Monday, September 11, 2006

Entertainment Weekly's Top 50 High School Movies

Entertainment Weekly, in what must be a joint effort with the AFI to fill the world with meaningless "best of" lists, took on my area of study in their latest issue: The 50 Best High School Movies. OK, so I'm actually a sucker for these lists. They're dumb but they do what they're supposed to do: make hermetic, authoritative judgments about topics so messy and subjective that readers are invariably pissed off by the results and must respond. Rather than take the bait and produce my own absurd list, I have just a few observations about their choices.

The Breakfast Club is their number one, and it's a safe and predictable one, striking the right balance between pop pleasure and "importance." Their paragraph-long evaluation of the film echoes many of the ways popular media have sought to define the appeal or function of adolescence narratives. "After the farcical fluff of Sixteen Candles, the issues Hughes explored--sex, drugs, abuse, suicide, the need to belong--were surprisingly subversive." So, the best high school films are foremost about "issues" rather than the "farcical fluff" of teen romance. There's a classic dichotomy at work here.

It's interesting that their list addresses "High School Movies" rather than using the more contemporary moniker "Teen Movies." It's possible that they were influenced by the recent success of the Disney Channel's High School Musical. But more likely their exercise in axiology, their attempt at elevating these films to a socially acceptable level of value and importance, was better served by an association with the history of films set in high school. Even for a rag like Entertainment Weekly, "Teen Movies"--which can trace their roots back to the beach party movies of the 60s--may be too frivolous a genre for a "best of" list. But "High School Movies" are another thing entirely. When you use that nomenclature, you associate these films with the social commentary films of the 50s and 60s, such as Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause (number 4 on the EW list), movies that seriously addressed the issue of teen crime and delinquincy. High school movies, like high school, see teens as problems, or as representative of the dangerous social masses, that need to be massaged and elevated to respectability. There's a way that high school, high school movies, and "best of" lists all share the same modernist agenda.

But, in the end, I gotta respect a list that puts the underrated Can't Hardly Wait at number 44.


Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Their list is indeed surprisingly good, but I would have put "Election" at number one .. It's nice to see the props for "Flirting," easily my favorite Australian movie

6:27 PM  

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