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FYIVOD for the week of March 8th

The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in FYIVOD, we survey the landscape online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, we’re looking at high school ensembles, movies that have brought us fast times in the lives of American teens who left us dazed and confused.

THIS WEEK’S THEME: High School Ensembles

Why do we love high school movies? Maybe because high school is something everyone can relate to: we’ve all been there and we’ve all survived it — just barely. And why do we particularly love high school movies that feature large ensembles of characters? Maybe because we recognize that while everyone’s high school experience sucked, no one’s sucked in quite the same way. High school ensembles enable filmmakers to capture the diversity of teenage life in all its splendor and awkwardness. Here are five of the best. But as you gorge yourself on all these great movies, just remember to take a break once in a while. Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

On SundanceNow
THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (2011)
Directed by David Robert Mitchell
$4.99 to rent or stream; $19.99 to purchase

David Robert Mitchell’s beautiful, no-budget high school ensemble THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER breathes new life into the tried-and-true formula of 24 hours in the life of a community of teenagers. His innovation is to strip away the artifice — no broad comedy, no outlandish romance, no exaggerated high school stereotypes — and focus on authenticity. Few films have nailed the enchancting promise and deflating disappointments of teen life with such remarkable (and sometimes cringe-inducing) accuracy. While making his debut feature, shot on the cheap in suburban Detroit with a cast of impressive non-professional actors, Mitchell intentionally avoided including markers of contemporary culture (smart phones, texting, Internet, etc.) in order to give the film a timeless quality and, in turn, enhance the story’s mythic qualities.

On Netflix
DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Free for streaming plan members

It is the movie that launched a thousand Matthew McConaughey impressions: “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” But more than just amazingly quotable lines, Richard Linklater’s iconic high school movie gave us the definitive portrait of ’70s teenage life: the cruising, the tunes, the drugs, the existential malaise, the weird obsession with paddling underclassmen. Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED also ranks as one of the finest ensembles, high school or otherwise, in movie history: the then-up-and-coming cast includes Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Milla Jovovich, Nicky Katt, Jason London, Parker Posey, and Wiley Wiggins. And, of course McConaughey, as the charmingly sleazy David Wooderson. All right, all right.

On Amazon Prime
FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982)
Directed by Amy Heckerling
$2.99 to stream, or free for Amazon Prime members

Have you ever seen NEVER BEEN KISSED? That’s the Drew Barrymore movie where she plays a reporter who goes undercover in high school to write a story. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s actually exactly how Cameron Crowe researched his watershed non-fiction book about 80s teen life, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. The famously youthful Crowe (whose boyish looks, you’ll remember, were a key plot point in ALMOST FAMOUS) spent an entire year masquerading as a student at San Diego’s Clairemont High School, and his observations formed the backbone of his book and later his first screenplay. The results were one of the most insightful movies about high school life in history, and also one of the frankest — Jennifer Jason Leigh’s uber-uncomfortable deflowering in a baseball dugout to the tune of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” is guaranteed to strip away whatever romantic notions you might still possess about the magic of young love.

On YouTube
AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973)
Directed by George Lucas
$2.99 to stream, $3.99 to stream in HD

It’s interesting to note how many high school ensembles take place in the past, a setting that evokes both our collective nostalgia and the universality of the teenage experience: the characters in MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER aren’t all that different from the ones in DAZED AND CONFUSED, who aren’t all that different from the ones in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, made in the 1970s but set in the 1962. In 2012, Hollywood considers high school comedies a safe bets, cranking out new ones all the time. But when George Lucas first pitched AMERICAN GRAFFITI at least four studios passed on the project before Universal finally gave it the green light, and only agreed to a miniscule budget of $775,000 after Lucas’ friend Francis Ford Coppola agreed to sign on as an executive producer. The movie became one of the biggest hits of 1973, earning back its budget some fifty times, launching a terrible sequel (MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI in 1979) and inspiring just about every other movie on this list.

On iTunes
AMERICAN TEEN (2008)
Directed by Nanette Burstein
$9.99 to purchase

Okay, let me see if I have this right. High school kids inspired great movies by teen life auteur John Hughes, which inspired teenagers to act like the characters in John Hughes movies, which inspired more movies inspired by those teenagers which inspired more movies. Case in point: AMERICAN TEEN, a documentary deliberately structured — and marketed — like a Hughes film. Director Nanette Burstein spent a year following several seniors at Warsaw, Indiana’s Warsaw Community High School, all of whom fit into classic Hughes archetypes: the geek, the jock, the heartthrob, the rebel. Some critics argued that Burstein aped Hughes’ aesthetic a little too effectively, lending a fictional gloss to the lives of real teens. To those folks I say: go fix me a turkey pot pie.