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    Cinemania: Best high school movies

    Eric Stoltz, Sean Penn, Anthony Edwards in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
    Universal City Studios
    Eric Stoltz, Sean Penn, Anthony Edwards in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

    As expected, the topic set off a wave of nostalgia for those halcyon days. I personally found myself warmly reminiscing about sitting in the late afternoon light in a classroom at Boston College High, copying over the Book of Deuteronomy for my “jug” punishment assignment. Ah, memories. So much nicer when they happen in the movies.

    But enough of that, the results are in, as well as many wistful recollections of times gone by, and it seems like the best era for this kind of movie was the ’80s. When John Hughes left us for the great day off in the sky, he took high school with him: Three of the top five are his Brat Pack classics.

    Fast Times at Ridgemont High

    The flat-out favorite, Amy Heckerling’s 1982 directorial debut features breakout performances from many soon-to-be stars such as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, and Forest Whitaker. Readers relished some of the trademark lines, such as ArtVandelay421’s favorite, “That was my skull! I’m so wasted!” Speaking of Spicoli, when exactly did Sean Penn lose his sense of humor? How did he go from America’s favorite stoner to its most derided liberal? John02169 suggests we give him another chance, proposing a sequel in which Spicoli shows up at a class reunion “wearing an ‘I heart Hugo Chávez’ tee shirt.”

    Better Off Dead. . .


    Savage Steve Holland’s 1985 comedy delays the inevitable John Hughes onslaught. It features John Cusack playing one of his trademark, angst-filled, feckless adolescents, here as a kid driven to distraction by an unrequited love, a skiing competition, and a paperboy nemesis with his inescapable, bloodcurdling cry, “I want my two dollars!”

    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

    Paramount Pictures
    Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller.
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    When this Hughes film came out, in 1986, it defined a generation, for better or worse (as did “Risky Business,” in 1983, which also got a couple of mentions). “I saw it five times when it first came out!” boasts Tim Nasson. And I bet you skipped class to do so. In retrospect, though, is Ferris (Matthew Broderick) really a bold nonconformist, or a teenage version of the “Greed Is Good” financial buccaneers of “Wall Street” (1987)? Is wrecking a Ferrari an act of defiance, or just conspicuous consumption? If this were high school, those questions would be on the test.

    The Breakfast Club

    Now here’s a scenario I can identify with: five teenage types – the jock, the stuck-up prom queen, the whiz-kid nerd, the neurotic screwball, and the defiant doper – all kept after class to copy out the Book of Deuteronomy. Or rather, to bicker among themselves and chip away at each other’s facades, revealing the cringing desperation they all have in common, and occasionally taking on the smug faculty monitor with remarks like, “Eat my shorts.” Hughes features the Brat Pack in full session here, from 1985, with Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, and Judd Nelson in attendance.

    Sixteen Candles

    In Hughes’s 1984 directorial debut Molly Ringwald plays a high school girl with lots of problems: Nobody remembers her birthday, a note with compromising material falls into the wrong hands (a precursor to cyberbullying!), the boy she has a crush on is going out with someone else, and a character called “the Geek” won’t leave her alone. No wonder she has little time for homework or classes. Notable also for an Asian character named “Long Duk Dong” who says things like, “No more yankie my wankie. The Donger need food!”

    So, no “Maedchen im Uniform”? OK, that’s a long shot. How about “If . . .”? Or “Dazed and Confused”? And not much love for “American Graffiti,” either, despite its 40th anniversary this year. I would definitely flunk out of movie high school, though there were mentions of some of my faves including, “Heathers,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” and “Election.”


    COMING UP: Two of the greatest geniuses of Western civilization, William Shakespeare and Joss Whedon, combine for an offbeat version of the former’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” It’s just one of countless adaptations of the Bard on the big screen – which among them is the best? Your picks will be posted on June 23. And for June 30 – two downer relationship movies (one soon to play the Brattle, Roberto Rossellini’s 1954 “Journey to Italy,” and one currently in release, Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight”) suggest that there is a subgenre of films that are very bad choices for a first date. Let’s call them “last date movies.” Which do you think are the best/worst?