Notes from the back row 

Not back to school

Thanksgiving is over but this is the time of year I’m always real thankful. Thankful I’m not in high school anymore. The first month or so back in high school isn’t that bad. Nice to see your old friends, talk about how your summers went, etc. But by mid-November, when the snow is starting to fall, I remember being really sick of having to sit in class and listen to some dipshit ramble on about symbolism in Shakespeare or some other pretentious crap that has proven absolutely useless since. Man I hated high school. But I sure love high school movies, especially ones that end in the prom. So here it is, the best high school movies, according to me.

Heathers . This 1989 flick is so dark, awesome and perfect that people didn’t know what to do when it first dropped in 1989. Christian Slater (channeling a young Jack Nicholson) plays the bad boy, new kid roll to a tee. He infiltrates the “heathers”, the cliché-y bitchy chicks, and destroys them from the inside. Also starring Wynnona Ryder and Shannen Doherty, this was a film utterly unafraid to tackle issues like date rape and teenage suicide and mix them with things like draino milkshakes and mass arson. Heathers set the standard for ballsy high school flicks — this ain’t no American Graffiti — and there hasn’t been a heavier high school flick made since.

Number two is a bit lighter and almost as much fun, Fast Times at Ridgemont High . Sean Penn rocketed to hero status as Jeff Spicoli — surfer, slacker, yet wise beyond his years. This is a movie about sex, friendship, betrayal and crappy high school jobs, and the mall. Pretty much bang on realistic. Directed by Amy Heckerling (who later directed Clueless which also rules) and written by Cameron Crowe ( Almost Famous — nuff said) Fast times showcased a huge cast of winners —   Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forrest Whittaker, Judge Reinhold, Erick Stoltz, even Nic Cage is in there — but the prize goes to Penn, who influenced almost every stoner/slacker movie to follow, from Bill and Ted to Dazed and Confused. And that Phoebe Cates exiting the pool scene is the kind of thing that sticks with you for life.

After that it gets tricky, there is a lot of good stuff, but Rushmore, Wes Anderson’s take on high school needs to be high on anyone’s list. Jason Swartzman, a student, and Bill Murray, an alumnus, compete for the love of the same teacher. And the kid wins. Anderson et al have made some of the smartest films of the last decade and this is one of his best.

Honourable mention: Election — starts off with a classy line about Reese Witherspoon’s vagina by one of her teachers and just gets better from there. Ghost World — Scarlett Johannsen nails the apathy of disillusioned youth. Napolean Dynamite — who saw that coming? Any of it? Mean Girls­ — Tina Fey reproves that women make better high school flicks, maybe because they aren’t as confused when they’re living it.

And to finish things off, House Party , a vehicle for early ’90s rapper duo Kid and Play that rules because its title is about as complicated as the entire film gets. But it broke Martin Lawrence, was actually pretty funny, and taught white kids everywhere how to dance.

So children, pay attention in class but pay more attention to the flicks on this list, because they’re like the Coles Notes to that five-year prison sentence you’re living right now. And remember, if you can’t do… teach.

AT VILLAGE 8 Nov. 23-29: The Mist; Enchanted; Hitman; August Rush; Darjeeling Ltd.; Fred Claus; American Gangster; Beowulf; Bee Movie. Nov. 23-25: Across the Universe.

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