Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies Set in a High School


Another Thursday is upon us and another week of Wandering through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks.

This week, I'm going over to the dark side. I feel as if I've beaten the fun, teen movies to death. This time and with this category, I am doing the dark, brooding, even violent type. One angsty period piece, one political satire, one twisted mind-fuck, plus a bonus pick, a serious, hard-hitting, quiet masterpiece. None take place completely in a school building. But all of them feature brilliant scenes within high school gyms and auditoriums and hallways and classrooms, etc.

This post is meant to serve as a reminder that not all Movies Set in High Schools are about the fun, popular, pretty people, or even the nerd getting the girl. Sometimes they're about the opposite of all that.


Here are my Thursday Movie Picks:

The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)


Election (Alexander Payne, 1999)



For these two picks, I will refer you to a post I did about these two films and their importance in my life as a teenager. Both dark, one comically tragic, one tragically comic. 

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)


What a crazy, twisted, badass piece of independent film this is. It's just plain cool. I adore it. I love time travel movies, teen movies of the 80s, killer soundtracks, and flashy camerawork (see the YouTube video below for an example of all this and why I love it.). This movie was made for me. I hate that its writer-director, Richard Kelly, could never reach the greatness he reached here. He sort of tried a couple times and just failed miserably. Jake Gyllenhaal kills in this movie, his first big role. You can see his great Lou Bloom budding in this title character.




Bonus Pick

Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)


I saw this movie in a theater. It shook me to my core. Ballsy, deliberate, and truly horrifying cinema here. Gus Van Sant did some great stuff in the early aughts, especially here, the middle piece of his "Death Trilogy," which also contains the free-flowing, improvised tragedy Gerry (2002), starring Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, and Last Days (2005), a fictionalized account of the death of Kurt Cobain. All three of these films were shot by genius DP Harris Savides and all contain slow, long takes that truly add to the brooding nature of the stories being told, most notably in this one, the true masterpiece of the three, a story of a suburban, Anytown, USA, high school on the day of a Columbine-esque massacre. 

19 comments:

  1. I love Election, Reese Witherspoon did such a good job at making me disliking her character. Very intrigued by your bonus pick, it reminds me of We Need to Talk About Kevin.

    I still haven't seen Donnie Darko....I really should

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    1. You really should see Donnie Darko. Modern cult classic. Election is a movie I could watch every single day. It is so perfect. Reese Witherspoon is great.

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  2. Fucking Elephant. That movie is rough. Love that you picked Election too, and I adore The Virgin Suicides...beautiful (if you can call it that) film. The novel is just as good!

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    1. Yeah. That movie will knock the shit out of you. Election had to happen. And The Virgin Suicides...well...I credit it as the movie that really turned me on to smaller movies when I was in high school. I've read the novel as well. It's great. The movie really uses Eugenides prose to perfection. He is a great writer. I've read and loved all three of his novels. I wish he wrote more, but when he writes something, he really puts a lot into it.

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  3. ELECTION. YES! Brilliant. Robbed of so many Oscars. Love Virgin Suicides, too, and your description of both of them.

    Donnie Darko, man... that movie is FUCKED. UP. In a good way, I think, but still...

    I really need to see Elephant. I've wanted to for years.

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    1. I would give Election every award possible. It is one of the perfect ones. Same for The Virgin Suicides. Thanks so much.

      Donnie Darko was the shit when I was a freshman in college. The UC theater on my campus played it all the time. Love it!

      Elephant is a torturous watch but supremely powerful.

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  4. What a coincidence, I literally watch The Virgin Suicides the day before yesterday after putting it off for years! It is dark indeed, I haven't read the book, definitely fits into your darkling theme. I haven't seen Elephant but Donnie Darko is a weird, fascinatingly strange viewing experience-a great showcase for Jake. Love that the twisted Election is the lightest thing on your list! Reese Witherspoon is scary in this film, more so because there really are people like her in most schools.

    Now that I read through you list I realized that mine went somewhat dark too although only one, and that's my extra pick, approaches the inky depths of yours. Here's mine.

    Brick (2005)-Attempt to make a modern noir in a high school setting is unique for sure. Laced with deadpan humor and anchored by a strong performance from Joseph Gordon Levitt as a loner who involves himself with a drug ring to try and find out what’s happened to his girlfriend when she disappears.

