Between 1995 and 2004 (the release years of Clueless and Mean Girls respectively) there was a seemingly infinite number of films produced that fell neatly into "teen movie" genre. Some were witty and some were garbage, but they all existed in the strange, specific universe of the turn-of-the-century teenager—a world of mall rats, angsty indie rock, bully jocks, wild keg parties, portable CD players, and lots of clothing from the Gap. 22-year-old British critic Charlie Lyne, who started his film blog Ultra Culture when he was only 16 years old, recently premiered his documentary Beyond Clueless at this year's SXSW. It's a feature-length exploration of the American teen movie phenomenon, a foreign world that Lyne only really knew through repeat viewings of Eurotrip and 10 Things I Hate About You. Though he's candid about some of their obvious flaws, what fascinated Lyne most was the "amazingly complicated stuff hiding in plain sight," and the way these movies made an entire generation of Surge-drinking adolescents warm and fuzzy on the inside. "There was a duality of meaning that we were trying to get at with [Beyond Clueless]," Lyne says, "…this idea that these films could retain a sense of emotional and cosmic significance to you while also being scrutinized."
At this point, he's watched nearly 300 teen films from that decade-long era: every romantic comedy, every unneeded sequel and every muddled high-school thriller. "I got to this point where all my conversational reference points were 20 years out of date or just completely esoteric to everyone else, where I would just be in casual conversation throwing in obscure references to one of the American Pie straight-to-DVD spin off movies and expecting people to be able to follow me." Below, Lyne picks eight of the films featured in Beyond Clueless that you should watch right now, whether you're revisiting for pure nostalgia or you have a sociological interest in this totally random (but sort of magical) period in popular culture. patrick d. mcdermott
"Maybe this is because I’m a no longer a teenager and I don’t understand Project X, but I always think Can’t Hardly Wait is the sole watchable party movie. I can’t think of any other film that falls neatly into that house party genre that’s actually a bearable experience. It’s such a seemingly great idea that’s so often done terribly. I always think of Bachelor Party, that awful Tom Hanks vehicle. If Bachelor Party is the standard bearer of bad house party movies than Can’t Hardly Wait is its antithesis."
Disturbing Behavior (1998)
"It’s a film that pops up near constantly in Beyond Clueless. It’s quite a flawed mess of a movie but it’s got these few scenes that are so incredibly searing and distinctive. It came out a month or two apart from The Faculty, which was obviously a massive hit, and with them both being about the student body being taken over by parasitic alien life force things, I think it just got slightly overshadowed, and it’s a shame."
"There are so many actors that are now considered amongst Hollywood’s best that, at that time, were getting their start in very frivolous teen movies but delivering performances just as committed as the one’s they’re delivering now. I kind of love that Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s known for appearing in very classy David Fincher-directed serious films and an actor I very much admire, is putting in amazingly dedicated work in this goofy film about a boy running across America in a bubble. I think he’s fantastic in it."
"It’s about these two college students that find out if their roommate commits suicide they’ll get straight A’s, and they elect to help him towards that conclusion. The thing that always sticks with me about it has to be seen to be believed: there’s an almost full-length reenactment of the russian roulette scene from The Deer Hunter. It’s Matthew Lillard and maybe Michael Vartan sitting across from each other at a party, playing “beer hunter,” with the exact dialogue and —as far as I’m aware—the exact timing of The Deer Hunter. It’s this 10-minute sequence just sort of dedicated to doing this very elaborate spoof of this Vietnam classic which I can only imagine was lost on so many people at the time."
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)
"It was made so much later than the first film, at a point where you would think the market for a teenage audience who wanted a follow-up would seem fairly scarce. It sort of purports to be this film for a new generation, like “It’s not your grandfather’s Carrie”, it’s like a ‘90s, grungy Carrie, yet every beat is so identical to the first film, which I kind of love. It’s this weird, kind of art statement, a bit like Gus Van Sant re-making Psycho shot-for-shot. It’s sort of hard to identify who the audience is for it, but it’s sort of fascinating as this object. It’s not really campy, but it’s appealing for the same sort of reasons: it’s an oddity. But it’s played very, very straight."
Double feature: Freeway (1996) and Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby (1999)
"There’s absolutely nothing that binds these two films together other than that they’re both very loose adaptations of fairy tales and they’re both sort of psuedo-trashy exploitation films with female leads. The second one wasn’t made as a sequel to the first one, it was renamed at the last minute so that it could cash in on the mild success of the first film. There’s no references to the first film, none of the same characters appear. In, Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby, Natasha Lyonne plays a bulimic prostitute who’s on the lamb with her lesbian lover and they go around committing various crimes until they cross over into Mexico and end up holed-up in a mission house with a lascivious nun played by Vincent Gallo. It’s, in theory, an adaptation of “Hansel & Gretel.” It’s kind of amazing to experience."
"Idle Hands is a very, very openly metaphorical film. It’s not much of a stretch to see that Devon Sawa having a possessed hand that awakens when this sexy girl moves in next door is a parallel for pubescent sexual awakenings. But if you look at the kind of responses that the film got when it first came out, critically, that’s absolutely nowhere to be seen. It’s sort of strange how unwilling so many people are to accept that teen movies are any more than surface, that there could be any kind of thought-process going on in the creation of these films. Also, it’s got one of those classic “famous alt-rock band playing the prom” scenes; the lead singer of The Offspring gets scalped by Devon Sawa’s amputated hand."
Matthew Lillard's scenes in She's All That (1999)
"Matthew Lillard is the one thing I can bare in She’s All That. I think because it was never one I got attached to myself to when I was a teenager, so I discovered it a bit later and I was like, what the fuck is going on in this film? It’s such a slightly offensive mess. For me, Lillard with his The Real World contestant supporting character was always the one redeeming feature, and that incredible dance sequence at the house party was breath of fresh air in this otherwise morally contradictory, weird mess of a film. I sometimes forget that people have a very, very sincere affection for that movie. Which, to be fair, is the way it often works with teen movies. Most of the ones I completely love, I’m sure to some people are horrible excuses for films. I guess it depends what makes its way into your heart."