There is something inherently frustrating about the prospect of university life. As a college student, you can feel as if you’re stuck in limbo. You’re obviously no longer a child as sex, drugs and alcohol pervade your everyday world, yet you’re not really an adult — totally free of the burdens of the 9-to-5 rat race for at least a few more years. A feeling of unease can fall over you, as there’s always a kegger or a party to attend while lovers change partners more often than bed-sheets.
Everybody Wants Some!!, the long-awaited spiritual sequel to Richard Linklater‘s classic comedy Dazed & Confused is now out in theaters. In the film, a college freshman (Blake Jenner) arrives at school to find that his new baseball teammates are an out-of-control, alcohol-fueled army of irresponsible party-dudes.
To celebrate, we compiled ten of the finest college movies, all ranging wildly in style and tone. We hope you enjoy, and feel free to recommend your own favorites in the comments.
Animal House (John Landis)
Arguably the most enduring and certainly the ultimate college movie, John Landis‘ Animal House was the film that taught a generation that “fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.” How true. The anarchic and subversive cultural phenomenon that first brought the embarrassingly inconsistent brand known as National Lampoon’s to the big screen remains an ageless and seminal comedy classic. Light on story, it follows two newly recruited pledges to Delta House, a boozy frat on the conservative campus of Faber College. It’s interesting to recall that John Belushi had never before appeared in a film, having just found his star on Saturday Night Live. It never shows. Belushi’s Bluto feels like a cross between Bugs Bunny and the Tasmanian Devil, a largely mute character whose few lines are still quoted today, ever reverberating through our culture decades later. It’s easy to forget where the film’s narrative concludes: unlike such inferior imitators (e.g. Old School), the film ends with our heroes expelled from college, their fraternity house dismantled. “They confiscated everything. Even the stuff we didn’t steal!” Their rebellious attack on the parade that climaxes the film is merely a final knee in the administration’s groin, payback for a truly unforgivable sin: “They took the bar. The whole fucking bar!”
Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman)
A transfer student ends up rooming at her new East Coast college with a four-woman super-clique in charge of running the campus suicide-prevention office. Their mission is to cure depression among the student body with bad coffee, stale donuts, and good, old-fashioned tap dancing. Whit Stillman‘s hilariously offbeat and madcap return to filmmaking after a 13-year absence feels like the comedic equivalent of a tight-rope walk. The screenplay’s satiric tone is so dryly specific that we watch the ensuing narrative with genuine suspense, almost daring them to make a false step. Featuring another powerhouse performance from everyone’s favorite actress, Greta Gerwig, the film lives and dies by a stunning cast that includes Analeigh Tipton, Carrie MacLemore, and Aubrey Plaza. Bizarrely structured with cryptic title cards and a charming attempt to create an international dance craze, Damsels in Distress is the most carefree and playful of Stillman’s work.
Frat House (Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland)
As engrossing as Todd Philips and Andrew Gurland‘s Frat House is, the hilarious, disturbing, and sometimes infuriating glimpse inside the puke-splattered walls of ’90s campus fraternities feels like a condemnation of the exact lifestyle Philips’ seems to celebrate in comedies such as Old School and The Hangover. Morbidly billed as the only banned HBO documentary, it goes behind the closed doors of college fraternities to reveal the process of pledging, which often includes hazing, bordering on torture. Narrated by Phillips as if he’s channeling Matthew Modine’s Joker from Full Metal Jacket, the filmmakers agree to join the pledge process, receiving their hazing with understandable grief. As we watch the pledges undergo brutal hazing, we wonder what these men hope to get from this. We see why Phillips refused to quit, despite Gurland’s departure due to hospitalization halfway through filming: he’s making a documentary. The other pledges seem to earnestly strive for the loving embrace of their frat brothers, as dumb and cruel as they may be. A fascinating document, Frat House stumbles upon a yawning chasm of male insecurity by illuminating the unbelievable depths to which some men will sink to be accepted.
The Freshman (Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor)
It’s a shame that movie fans often celebrate the stunning works of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton without giving mention to the comedy of Harold Lloyd. He’s best-known for the iconic image of his bespectacled Glasses Character hanging from a clock tower in Safety Last!, but Lloyd starred in hundreds of comedic shorts before making the jump to features. One of his finest works, The Freshman, focuses on Harold Lamb, a new student at Tate University who aspires to be the big man on campus. The film moves from hilarious set piece to hilarious set piece, the best of which finds Lamb at a party in a poorly tailored tuxedo, which repeatedly rips as he moves. The poor tailor is stuck following Lamb around the ball room with a needle and thread, fixing the suit as it continues falling apart. Note that, after the tuxedo sequence concludes, Lamb is suddenly and conveniently provided with fresh new suit pants. Why not? The joke is over, and we’re on to the next one. A hopeless movie fan himself, Lamb models his new college persona on the heroic lead character of a film he’s seen about university life, a wryly post-modern choice which may prove to be the earliest example of movie geekery in cinema.
Kicking and Screaming (Noah Baumbach)
Noah Baumbach‘s sad and dryly funny take on post-college life follows a group of professorial graduates who balk at the notion of entering adulthood, resigning themselves to life as perpetual students. On grad night, Grover and Jane break up, an inevitability apparently triggered by her acceptance into a school in Europe. After Jane’s departure, Grover and his friends drift through the next six months of their lives, some returning to school and delaying their first step into the real world, while Grover ambles from one misguided freshman girl to another. The film may not contain the same visual elegance as Baumbach’s later works, but Kicking and Screaming is a beautifully scripted look at the fears of impending change and adult responsibility. Fittingly, the cover art of this film’s Criterion edition features no images of the cast, instead incorporating many of the screenplay’s most memorable dialogue quotes. Without a doubt, Kicking and Screaming‘s screenplay remains among the best work of Baumbach’s career.
Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)
Twenty years after Kicking and Screaming, Baumbach returns to the turmoils of college life with Mistress America, a hopeful and inspired comedy co-written with his new creative partner, Greta Gerwig. Tracy (Lola Kirke) is having trouble fitting in with her new classmates, until she meets her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Gerwig), an overly ambitious wannabe restaurateur in a financial dilemma. Tracy’s mother is set to wed Brooke’s father, and, after meeting, the pair make quick and effortless friends. Tracy, an aspiring writer, quickly takes on the role of the little sister to Brooke’s charmingly oblivious whirlwind, finding inspiration for her next story in her new friend. Like Brooke’s previous BFF who stole her idea of a t-shirt covered with skulls and flowers, Tracy wishes to appropriate some of her new friend’s essence. However, Brooke’s heart is so painfully wide open that Tracy’s fictionalized account threatens to destroy their friendship once it’s revealed. Though Brooke may not learn from her mistakes, as Tracy does, she never succumbs to them, as if a heedless sense of purpose protects her from the yawning abyss of reality. As Tracy says of her friend, “Being a beacon of hope for lesser people is a lonely business.”
School Daze (Spike Lee)
Spike Lee‘s politically charged musical take on the college movie contains such a heavily stylized, theatrical feel that it takes a moment to adjust to its rhythms. The campus of Mission College is divided — some in protest of apartheid South Africa, while others pledge to dehumanizing fraternities, following their Dean’s orders, no matter how depraved. School Daze is vintage Lee, made the year before his arguable masterpiece, Do The Right Thing, gleefully dabbling in drastic and sudden tonal shifts from scene to scene and forcing the audience to remain nimbly on their toes. Wisely, Lee paints both sides as equally hypocritical and flawed, portraying these student-minded adults carelessly doing the wrong thing. It’s strikingly socially relevant to the politics of today, exploring issues of race from which most artists shy away. Like a pseudo-prequel, Lee’s film is unquestionably thematically connected to his aforementioned 1989 classic, as School Daze closes with the same two words upon which Do The Right Thing begins: “Wake up.”
The Social Network (David Fincher)
While higher learning can indeed prepare the young and inexperienced for the struggles of the real world, the environment of academia can also reinforce and even strengthen the worst, most corrosive aspects of people’s personalities. In David Fincher‘s The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg, a dangerously intelligent Harvard student, creates the blueprint for what will eventually become Facebook. Zuckerberg has already been dumped by his smart and beautiful girlfriend after a pointless argument about college final clubs, a high priority for the student until the wealthy Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Armie Hammer) offer him a job designing a website. The twins’ simple idea leads Zuckerberg to create his own site, The Facebook, which causes a massive lawsuit as Mark’s best friend and business partner, Edwardo (Andrew Garfield), slowly finds himself forcibly removed from the company he helped create. Zuckerberg seems to believe that his intelligence and creative abilities should forgive all of his sins. No matter how smart, rich, or successful you are, the world would prefer if you were merely a nice person.
Storytelling (Todd Solondz)
Two stories of lives touched by the pressures of college life play out independently of each other, terrible deeds taking place in banal settings while flawed people look for hope, love, and acceptance. Instead, they find pain, sorrow, and horror. In the first story, a Creative Writing major cheats on her boyfriend with her African-American professor, causing a controversy among her classmates. In the second story, a slacker high-school senior becomes the subject of an aimless documentary filmmaker as he’s forced by his parents to apply for college. The kid has no interest in school. He would rather eat magic mushrooms, listen to Elton John, and dream of being a TV talk show host like his hero, Conan O’Brien. This is a searing and unapologetic film, each and every scene seems designed to skewer a different, increasingly difficult and indigestible subject matter. It’s a shame that controversy initially surrounded Todd Solondz‘s film, involving a censored sex scene from the opening tale with a large red square covering the actors’ bodies. The film became notorious for a single scene, much of the media narrative following Solondz’s frustrated willingness to accept the censorship as a way of reminding the audience: “Hey, there’s something they’re not letting you see.” It’s too bad, as the film surrounding that sex scene may be the most challenging and morbidly entertaining of the boundary-pushing artist’s filmography.
Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson)
Grady, a pot-addled college literature professor (Michael Douglas), befriends a lonely, misguided student in Curtis Hanson‘s melancholy adaptation of Michael Chabon‘s beloved tale of eccentric writers and the readers who love them. Grady’s wife has just left him as he learns that his mistress, his boss’s wife, is pregnant. Meanwhile, Grady’s oddball editor is in town to check up on his new novel, the long-awaited follow-up to his acclaimed debut, The Arsonist’s Daughter. It’s been years in the writing, important enough to Grady to distract from his own hastily collapsing life. One of the most truthful and emotionally resonant moments comes when Grady visits the childhood home of his now-estranged wife with a troubled student, James (Tobey Maguire). Instead of his wife, Grady finds only her parents, who warmly welcome these two lost souls. Grady informs his soon-to-be-ex-father-in-law that he’s nearly completed the novel that’s torn attention away from his loving wife. The father-in-law sadly nods, understanding the problem his son-in-law cannot: “Ah, yes, your book. I hope it’s really good, Grady.”
Everybody Wants Some!! is now in limited release and soon expanding.