Battle Royale (2000)

Before there was The Hunger Games, there was Battle Royale. Many of us remember high school as a war zone, and in this ludicrous, disturbing, fascinating Japanese film, from crime-epic master Kinji Fukasaku, the feeling is made literal: in some near future on the verge of youth-gang social collapse, Japan’s fascist government randomly selects a class of teens and strands them on an isolated island with one imperative: that they kill each other until one student is left standing. Battle Royale, a very emotional film (try to find a Japanese or Korean film about high school that isn’t), and the kids’ catalog of slights, betrayals, ostracisms, jealousies, and clique-creation becomes, suddenly, a matter of homicidal payback and adolescent prairie justice. You think you had it bad.

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Heathers (1989)

A massively clever, thick-as-a-brick screenplay by Daniel Waters gave this teen satire plenty of ground to tear up—it mockingly endorses, among other things, in-school murder, terrorism, and teen suicide, while dishing homosexuality, teachers, parents, football, and bulimia—all in fun, of course. Winona Ryder’s wary clique-follower hangs with the cool, big-haired girls of 1980s Westerberg High (named after Paul, famed lead singer of the Replacements), and has her homicidal fantasies realized by new kid Christian Slater (doing a killer Jack Nicholson). Conceptually Heathers is outlandish, right up to the climactic bomb, but it’s also endlessly inventive, line for slangy line, and the feeling of teen social crisis is there.

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Real Genius (1985)

Real Genius is a supremely silly 1980s teen comedy about a private high school for scientific geniuses, featuring a fantastically zingy Val Kilmer as the senior class’s reigning brain, who has already decided that being smart will not prevent him from being a complete clown. As the new kid in town, Gabe Jarret is too convincingly awkward.

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

English: Al Gore's Hearing on Global Warming
English: Al Gore’s Hearing on Global Warming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moon about penguins and parrots all you like, but An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore’s dissertation on global warming, sets up the big environmental picture, and gets the sirens going. No matter what kind of gag orders are placed on using the words “climate change,” the burden of unassailable evidence says the wheels have already been set in motion for making our planet essentially uninhabitable and no amount of corporate or political prevarication will make that fact go away.

March of the Penguins (2005)

March of the Penguins
March of the Penguins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To date the second-largest-grossing documentary ever made (after Fahrenheit 9/11), this French-made, Morgan Freeman–narrated tribulation observes the Antarctic emperor penguins as they traverse miles of open ice to mate, lay eggs, and hatch chicks. Fascinating for at least a while, March of the Penguins also indulges in cutesy music cues, anthropomorphic stereotypes, and hilarious assumptions about the feelings of inexpressive marine wildlife.

The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002)

Easily the most globally integrated entry in the postmod New Cartoon Wave, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, about a globetrotting, dysfunctional family of wildlife documentarians, made for a fairly rote feature, in which poachers are battled and defeated. Still, there’s no denying the charm of bespectacled, braces-ridden, homely wild child Eliza (Lacey Chabert), who can speak to animals—and who emerges as one of the most stirring heroines in contemporary media. With Tim Curry.

The Bear (1988)

Ursus arctos middendorffi /kodiak bear/ Kodiakbär
Ursus arctos middendorffi /kodiak bear/ Kodiakbär (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A French film made with minimal dialogue and dubbed into scores of languages, The Bear is a zoological odyssey that follows a real orphan Kodiak cub who latches onto a full-grown male and attempts to steer clear of hunters. Tremendous unspoiled locales (Canada, the Italian Alps), cute animals, and at least one dramatic confrontation between man and animal that’ll make your eyes bulge.

The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971)

Film poster for The Hellstrom Chronicle - Copy...
Film poster for The Hellstrom Chronicle – Copyright 1971, Cinema 5 Distributing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Will insects inherit the earth? Of course they will, eventually, but this feverish quasidocumentary, narrated by a fictional scientist played by Lawrence Pressman, makes the case that it’ll happen sooner rather than much later, since bugs are shown to be many times tougher and more adaptable than any other life on the planet. The facts are disquieting by themselves, but The Hellstrom Chronicle whips up a frenzy of entophobia with galling sequences of insect warfare and predation. Yuk.