It’s back-to-school time, even for Chicago Public School students. What better way to celebrate than sitting back — perhaps with a gargantuan tub of popcorn — and taking in the best ever school-related movies?
The guidelines are simple: School — any kind of school — is central to all these films’ plots. “Kindergarten Cop” would qualify, if it weren’t a horrible movie, because it involves Arnold Schwarzenegger yelling “It’s not a tumor!” at kindergarteners. “Rudy,” however, is out because it’s basically a sports movie that happens to take place at Notre Dame.
20. Grease (1978)
“Grease” was arguably the pinnacle of John Travolta’s ultimately spotty film career. The striking thing about watching it today is the frighteningly middle-aged appearance of the actors. Some of that was very real: Stockard Channing was 34 when she played a student named Rizzo at Rydell High. The film is full of pep, though, and the musical numbers remain amazing.
19. The Freshman (1990)
Carmine “Jimmy the Toucan” Sabatini (Marlon Brando, reprising his role in “The Godfather”) ensnares a first-year New York University film student (Matthew Broderick) in a scheme to serve endangered species for dinner at the very expensive and very mobile Fabulous Gourmet Club. An international clientele of degenerates may or may not dine on a rare Komodo dragon — served in a cream basil sauce. Broderick could end up dead or married to a mafia princess, or as Rodolfo Lasparri of Palermo, Sicily.
18. Real Genius (1985)
Val Kilmer’s second big-screen feature offers the chance to see him before he played Jim Morrison, and long before he got fat and began his direct-to-video spiral. “Real Genius” takes place at a thinly disguised version of Caltech where glorious pranks, science fiction, comedy and coming of age are the norm. Sure, this movie is uneven at times. A hearty sense of whimsy runs through it, though, and it holds up well for a very dated feature.
17. The Social Network (2010)
The rat-a-tat-tat, tiresomely too-impeccable dialogue style of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is gratingly on display for two solid hours in “The Social Network.” Nevertheless, Sorkin and director David Fincher (adapting Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book “The Accidental Billionaires”) manage to make the story of how Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook at Harvard a bit of chalkboard-scraping entertainment. Zuckerberg is soon worth a fortune and everybody sues him. This is way more riveting than it deserved to be.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQ_u3mjqB9I
16. Rushmore (1998)
Since “Bottle Rocket” debuted in 1996, Wes Anderson has doggedly remade the same basic movie about eccentric — and strange, yet strangely likable — people who spend their lives deceiving themselves. The successive versions of this movie tend to star Bill Murray or Owen Wilson. “Rushmore,” which features Murray as a local business tycoon and Jason Schwartzman as a precocious scholarship student at ritzy Rushmore Academy, is far and away the best variation of the genre. The music is perfect. The mix of wry humor and poignant melancholy are perfect. Got that? It’s perfect.
15. American Graffiti (1973)
Admittedly, this George Lucas nostalgia fest is only nominally a school-related movie, taking place as it does on a single night in the twilight of the summer of 1962. But the main plot device hangs on two central characters (played by Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard) deciding whether to leave their California town for college. “American Graffiti” also sits at #62 on the American Film Institute’s list of the best 100 films of all time.
14. Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
This reluctant classic pits a group of socially inept students at Adams College against a fraternity of arrogant athletes. To appreciate the movie fully, you must remember that it came out in an era when nerds were just … nerds. Things were different. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were just rich geeks, not revered billionaires.
13. The Paper Chase
Based on a novel by John Jay Osborn, Jr., “The Paper Chase” tells of the trials and tribulations of a first-year law student at Harvard Law School — back when a law degree offered the prospect of a decent living, not the likelihood of a lifetime of debt. Professor Charles Kingsfield, the contracts professor in the film played by John Houseman, remains a cultural archetype.
You’ll laugh. You’ll be inspired. Most of all, you’ll cry when you watch this devastating critique of the American public school system. Especially the dastardly teachers unions. Interestingly, “Waiting for Superman” is directed by — get this — the same documentarian who foisted “An Inconvenient Truth” upon the world.
11. Heathers (1988)
Christian Slater looked well on his way to becoming a huge, bankable movie star in the late ’80s. Things didn’t really work out, but “Heathers” is still a great flick. Slater, the new kid at a gray and slightly fairy tale-like high school, attracts Winona Ryder, an unenthusiastic member of a loathsome clique of popular girls. Together they go on a killing spree. The summary sounds pretty depressing, but the film is darkly funny.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTmpKgocyYg