Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Every Flavor Bean: Top 10 Cult Movies for Teens (Part One)

I considered writing a cult movie post to go along with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and didn’t quite get around to it, but after Anna’s equally serious commitment to all things film in Anna and the French Kiss, I decided it’s time that I share with you my list of the top ten cult movies that YOU MUST WATCH ASAP.

The only basis for inclusion in this list:
a) The movie must be generally considered a “cult classic” (dedicated fan base, subculture surrounding the movie, usually quirky or under-appreciated by the general public)
b) I must love it.

Very scientific, I know. But trust me on this. I think you’ll at least appreciate the cinematic value of each and every one of these amazing movies, no matter how artful or corny they might be.

Without further ado and in no particular order, I give you Part One of…

1. Rocky Horror Picture Show

          Released: September 26, 1975 (US)
          Rated: R
          Directed by Jim Sharman
          Written by Richard O'Brien, Jim Sharman
          Starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O'Brien
          Genre: Musical

What it's about: This strange and wonderful musical full of catchy rock tunes and questionable ethics follows Brad and Janet, a straight-laced, newly engaged couple, as a flat tire strands them in an eerie castle in the woods. The castle is inhabited by transvestite scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his eccentric entourage, all aliens from the planet Transsexual. That night, Frank-N-Furter (played by the gloriously campy Tim Curry) unveils his newest creation: Rocky, a muscular specimen of perfect man intended to be his plaything. Ridiculously kooky chaos ensues. 

Why you should watch it: Adapted from the stage musical The Rocky Horror Show, this film is the ultimate cult classic, and one of my favorite movies of all time. It is very likely that you've heard Rocky Horror's most famous song, The Time Warp (or watched the RHPS episode of Glee, or read The Perks of Being A Wallflower), and the rest of the soundtrack is just as much fun. It explores sexuality and science fiction in a way that remains fresh 40 (!) years later. On another level, Rocky Horror is also a love letter to campy B-movies and sci-fi of the past. 

FYI, Rocky Horror definitely contains some mature sexual themes, but it's less visually explicit than much of cable TV nowadays. Recommended for older teens, but this is one I'd put on my must-watch-before-graduating-from-high-school list. 

And if you ever get the chance to go to a midnight showing at a movie theater, you totally should. Between the costumes and the audience participation, it's a great time, and you'll definitely see why this movie is a cultural phenomenon. Even my dad's seen it (and once awkwardly sang a few lines of "Sweet Transvestite" in the car).

2. Heathers

          Released: March 31, 1989
          Rated: R
          Directed by Michael Lehmann
          Written by Daniel Waters
          Starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty
          Genre: Black Comedy

What it's about: Veronica has grown tired of being a member of the Heathers, the most popular clique at Westerberg High -- three girls named Heather cruelly run the school through bullying and intimidation, and even though she likes the social benefits of being popular, Veronica doesn't approve. It seems like her options to remedy the situation are few until she meets the handsome new kid in town, J.D., who convinces Veronica to play a trick on a Heather that "accidentally" results in her death, which they cover up as a suicide. Suddenly the bodies around J.D. and Veronica are piling up, and Veronica decides to take matters into her own hands.

Why you should watch it: Heathers is the original Mean Girls, except WAY darker (interestingly, it was written by the Mean Girls director's brother). The sheer absurdity of Heathers makes the outsized violence seem reasonable, and it pokes fun at everything and everyone in the high school ecosystem, providing a biting social commentary on bullying and teen suicide. 

Mostly, though, Heathers is a creepy but always darkly funny satire filled with ridiculously awesome catchphrases that examines the consequences of the way we treat each other, in high school and beyond. 

3. Rushmore

          Released: February 19, 1999
          Rated: R
          Directed by Wes Anderson
          Written by Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
          Starring Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams
          Genre: Comedy, Drama

What it's about: Max Fischer, a precocious and fanciful fifteen-year-old with a penchant for every variety of extracurricular activities, struggles academically at Rushmore Academy. He develops a crush on a widowed first grade teacher at Rushmore, Rosemary Cross, that evolves into an awkward obsession. Max also befriends Herman Blume, a disillusioned industrial magnate with an unhappy marriage and two obnoxious sons who attend school with Max. Blume tries unsuccessfully to convince Max not to pursue Ms. Cross, only to fall for her himself. The three become tangled in a love triangle that could ruin everyone's chances at happiness, while Max searches for his greater purpose in school and in the world.

