The University of Colorado has quite the film program, and a lot of the students have a breadth of cinematic knowledge that can’t be beat. Thus, it’s very possible you’ve seen these particular “back-to-school” movies before, but just go with me here. Hey, it’s not like I put “Clueless” on the list.
“Back to School” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Obviously you’ve seen it before or at least know about it. And if you don’t, you’re missing the late-great Rodney Dangerfield at his “respectful” best. Some nice boobage in the beginning to keep you going, along with special appearances by an anarchist Robert Downey Jr., Oingo Boingo, the blonde bombshell baddie from “The Karate Kid” and even Kurt Vonnegut.
“If…” is regarded as one of the first “Angry Young Men” flicks that might very well have helped to incite the international student riots/protests that would follow in the late 60s. Introducing the world to Malcolm McDowell (Stanley Kubrick watched “If…” and knew he’d found his Alex for “A Clockwork Orange” and you can certainly tell why), the conclusion of this film is so stark that the producers omitted it from the screenplay submitted to the school in which the film was shot.
“Hamburger: The Motion Picture” brings us back to tried-and-true goofball raunch, the likes of which you simply can’t find in “PCU,” “Animal House” or “Revenge of the Nerds.” After being expelled from college for “rude and crude behavior,” the film’s unlikely protagonist must find a quick way to get his college degree or else he’ll lose out on his trust fund. When he ends up at Busterburger University, corny-dog hilarity ensues with some spicy, sexy results. Also on the menu is Da Bears’ own Dick Butkus whose catch phrase, “Put those cookies back, m*********er!”, is still uttered today by those who have already sampled this greasy guilty pleasure.
“Toy Soldiers” is like “The Expendables” only with all of your junior faves from the late ’80s. Sean Astin and Wil Wheaton star alongside a very Mario Lopez-looking George Perez and a very Josh Brolin-esque Andrew Divoff playing a terrorist who takes over a reformatory for very wealthy, very bad boys. The young “rejects,” as they call themselves, must team up with principal Louis Gossett Jr. in order to literally take back their school. Mafioso’s, computer nerds, remote control planes and plenty of graphic violence make this one a winner for anyone who’s ever wondered why AK-47’s are not permitted on school grounds.
“The Adventures of Sebastian Cole” gives us Adrian Grenier, before he was Vince on “Entourage,” starring in this tiny indie film from the late 90s that presents what might be the most honest and apt portrayal of the suburban high school experience ever to be committed to celluloid. Added bonus is the film’s setting being New York, 1983; so the soundtrack, hairdos and fashion sense throughout are simply bodacious. Or, in this case, “Bogardus!”
“Art School Confidential” is a darkly comedic romp through the surprisingly on-point realm of, well, art schools today. Directed by Terry Zwigoff of “Crumb” and “Ghost World” fame, written by Daniel Clowes (also writer of the latter) and based on his graphic novel, this film sets the stage for a series of frighteningly realistic caricatures of all the art school folks you hope you’ll never see again until they’re serving you a burger from behind the counter.
“The Paper Chase” is a meticulous portrait of law school and all the tumultuous madness therein. Nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar, this one gives us Timothy Bottoms (“The Last Picture Show” and “That’s My Bush!”) as a fledgling first year law student who must contend with sleepless nights of endless study and infinite outlines of class lectures along with classmates who are in a kind of wild competition with one another, as well as a curmudgeonly professor who becomes Bottoms’ worst enemy before ultimately being realized as his best ally.
“Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael” is a forgotten modern gem that will help you forget all about equally ambrosial “Heathers,” particularly as Winona Ryder this time round is in her belladonna best, playing “Dinky” Bossetti, an adopted, alienated outcast in a comically ultra-hygienic town that may be better suited for the 1950s. When Roxy Carmichael, the last feminine pariah to blaze through Dinky’s Burton-esque hamlet, is slated to come back home, the entire community is abuzz, leading our doleful heroin to learn a thing or two about love, life and carpeting. Includes a mesmerizing score by “American Beauty” composer Thomas Newman.
“College” is a silent film masterpiece from the bygone era of Buster Keaton who plays Ronald aka “The Boy.” Keaton starts off graduating from high school as the arrogant valedictorian, admonishing his classmates that it was his tireless book-learnin’ that got him where he is and that playing sports is merely a distracting waste of time. Once in college, Ronald discovers that to get the girl of his dreams, he’ll have to become more athletic — surprise — and that’s when the timeless slapstick that makes Keaton an absolute cinema singularity really comes through the screen in spellbinding glory.
“Class of Nuke ‘Em High” is the perfect remedy for those who have grown tired (is that possible?) of the Ramones in “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” Part of the mid-80s Troma corpus (“The Toxic Avenger,” et al), this horror-comedy schlockfest was helmed by three different directors, one of whom — schlockmeister Lloyd Kaufman himself — uses a pseudonym for this wondrous pile of garbage about students who start to metamorphose into violence/sex-crazed mutants after taking some contaminated drugs. Bound to happen when your school’s situated next to a nuclear power plant.