LOS ANGELES (AP) - That magical time is upon us again: the beginning of a new school year. Time to start thinking up new ways to ditch class and blow off homework.
Here's a suggestion if you feel like procrastinating: five of my favorite comedies about high school. Don't worry, there won't be a quiz afterward:
- "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982): So many classic lines. So many great songs. And such a terrific young cast of then-unknown actors, led by Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold and Forest Whitaker. Those of us who grew up in the "80s probably look back on "Fast Times" with great fondness and nostalgia. In its day, though, it seemed pretty racy; it matter-of-factly depicted a character getting an abortion, after all. But it was refreshingly honest about the way teens talk and relate - how they get wasted and make mistakes - in an early demonstration of writer Cameron Crowe's excellent ear for dialogue.
- "Rushmore" (1998): Clever, sweet and crackling with artistic energy, this is still Wes Anderson's best film. His trademark stylistic tricks and obsession with detail felt new and fresh back then, and they served the story perfectly. Rushmore Academy's ultimate joiner, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), is a bit of a lonely, odd duck with some romantic, misguided notions. Sure, he's a compulsive liar, but it's hard not to want to emulate him: He's willing to try anything or befriend anyone. And even though he's usually the smartest guy in the room, he's never cynical. He's observant and kind. He sees the good in people - and that's how he gets his heart broken.
- "Sixteen Candles" (1984): While "The Breakfast Club" remains my favorite John Hughes movie ever, it does get heavy and angsty as it goes along. You might like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" best, that would also be an acceptable answer. But this story of a regular girl (Molly Ringwald) whose family forgets the most important birthday of her life is just rapid-fire hilarious from start to finish. It completely gets the absurdity of adolescence and accurately delineates the rigid caste system of high school without ever taking sides. Everyone's a freak or an idiot in his or her unique way - and everyone's had a secret crush on an unattainable Jake Ryan type.
- "Election" (1999): This early feature from director Alexander Payne was a dead-on, dark satire of the way high school power struggles really work while shrewdly providing a metaphor for our own political system. Reese Witherspoon is just insanely adorable in her annoyingly perky way as Tracy Flick, who will stop at nothing to be voted student body president. You don't blame Matthew Broderick as her social studies teacher from stepping in and trying to contain her ambition. But the script from Payne and Jim Taylor also finds the neediness and vulnerability in Tracy, which prompts our unexpected sympathy.
- "Heathers" (1988): Like "Election," this pitch-black comedy took an unflinching look at the way in which high school kids strive for control and, conversely, the way in which they're willing to fall in line to be accepted. In director Michael Lehmann's heightened version of reality, the Heathers rule the school - three girls with the same name who cruelly dominate everyone around them. Winona Ryder plays the rare Veronica who's allowed inside their clique, but she sees her peers clearly - which makes her easy pickings for the subversive J.D. (a young, exciting Christian Slater). The big hair and shoulder pads are as abundant as the classic, biting lines. It's all so ... very.