, so call that an honorable mention.

The Filmsmiths Team

The Filmsmiths were founded by a couple of dinguses who like to talk about movies. Eventually we added more dinguses to the crew. This article was a collaboration between several of these dinguses.

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