Why you should watch it: First of all, any film Wes Anderson directs is definitely worth watching; each one is aesthetically beautiful, authentic, quirky, and thought-provoking. Rushmore is a great coming-of-age movie about an awkward teen struggling to find his niche and reconcile his affection for Ms. Cross, a woman twice his age. This sensitive and funny film hits all the right notes as it delicately evokes the experiences of alienation, ambition, and maturation as we learn to become who we are.

4. Office Space

          Released: February 19, 1999
          Rated: R
          Directed by Mike Judge
          Written by Mike Judge
          Genre: Comedy

What it's about: Peter Gibbons and his fellow software engineer friends hate their jobs at Initech. Their boss, Bill Lumbergh, recently hired consultants to downsize the company, which means that people are definitely getting fired. Peter's life with his cheating girlfriend in his crappy apartment seems to be going nowhere until he is hypnotized to relieve work stress by a therapist who keels over and dies before he has a chance to bring Peter out of the hypnotic state. Peter is left totally freed from his concerns about his own life, including work, and he plots with his friends to bring Initech down from the inside.

Why you should watch it: Like Heathers, Office Space is a brilliantly executed satire, this time about what it's like to work at a job that doesn't appreciate you. I love this movie because it's hysterical, full of quotable quotes that never lose their humor, and SO ACCURATE about the work experience it represents, even when it exaggerates. The daily frustrations of Peter's life are so relatable, too. Secondary characters in this movie make it even funnier, especially Milton (played by Stephen Root), who is so pitiful he will break your heart (until he gets his revenge, that is). 

Rooting for the underdog has never been more fun than in Office Space, and it is a must-see before you enter the professional workplace... or any workplace, really. Also, you will clutch your contemporary technology close in appreciation after a crappy printer meets its messy end at the hands of angry employees and some baseball bats.

(Weird side note: I didn't realize until now that Office Space and Rushmore were released on the same day!) (There's no good reason for me to have known that, btw. I was only 11.)


5. Labrynth

          Released June 27, 1986
          Rated: PG
          Directed by Jim Henson
          Written by Terry Jones, Jim Henson, Dennis Lee
          Starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie

What it's about: Fifteen-year-old Sarah is stuck babysitting her baby brother Toby after getting into a huge argument with her stepmom and being ignored by her father. The situation only gets worse as Toby won't stop fussing, and Sarah angrily discovers that her stepmother gave Toby her favorite teddy bear. She wishes that Toby would just disappear... and suddenly he's gone, stolen away by goblins that she didn't believe were real until now. Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie being amazing, as usual) materializes and makes her a deal: either consider her wish granted, or solve Jareth's twisting, ever-changing maze to find his castle and save baby Toby from being turned into a goblin forever. Sarah accepts the challenge, and the thirteen hour countdown begins. With the help of the dwarfish creature Hoggle and a cast of unusual characters, Sarah puzzles her way through the Labyrinth in search of her brother, and on the way she embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.

Why you should watch it: Sadly, Labyrinth was the last feature film directed by the brilliant and truly inimitable puppeteer Jim Henson. This movie is dear to my heart, as is pretty much all of Henson's work. Sarah's coming-of-age story involves rejecting her own selfishness to save baby Toby and realizing that even though she's growing up, she still needs to hold on to her dreams and fantasies. There's lessons in this movie about not rushing your childhood along, about refusing to outgrow your imagination.

But I mean, c'mon. It's PUPPETS. REALLY GOOD ONES. AND ALSO DAVID BOWIE. Plus I still love fairytales, and Labyrinth gets me every time because it is just so much fun.

There's another big reason why this movie is so special to me. I excitedly showed Labyrinth to my (now fifteen-year-old) brother a few years ago, and about half-way through he looked over at me like I had recently grown a second head. As in, wtf is this crazy movie and why are you making me watch it. And I realized that the youngest millennials and Generation Z (iGen, Plurals, whatever you want to call it) grew up on CGI. There's almost no CGI in this film at all, the exception being an owl in the opening sequence, which was the first CGI of a realistic animal in a film.

Think about that.

Everything magical you see in this movie was physically handled by actual people. I love Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal (another great movie you should watch) and all the other Henson Company creations big and small because we will probably never see that kind of craftsmanship regularly in movies ever again. And don't get me wrong, I loooove Pixar and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But something about it just isn't the same. Anyway. /rant

And so, the first half of the list is complete. All this talk of David Bowie means that I'm off to dance around my living room to Modern Love. 

Tune in next week for Part Two (#6-10) of the Top 10 Cult Movies for Teens (IMO). Comment any thoughts about my esteemed selections so far, and let me know if you've watched any of these films on my recommendation -- I really want to know what you think!

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