Sundance 2008 Day 8: It's All About High School!
by Alex Billington
January 26, 2008
I just hit the 30 film mark at Sundance (in 8 days, mind you) and I'm getting quite exhausted. The funny thing is I just want to go home and relax… and watch more movies. I'm getting burned out on these bad indie movies, and I just want to watch some good shit when I get home. The last really good day was Wednesday, where I saw quite a few fantastic movies (see below). Although, American Teen last night and Hamlet 2 this morning were refreshingly fun films as well. Speaking of those two, I've discovered one of Sundance 2008's big trends - high school movies. Don't believe me? Let's explore this topic a bit further.
Variety's Todd McCarthy explores the trend of drugs in lots of Sundance movies this year in his article, but that's not the only big trend. I came to this realization about Sundance films last night while watching American Teen, probably because it's a documentary about real high school life which got me thinking about the way Hollywood portrays high school. The previous night I saw Assassination of a High School President, one of the best films of the fest that is a 100% purebred high school film. I think what I'm noticing with this trend is less the quantity of high school movies, and more the quality. The best movies of Sundance 2008 all have something to do with high school!
Let's take a look at this year's high school movies. In a way, The Wackness (9/10) is a high school movie, since the lead character Luke is still in high school, even though the film takes place over a summer. The real high school movies, with their rating next to each, are Smart People (9/10), Assassination of a High School President (9/10), American Teen (9/10), and Hamlet 2 (8.5/10). Give or take Hamlet 2, each of those films has a 9 or higher rating, even The Wackness. And I'm not alone on my opinion, as Peter from SlashFilm, Neil from Film School Rejects, Devin from CHUD, and Quint from Ain't It Cool News have all given immense praise to those five movies as well.
It could be that in my "young age" I still have a knack for high school movies and that kind of subject matter, or maybe vice versa, where older people don't like that carefree attitude that teenage kids have. But at least with these five movies this year, there is something not only very human and real, but also very fun, about all five of them. American Teen is the all-encompassing high school movie that sets the precedent for the remainder. It's an actual documentary and gives an inside look at the real life of a high school kid, and is also one of the best movies of the fest, as mentioned previously. From there, the remaining four are full of hilariously iconic characters and great scripts.
It could be that every person has been through high school at some point in their life and at Sundance, the writers are fresh and young, meaning the memories of their high school experience are still fresh in their minds. Or like in American Teen, it could be that high school is such a socially insane time in every person's life, that great drama and great comedy can come from it. There are so many themes to explore from such a socially diverse atmosphere, and some great writers and some great directors have put together some great movies this year. I'm not ashamed at all to say that those five were probably my top five (although that is subject to change) from Sundance.
Before I wrap-up this discussion, I could also claim that the high school trend really started with some other indie movies a few years back. Of course I must reference Brick, which premiered at Sundance in 2005, and then also Napoleon Dynamite from Sundance 2004 as well as Juno just last year. It seems like everything has just been snowballing each and every year and now in 2008 we're up to five great high school comedies. Now I just wish all of you could actually see them.
Within due time these films will make it out into theaters across the country, and within due time the country will yet again get caught up in a high school craze, as it currently is with Juno. It's no mistake that all of these are going to be huge hits and thanks to a new generation of filmmakers, we are able to experience some of the best movies in a long time, despite being high school related or not. Sundance is nearly over, but it doesn't mean that experience of the fest will still trickle down throughout the year to all of the theatrical releases for these five great films.
Sundance 2008 Review List:
THURSDAY (JAN 24)
Goliath - 5/10
Red - 6/10
American Teen - 9/10
FRIDAY (JAN 25)
Hamlet 2 - 8.5/10
Quid Pro Quo - 2/10
Good Dick - 5/10
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