DEVIN MEENAN, Arts & Life Editor—As thankful as we all are to be (back) on the Hill, circumstances mandate our shared social lives here at Denison be more limited than in years past. As such, here’s a list of movies that fit the collective “back-to-school” mood and can provide some safe, stay-in-your-room entertainment.
“22 Jump Street” (2014)
After “21 Jump Street” featured detectives Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Janko (Channing Tatum) going undercover as High School students to dismantle a drug ring, “22 Jump Street” upgrades them to infiltrating a university. If you’ve seen “21 Jump Street,” then you’ll know the beats of “22 Jump Street,” but the film is completely aware of this and so parodies derivative sequels, and is all the funnier for it. In particular, there’s a scene I won’t spoil with Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) that makes me cry with laughter no matter how many times I watch it.
“American Graffiti” (1973)
George Lucas’ second and last pre- “Star Wars” directorial effort; it’s definitely interesting to see him make a film so focused on human mundanity before he got sucked into a galaxy far, far away. Set in 1962 California, the film focuses on a group of bored and horny teenagers on the last night of summer before many of them head off to college. The film’s cast is populated by baby-faced soon-to-be Hollywood staples from Harrison Ford to Ron Howard to Richard Dreyfuss. Though the movie cross-cuts between four semi-related, occasionally-intersecting storylines, there isn’t much of a plot, and flaws that recur throughout Lucas’ filmography (especially dialogue wooden in its composition and delivery) are still present here; still, there’s a charm to returning to a more optimistic past when our collective futures are as uncertain as the characters of this movie.
“Animal House” (1976)
The quintessential college movie, “Animal House,” follows members of the fictional Delta Tau Chi fraternity at the fictional Faber College as their run afoul of the college’s Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon), who wishes them banned from campus. Seeing the shenanigans indulged in by the film’s frat boys could give you a taste of things restricted from Denison’s campus this semester; the film’s also one of the few opportunities to see the gone-much-too-soon John Belushi (RIP) performing.
“Dear White People” (2014)
“Dear White People” follows escalating racial tensions at the fictional Winchester University, primarily through the eyes of Sam White (Tessa Thompson) and Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams). As we are in this era of (warranted) social upheaval and dwell on a Liberal Arts university ourselves, “Dear White People” is the timeliest entry on this list. My fellow white Denisonians owe it to their less privileged peers, on his campus and otherwise, to educate themselves about the struggles that make movements like Black Lives Matter needed and vital; “Dear White People” is a fine place to start.
“The Edge Of Seventeen” (2016)
Memories of high school are fresh for all of us, and few modern films have captured that experience better and more entertainingly than Kelly Fremon Craig’s coming-of-age comedy “The Edge Of Seventeen.” The film follows a few days in the life of the sardonic, depressed Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld). Steinfeld is one of the most purely talented young actors working right now, and here she oozes with charisma and chemistry with co-star Woody Harrelson, playing Nadine’s teacher Mr. Bruner – in a clever twist on the High School movie formula, Bruner is far from enthusiastic about or exceptional in his mentorship of Nadine, making their dynamic all the more memorable and the pair all the more human.
A pick doubly fitting since we’re in the midst of an election ourselves, yet one that calls for some good old-fashioned escapism. “Election” is the story of Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) presented through the eyes of Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), a middle-life-crisis suffering, transparently misogynistic teacher at a Nebraska high school. When Tracy runs for student body president, McAllister pushes Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), a typical dumb-but-popular jock, to run against her. Thus, the election becomes a contest between a prickly Type-A overachiever hampered by sexism and an entirely unqualified challenger sustained in the race via social capital bestowed upon him by his father’s wealth (Sound familiar?). Calling “Election” prescient is an understatement, but more than that it’s also biting, hilarious, and always entertaining.
“Good Will Hunting” (1997)
If “Election” follows the struggles of an overachiever, then “Good Will Hunting,” goes in the opposite direction. The titular Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a janitor at Harvard, is discovered to be a prodigy by Mathematics professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) – to prevent Will’s personal issues from kneecapping his potential, Lambeau sends him to therapist Sean Maguire
(Robin Williams, RIP). Damon and Williams give the story a pulsing heart, and who of us can’t relate to Will’s uncertainty about his future?
“Pitch Perfect” (2012)
When aspiring music producer Beca (Anna Kendrick) is roped into attending college by her father, she winds up the newest member of her university’s all woman acapella group, “The Bellas.” “Pitch Perfect” isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I’m not naive enough to consider myself the target audience for every film. In particular, given the themes of finding your niche in college and getting out of your comfort zone, a film that our freshly-arrived class of 2024 could get a lot out of. Plus, even I’ll admit the music isn’t half-bad.
“The Social Network” (2010)
“The Social Network” retells the story about how, from his Harvard dorm room, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) created one of the cornerstones of our currently underway civilizational rot: Facebook. Director David Fincher reins in screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s worst tendencies, so with “The Social Network,” you get the usual pro’s of Sorkin’s work, such as the snappy back-and-forth dialogue, without any of the drawbacks, from unearned sentimentality to great man theory. Fincher clearly recognizes that Zuckerberg and his ilk are bad people, something much less clear with Sorkin; Mark’s ex-girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) comes out looking like the one sympathetic person in the movie.
“Spider-Man 2” (2004)
Superhero movies are a dime-a-dozen, but Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 remains some of the best that the often middling genre has to offer and a testament to why Spider-Man is one of comics’ best characters; he’s the most down-to-earth superhero, for he is the most afflicted by human foibles. Peter Parker has to worry about costumed crime fighting just as much as he does balancing his professional and personal lives, holding down a job, and like every Denisonian, making it to class on time (the last is the task he falls shortest in). On top of that, the train sequence is one of the best action scenes in a superhero movie, and there’s few casting choices which approach the perfection of JK Simmons as Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson.