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Essential college films

By Staff | Jul 28, 2010

You have committed to earning your degree here in the Mountain State. To be “cool” and “awesome,” you will want to watch (or at least read the plotline) for certain traditional “college” oriented flicks, but  also essential flicks that portray the state in which you are earning your degree.

Those of you attending West Virginia University or Marshall University may have a slightly modified “mandatory” flick schedule. How do you figure out that one? The proximity of Pittsburgh impacts WVU and for MU, the school’s football legacy namesake is a no-brainer.

• ACCEPTED: So you dreamed of Ivy League or just going out of town to school? Get creative. Form your own university. However, Bartleby Gaines made up a website for South Harmon Institute of Technology and come opening day, a lot of other un-accepted students enrolled.

• ANNIE HALL/BURNING ANNIE: Woody Allen’s tortured struggle in his romance with Diane Keaton (Annie Hall) is a typical representation of romantic decisions (one night stand, commitment) that students make. A Huntington director, Van Flesher, made “Burning Annie,” on the MU campus (available on DVD). The film tells of a student obsessed with the dilemmas spawned in the Allen classic. He’s so obsessed that he can’t go on a date without an Annie Hall scorecard comparison.

• BEAUTIFUL MIND: A math genius teaching at Princeton and MIT finds his equations in demand by the Pentagon. But his academic friends are not receptive to his tales of Russian spies, enemy telecommunications and unbreakable encryptions. Guess where he ends up?

• DEAD POETS SOCIETY: Although set in a private college prep academy, the film’s theme can be summed in a quote: “Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.” The unorthodox literature professor (played by Robin Williams) teaches unconventionally to shine a contemporary spotlight on ancient prose and poems. The plot has a father and son confronting each other about literary ambitions versus medical school. 

• FOOL’S PARADE: Catch a little state history. It’s filmed at the former state prison at Moundsville. It’s a period caper drama starring James Stewart. Watch out for his glass eye.

• GOOD WILL HUNTING: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Robin Williams star in a complex drama about a mathematic genius working at MIT as a janitor due to an abusive past. Having self-sabotaged both his professional and emotional lives, Will (Matt Damon) enters therapy where Sean Maguire (Williams) works through his defense mechanisms. Exorcising his inner demons, Will slowly begins taking charge of his life and reassesses some previously wrong decisions.

• HOUSE BUNNY: A Playboy bunny ousted from the mansion finds a new home teaching geeky and plain sorority members how to be cool on campus.

• LEGALLY BLONDE: Reese Witherspoon, a ditzy blonde with her token dog, enrolls in Harvard Law School hoping to show an “ex” that she has “brains” beneath her attractive body. Must see for guys. There are co-eds that have enrolled to get a degree, not a bunch of one-night stands or a relationship.

• MATEWAN: Thugs intimidate 1920s miners who have started unionizing in the face of poor treatment by mine owners who control their lives. Brings men of different ethnicities together for a common cause in time before the civil rights movement. Directed by legendary John Sayles. Partly filmed at an abandoned mine town in the bottom of New River Gorge.

• MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2001): The urban legend of Point Pleasant’s Mothman creature has risen in ranking with tales of crashed saucers, Big Foot, and a snowman. Though, not shot in West Virginia, the sightings occurred in Point Pleasant.

• NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: George Romero shot his original using borrowed cameras and equipment from a Pittsburgh TV station. Zombies roam the Steel City hungry for flesh. Original in black and white; re-makes in color. Often imitated and now a routine premise, one of the first to turn hungry “dead” zombies loose on civilization.

• NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE: “Loser” fraternity excels in parties, beer and lust does battle against a by-the-book dean who wants to close them down. Has it all — pranks, bedroom antics, and getting even with academia. Must See. (“Old School” starring Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn is an update in which grown men decide to give up the corporate world and form a fraternity.)

• OCTOBER SKY: During the 1950s, Russia launches a sputnik that inspires young Homer Hickam of Coalwood, W.Va., to experiment with rocketry. He has his mind set on college, not following his dad into the coalmines of the hills of West Virginia. Misfits for reaching for the sky rather than a pic, these Rocket Boys soar into a science fair and beyond.

• PAPER CHASE: Here’s one that’s not about partying; it’s about surviving at the university. Story follows a young man in his first year at Harvard Law School. The intimidating, challenging, and mocking characterization of a law professor won John Houseman an Oscar.