    School Ties (1992)-In the 1950's David Greene, a Jewish teen, wins a football scholarship to an Ivy League prep school, advised by the coach he keeps his faith to himself. Despite some cultural differences he is welcomed into the elite group at first, he grows close with the young men, falls for a girl and all is well. However eventually his secret is discovered and along with simmering resentments the prejudice of some conspire to put at risk all he has achieved and his hopes for the future. The cast is filled with actors, Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris O’Donnell, who at the time were on the rise.

    Up the Down Staircase (1967)-Well acted drama of a young teacher's struggle to adapt to a tough inner city school. Some of the sheen has worn off the topicality of the issue since there have been many versions of it but this is a fine rendering of the tale with excellent direction from Robert Mulligan. In the lead Sandy Dennis is the best she ever was on screen keeping her signature flutters and twitches to a minimum.

    Honorable Mention-2:37 (2006)-Ultra dark, complex drama of the interwoven lives of a group of high school students and a horrendous tragedy that binds them together. Small Aussie drama was one of the first credits for currently rising actress Teresa Palmer, has some very unsavory elements and is grim, grim, grim but well-acted.

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    1. It certainly is a coincidence. The Virgin Suicides is the first movie I thought of for this topic as it is one of my all-time favorites. The novel is great as well. All of Eugenides work is incredible. He's only wrote three novels in about twenty years, but they are all dense, fantastic reads. Donnie Darko is just so cool. An amazing debut film from a director who just went nowhere. He peaked too early, I suppose. Election is light and dark simultaneously. I think that's what I love so much about it. Tracy Flick is terrifying indeed.

      Brick is a fantastic movie. I only saw it once and have been meaning to give it a re-watch for awhile now. May have to soon. Really cool take on the noir genre.

      School Ties is a genius pick! I totally didn't even think about that one. The young cast in that movie is phenomenal. Really want to watch that one now.

      I haven't heard of your other two picks but both sound intriguing. Robert Mulligan made some really great movies. I really should delve into more of his work.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. I love all four of these! Excellent films.

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  6. I never fond of The Virgin Suicides. The cinematography is tasty, but Kirsten Dunst's acting is definitely bland.

    I've seen bits of Election and Elephant, and sadly I haven't watched Donnie Darko.

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    1. Oh, I love Kirsten Dunst. I never cared about her acting because she's so hot. It's okay for me to say that about this particular role because I am the same age as her. And, you're right, the cinematography is a lot of things, including tasty.

      Donnie Darko is a must. Just go in with an open mind and let it work its magic.

      Election is a dark comedy masterpiece. Easily my favorite of Alexander Payne's movies.

      Elephant is a tough one to get through, but it is so affecting.

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  7. Elephant is a great choice, and I think it's an underrated movie. I haven't seen the others, although I've read the novel The Virgin Suicides. I should check them out. Election looks fun, and I should see Donnie Darko just for its sheer weirdness.

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    1. Thanks. Elephant is one of those I only needed to see twice. I may actually never watch it again. It's almost too much...in a great way! The Virgin Suicides is actually better as a movie for me. The novel is great, but I've definitely preferred Eugenides other two novels. Have you read Middlesex and The Marriage Plot? Both excellent reads.

      Election is a blast to watch. Dark comedy done to perfection. Alexander Payne is a genius in my book and hardly ever does wrong for me.

      Donnie Darko is excellent. Your older kids I think would really dig it as well. I have a hard time describing with a word other than "cool."

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  8. My head hurts just thinking about Donnie Darko. One of these days I'm going to watch it again to see if I feel the greatness I'm apparently missing. Sadly, that's all I've got. That's the only one of these I've seen. Need to see The Virgin Suicides pretty soon, though.

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    1. It's greatness is in the quality of its production for me, man. The cinematography, the soundtrack and sound design, the great writing (especially the dialogue). It's not really about understanding it, although I think I've seen it enough times that I have a pretty good grasp on it. Try it again and just focus on the experience of it. And the fact that it is a debut feature from a very young director. He had some studio money but not a whole lot (about $4 million).

      The Virgin Suicides is so great. Do it!

      And Election is great as well.

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  9. I love The Virgin Suicides. Love love the book as well.

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  10. Had I thought about long enough, I could have picked these for you!

    I am just trying to think of who will be Tracy Flick this year now that I am thinking of Election!

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