College is back in session! As such, many college-themed movies are getting a lot of play on the tube and streaming outlets. Allow yours truly to now offer up a list of my favorite college-themed films … and why College Fixers should dig ’em:
12. One On One (1977). Kind of dated, feel-good coming of age story starring Robby Benson (remember him?). Benson is a small-town basketball star who has no idea what’s in store for him at a big-time college b-ball program. He has to overcome bigger and better players, a sadistic coach (played by G.D. Spradlin, along the same lines as his role in North Dallas Forty), and his own lack of reading skills.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: The film doesn’t portray Benson as entirely sympathetic; he not only has to overcome the obstacles noted above, but also his own conceit and ego.
11. Rudy (1993). Rudy Ruettiger is determined to play Notre Dame football, period. And he’ll stop at nothing to do just that! Sean Aston plays the title character with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader on twenty cups of coffee.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: No special treatment for Ruettiger … just pure heart, hard work and determination. And it ultimately pays off.
10. Soul Man (1986). Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell) wants to maintain his pampered lifestyle, but his dad has other plans for spending money (i.e. not on his son). Hence, going to Harvard is out the window unless … Mark comes up with a plan. And that he does: He takes “tanning pills” and applies for a scholarship reserved for African-Americans. Naturally, this creates its own set of problems …
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Despite some heavy-handed stereotypes, there’s a lot to like: the hilarious rich female “progressive” who needs to “validate” her creds by dating a black guy, the no-nonsense/doesn’t-take-any-crap black law professor (played perfectly by James Earl Jones), and the sympathetic Rae Dawn Chong as the straight-A student from whom Watson took that coveted scholarship.
9. Real Genius (1985). Mitch Taylor is a 15 year-old genius who heads off to a college for brainiacs. There, he meets the “legendary” Chris Knight (Val Kilmer in one of his best roles) who shows Mitch that having a super-IQ doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Hard work and drive are great things, but you gotta maintain a sense of humor and loosen up … or you’ll go nuts! Not to mention, the great William Atherton plays the snooty professor. You also know him as the scummy reporter from Die Hard, and as Walter Peck in Ghostbusters.
8. Liberal Arts (2012). An underrated gem of a film, Josh Radnor plays a 30-something college admissions officer who’s down in the dumps after being, well, dumped by his girlfriend. While at a party at his alma mater, he meets 19 year-old student Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) and, well, a relationship begins, albeit one you might not expect.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Radnor and Olsen are superb in demonstrating the clash of generational perspectives. Perhaps best of all, Radnor doesn’t succumb to his (obvious) passions, realizing those perspectives are just too disparate.
7. A Beautiful Mind (2001). John Nash (Russell Crowe) is the genius mathematician who can solve problems no one else can … but eventually realizes he suffers from schizophrenia. Crowe shows he has true acting chops as his performance of Nash is one for the ages.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Schizophrenia remains an incurable and baffling disease. As the film depicts, Nash not only managed his disease but, one could say, defeated it; he won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994.
6. The Great Debaters (2007). Professor Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) helps several African-American students from small Wiley College to become top-notch debaters. The team eventually goes on to take on the powerful Harvard squad … and wins.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Classic David vs. Goliath tale set in the era of legal segregation. Don’t let Tolson’s politics distract you; the success of the film’s subjects doesn’t take away from the constant undercurrent of the culture in which they live. The scene where Forest Whitaker buckles (in front of son) before the racist whims of a white man remains as powerful as ever.
5. Good Will Hunting (1997). Will (Matt Damon) is a modern-day Einstein but doesn’t care a whit. He’s a janitor at MIT where he occasionally befuddles the math department by clandestinely solving problems on a hallway chalkboard that no one else can. He’s got a chip on his shoulder a mile-wide due to a brutal childhood, and psychologist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) assists him in using his God-given talents to their potential.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Despite Damon’s and Williams’ gratuitious injection of progressive heroes Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky in their initial meeting, and the former’s subsequent smack down of NSA types, overall the story is an excellent coming of age/getting-your-act-together offering. And who doesn’t tune in just to watch the bar scene (below) where Damon puts that pony-tailed, quasi-know-it-all Harvard douche in his (smug) place?
4. The Social Network (2010). The story of Mark Zuckerberg’s ascension as the god of social media. Sure, he’s a jerk; however, what successful gazillionaire hasn’t ruffled a lot of feathers along the way to the business zenith? Zuckerberg owns the claim as the youngest of all of them.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: It’s an American success story, and a young college genius is the subject. Star Jesse Eisenberg is sensational as Zuckerberg, with Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) likewise as former best pal Eduardo Saverin.
3. Oleanna (1994). A film that could be taken from contemporary college headlines, it details what happens when a female student, who visits a prof during office hours to discuss her failing grade, misconstrues certain statements and then slaps said prof with a “sexual harassment” suit. William Macy (Boogie Nights, The Cooler) stars as the prof brought the brink of despair by the turn of events.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: The student, Carol (Debra Eisenstadt), personifies radical feminism to the Nth degree, and any prof in the contemporary academy could, sadly, easily face what Macy does in this flick.
2. Revenge of the Nerds (1984). One of the best college comedies of all-time, the perpetually picked-on-by-the-jocks nerds at Adam’s College get fed up … and decide to fight back — as only they can. John Goodman is hilarious as the amoral football coach, and who doesn’t love the nerds’ talent show performance (below)?
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Brains and savvy overcome conceit and popularity. And don’t forget the barely-veiled comparison to the black American experience in the form of African-American fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda. Bernie Casey is perfect as frat president U.N. Jefferson.
1. Back to School (1986). Thornton Mellon (Rodney Dangerfield at his best), mega-successful businessman, decides to do college alongside his son Jason. Though Professor Turner (Sally Kellerman) and Dean Martin (Ned Beatty) easily take to Mellon, the snooty Professor Barbay can’t stand him, deeming him “unqualified” to be at the school.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: The conflict between Mellon and Barbay is what really makes the film. Mellon, a blue collar guy who turned a small clothing store into an empire, is supposed to “learn” business from an Ivory Tower type like Barbay? Not only does Thornton beat Barbay at his own game, he steals his girlfriend (Kellerman) in the process.
Dave Huber is an assistant editor of The College Fix. You can follow him on Twitter @ColossusRhodey.
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