• REVENGE OF THE NERDS: Something along the lines of “Animal House,” but focused on the over-achieving Lambda Lambda Lambda House of nerds/geeks that do not fit in. They did get their revenge. Bill Gates is their mentor and he’s one of the richest men in the world. So, maybe, the women do care about geeks, but likely limited to those seeking an “MRS.” degree or 18-years of child support.

• ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: A spoof of low budget Frankenstein-styled horror movies, this musical places a virginal couple lost in a thunderstorm at the door of a castle filled with transsexual extraterrestrials. However, the “interactive” aspects bring viewers back — as it’s the audience and even a “live cast” that make “Rocky” different each week. Oh, and it’s Halloween at every showing; costumes preferred. The more outlandish the better. The film has empowerment themes for the gay and lesbian community. If you are a straight dude who decides to cross-dress for your costume, make sure you bring your girlfriend along to help you walk in the heels. There’s also the thematic moral issue conveyed by “giving yourself over to absolute pleasure.” 

• RUDY: He’s short. He doesn’t have good grades. He can’t lift weights. But he wants to play football for Notre Dame. Based on a true story, this gem maintains the thin line between plausible/possible and not in a trillion years. The plausibility and inspirational aspect wins.

• TEENAGE STRANGLER: This is Mystery Science 3000 camp, but a low budget ‘60s ‘slasher’ shot in Huntington, which occasionally resembles “American Graffiti.”

• WE ARE MARSHALL: The university’s sports history revolves around the rainy November night in which a Southern Airways jet plunged to Earth killing coaches and players of the 1971 football squad. Warner Bros. shot a portion of this McG directed inspirational film on campus and around the city.

(The documentary, “Ashes to Glory” tells the story from newsreel footage and assembled interviews. It’s fully factual while “WAM” has typical dramatic — mostly for the better — liberties.  TRIVIA: The makers of “Ashes” sued Warner Bros. claiming copyright infringement. They lost. The court ruled (stated in as few words as possible) that a historic event cannot be protected, as essentially WB took the “real” situations and created “original” dialogue and composite characters.)

• WRONG TURN: You will learn the ugly stereotypes that residents of West Virginia have endured. These are exaggerated and as gross as can be, but so are the mindsets of those who believe everyone in this state who separated from Virginia before the Civil War is just a hillbilly. 

• WONDER BOYS: Not to be confused with “October Sky,” Michael Douglas plays a middle-aged literature professor at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon. He’s a victim of writer’s block for seven years and his professional and personal lives are clashing and crashing. Call this a film in which it’s the professor, not the teen student, who has more than a horde of dysfunctional friends, family, exes and eye-candy circling his house.

Any R Rated Film with Fraternity or Sorority in the Title: There generally are slasher killing students or students getting laid stories. If you have seen one of each genre, you’ve seen them all. Honorable Mentions: American Pie series, Bring It On series, anything by Judd Apatow, and last summer’s Vegas bachelor party gone amuck, “The Hangover.” 

Marshall and WVU have active small independent filmmaking communities. Usually, they flow from art or theatre classes. At Marshall, “MAN-EATER” tells of how far one student would go in order to have a girl friend. Pittsburgh has a large indie following, which overlaps with Morgantown. “Doin’ Therapy” is one example of a regional indie. In it a Hollywood star develops a phobia for the “camera,” and she is sent to the Steel City where she can get therapy outside of the media bubble. And, in Charleston (West Virginia State University), the indie education manual is the films of Professor Danny Boyd, some of which Trouma picked up for release. The titles: “Chillers,” “Paradise Park,” “Invasion of the Space Preachers.” (Note: artsy flicks play the Discount Cinema (Huntington), Warner (Morgantown) and Capitol (Charleston).  

Special Sci-Fi Essentials
• INCEPTION/MATRIX: Just released, “Inception” probes a unique form of identity theft, manipulation of a person’s dreams so they will contemplate a decision in real life that they ordinarily would reject.  Peppered with awesomely weird special effects and jumping from one level of storytelling to the next, you have to pay attention to determine fact versus dream or even a dream within a dream within a dream. The production goes hand in hand with “The Matrix” in which humans of the future lived in a simulated reality created by machines. Homage to Japanese animation, spaghetti westerns, and Alice in Wonderland.

• STAR WARS/STAR TREK: How can anyone walk through the doors of an institution of higher learning without knowledge of Luke Skywalker and Captain Kirk?

Babysitting Beer Money Earning
If you plan to earn beer spending money babysitting, you should have knowledge of young people’s favorite film’s and/or film franchises i.e. Toy Story, Shrek, and Alvin.