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ten best Fictional schools

by Keith Barber

Rushmore academy

Max Fischer loved Rushmore Academy more than anything in the world until he met Miss Cross, the mysterious first grade teacher whose handwriting inside a book by Jacques Yves Cousteau caught his eye. The 1998 film Rushmore, directed by Wes Anderson and co-written by Anderson and Owen Wilson, is reminiscent of The Graduate, with an extraordinary musical soundtrack and a tour de force performance by a young actor (in this case, Jason Schwartzman) drawing parallels to the 1967 Mike Nichols classic that launched the career of Dustin Hoffman. Rushmore Academy, like most great fictional schools, has a crusty but lovable headmaster, played to perfection by Bryan Cox, and a wealthy benefactor — Bill Murray in one of his finest performances.

Baird school for boys

“Hoo-ah!” Lt. Col. Frank Slade roared from the stage of the Baird School for Boys auditorium in the 1992 film Scent of a Woman after successfully defending the honor of Charlie Simms. Al Pacino’s powerful performance as Lt. Col. Slade won him the Oscar for Best Actor. The Baird School featured an uptight, insecure headmaster, Mr. Trask, played by James Rebhorn and the typical snobbish rich kids. Philip Seymour Hoffman played one of the wealthy elitists who look down their noses at Charlie, played by Chris O’Donnell, a kid on scholarship from Oregon. Bo Goldman’s script offers a life-affirming story of love, hope and redemption.

Faber College

The opening scene of the 1978 film National Lampoon’s Animal House features a statue of the Faber College founder with the sage words, “Knowledge is good,” inscribed on it. Larry Kroger, played by Tom Hulce, and Kent Dorfman, played by Stephen Furst, are desperately trying to join a fraternity. After being treated rudely at the Omega House, Larry and Kent head to Delta House, “the worst house on campus.” They encounter Bluto, played by John Belushi, holding a massive beer mug while relieving himself on the front lawn. “Have a beer!,” Bluto says while urinating on the pledges’ shoes. “Don’t cost nothing.” A comedy classic, Animal House does a magnificent job capturing college life during the last days of innocence of the early 1960s.

James Buchanan high school

The Sweathogs were a staple of 1970s television, and the backdrop was James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn. “Welcome Back, Kotter,” featured an excellent cast that included John Travolta and Gabe Kaplan. Vinny Barbarino was a model for Tony Manero, the character Travolta played in Saturday Night Fever that earned him an Oscar nomination. Children of the ’70s delighted when Arnold Horshack would raise his hand in class and exclaim, “Oooh, ooh, ooh, Mr. Kotter!,” or when Vinny would wisecrack with his patented, “Up your nose with a rubber hose.”

Dillon high school

The TV series “M*A*S*H” is one of the few success stories of adapting a hit movie into a hit television show. The creators of the NBC show “Friday Night Lights,” can also lay claim to this honor. Peter Berg adapted his cousin, Buzz Bissinger’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book into the 2004 film of the same name, and later the NBC show, which premiered in 2006. Set in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, “Friday Night Lights” offers the most realistic view of high school life in small town America. Anyone who has ever played high school football has an instant connection with the show, but the compelling characters and great storylines have universal appeal.

Devon school

Devon School is featured in the classic novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Required reading for high school students, A Separate Peace tells the story of Gene and Phineas, two close friends at Devon. Set during World War II, Gene and Phineas are exact opposites — Gene, the quiet intovert, and “Finny,” the outgoing, gregarious type. One summer, Finny decides to create a social club and institutes an initiation ritual of jumping out of a tall tree into the Devon River. One day, while both Gene and Finny are standing on a tree limb, Finny falls and breaks his leg. It turns out Gene shook the branch and consciously or unconsciously tried to hurt his friend. A classic coming of age story, A Separate Peace is a dark tale of destructive envy.

Ridgemont high

A typical high school in California’s San Fernando Valley in the early 1980s, Ridgemont High is an amalgam of high schools in American suburbia. Featuring an amazing cast that includes Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fast Times at Ridgemont High captured a fleeting moment in time that all of us who grew up in the ’80s can relate to. Filmmaker Cameron Crowe actually posed as a high school student at a San Fernando High School for several months to research the script, and it comes through in the verisimilitude of the film.

Carver high school

“The White Shadow” television series lasted a mere three seasons but Ken Howard’s portrayal of a white basketball coach at a predominantly black high school in Los Angeles will live on forever. Who can forget memorable characters like Hayward, Thorpe, Reese, Salami and Coolidge? Coach Reeves always treated Carver High School’s players fairly, regardless of the color of their skin, while imparting sage wisdom. The storylines were risky and topical during a time when network television actually took chances.

Dawson high school

The fictional LA high school attended by James Dean and Natalie Wood in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause is memorable for a lot of reasons. James Dean’s first day at school is etched in film history. Dean’s character accidentally steps on the school seal — a major faux pas — and tries too hard to fit in, which leads to a knife fight with the school bully. A trip to Griffith Observatory is the setting of the showdown that ultimately leads to the “chicken run,” where the bully pays the ultimate price.

Shermer high school

John Hughes’ 1985 film The Breakfast Club, set at Shermer High School in a Chicago suburb, offers an earnest look at how high school brainwashes students into believing that they are a “type.” The film’s greatest achievement is showing the audience the human connection that unites us all. As a 1985 high school graduate, The Breakfast Club will always be a defining moment for myself and all the members of Generation X.

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