All-Time Greatest Teen Flicks The Talk of the Nation Summer Movie Awards continue with our latest genre: teen movies. From classics like American Graffiti to mainstream offerings like Mean Girls, see what tops our voters' picks.
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All-Time Greatest Teen Flicks

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All-Time Greatest Teen Flicks

All-Time Greatest Teen Flicks

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described as a terrorist attack the killing of four Israeli Arabs by a Jewish extremist. The killer opened fire inside a bus; an angry crowd then killed the gunman. And here in the United States, two former employees of a pro-Israel lobbying organization were indicted on charges that they conspired to obtain an disclose classified US defense information over a five-year period. You can hear details on those stories, and of course, much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow it's "Science Friday," and guest host Joe Palca will look to the heavens to learn more about the mission of the Mars rover and even further out the discovery of a possible 10th planet whose size puts Pluto to shame. That's all tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION/"Science Friday" with guest host Joe Palca.

And now it's time for this week's installment of the TOTN movie awards.

Mr. MATTHEW BRODERICK: (As Ferris Bueller) It was a time when school was my last priority.

Mr. BEN STEIN: (As Economics Teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") Bueller. Bueller.

Mr. BRODERICK: A time when adults were the enemy.

Mr. JAMES DEAN: (As Jim Stark in "Rebel Without a Cause") You're tearing me apart.

Unidentified Woman #1: And my peers were almost as bad.

Ms. AMANDA SEYFRIED: (As Karen in "Mean Girls") `You think you're really pretty.'

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, I don't know.

Ms. SEYFRIED: So if you're from Africa, why are you white?

Unidentified Woman #2: It was the time of the TOTN movie awards.

CONAN: Well, if you haven't guessed it, teen movies is our category today. All week we've received e-mails nominating your favorites--everything from "Heathers" to "Harold and Maude." We'd still like to hear from you. What's your favorite teen movie? Give us a call: (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail at Our cinematic guide Murray Horwitz joins us again to mediate today's debate over the best teen movie. We wouldn't want to get things too catty. He's director and COO of the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre and Cultural Center here in the Washington area, and he's with us today in Studio 3A.

Murray, nice to have you back.

Mr. MURRAY HORWITZ (American Film Institute): It's always good to be back, Neal. Thanks.

CONAN: So what's a teen movie?

Mr. HORWITZ: Well, I think it depends on when you were a teen.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: Because what one generation considers a teen movie is different from what anoth--in my case, I think of "Birth of a Nation" as a terrific teen movie that sort of capsulates a lot of my childhood. But it obviously has in it the things that make that very magic, tough, wonderful, miserable age what it is. Conflict--things that actually make for good movies. Conflict and uncertainty and a lot of choices, and also characters who, as one college professor of mine said, are at an age where they take themselves more seriously than they'll ever again take themselves in life.

CONAN: Yet aren't teen movies best appreciated by those who are not quite teen-agers yet themselves and still aspiring toward it, or maybe those nostalgic, looking back to, you know, Judy and Mickey and `Hey, let's put on a show.'

Mr. HORWITZ: That's right. It's funny. When you started that question, I was thinking of the adults looking at--`Gee, Margaret, is that what these young people are really like?' And I think a lot of teen movies really are targeted in a kind of voyeuristic way to older folks. But I didn't think about the teen wanna-bes--`Gee, I want to be as miserable and substance-abusing and confused as those people up on the screen.' I think that's true.

CONAN: The first teen movie I think I saw--boy, this is going to date me, but I was not a teen-ager yet. "Bernardine" with Pat Boone.

Mr. HORWITZ: Wow. Of course.

CONAN: "Love Letters in the Sand." Who could possibly forget. But you know, I don't think any of those other debaucheries were in it, but I know he did tragically run away and join the Air Force.

Mr. HORWITZ: He did, which was, you know, in the mid-1950s, you know, tantamount to debauchery.

CONAN: I think the same as going to Paris in the '20s.

Mr. HORWITZ: It's true.

CONAN: I'm sure. What was your seminal teen movie?

Mr. HORWITZ: It's--there's no question about it. "The Blob." And people say "The Blob"?

CONAN: That's a horror movie.

Mr. HORWITZ: It's--well...

CONAN: Or a monster movie.

Mr. HORWITZ: A monster movie, not a horror movie, and it's interesting because this is across genre--that is to say, in fact, my filmmaker son said, `Teen movies aren't a genre.' You know, and there are musicals that have been teen movies.

CONAN: "Grease."

Mr. HORWITZ: I mean, "Grease" is--right.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: Horror movies like "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer," and "Blair Witch Project" that are really--that are teen movies, but also--I mean, there is that moment--we're talking about the formula movies in certain ways. But the formula changes from generation to generation, and certain--one that I think has been around, though, for quite a long time is that moment never better expressed than when it was in "The Blob" when the teens who are thought by the adults--who are dissed by the adults, they're lay-abouts, they're good-for-nothings, and they bind together to save the town and to save the world, and it's great.

CONAN: Yeah. Yeah. If you think about it, I guess "Back to the Future" is a teen movie.

Mr. HORWITZ: And it's true. It's true. And teens are usually ahead to the past, but you know, it's true.

CONAN: Well, let's now turn to one of our listeners. Colleen Balkan(ph) joins us on the line from Madison, Connecticut.

And it's nice to have you on the program. Colleen? Oh, we don't have Colleen up yet. Let's get a listener on the line, and this'll be Chris. Chris, calling from Cleveland, Ohio.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I love your show.

CONAN: Oh, thanks very much.

CHRIS: I wanted to comment that I grew up in the late '90s when I was a teen-ager. And a lot of the teen movies that came out that were on the big screen were just--they were no good, they were boring, they were formulaic, they didn't speak to us at all. And for me and my group of friends, you know, who grew up in the suburbs, to find "The Breakfast Club," it was just really phenomenal, the characters were great, it was humorous, it was touching--all-time best teen movie. Thank you so much.

CONAN: We happen to have a clip from "The Breakfast Club." Let's listen in.

(Soundbite of "The Breakfast Club")

Mr. PAUL GLEASON: (As Principal Richard Vernon) You're not fooling anybody, Bender. The next screw that falls out is going to be you.

Mr. JUDD NELSON: (As John Bender) Eat my shorts.

Mr. GLEASON: What was that?

Mr. NELSON: Eat--my--shorts.

Mr. GLEASON: You just bought yourself another Saturday, Mister.

Mr. NELSON: Oh, I'm crushed.

Mr. GLEASON: You just bought one more right there.

Mr. NELSON: Well, I'm free the Saturday after that. Beyond that, I'm going to have to check my calendar.

Mr. GLEASON: Good.

CONAN: Ah, Bender, a few screws loose. Where did they get the name for that robot in that animation? Ah, anyway. I'm just speculating here. That was a pretty terrific movie.

Mr. HORWITZ: Well, it was, and Chris has put his finger right on it. It's really not a--coincidence that our first caller has fingered a John Hughes movie. But I might take issue with Chris in a couple of ways. The first is that he talks about movies not speaking to our generation; they were formulaic. Formulas can speak to a generation in certain issues, and sometimes very successfully. And the other thing about that is John Hughes really with that and his other movies, "Sixteen Candles," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Pretty in Pink," I mean, they redefined the teen movie and re-established arguably the new formula because, you know, it had teen angst, it had these oddball outsiders, as you point out, Neal, and you know, he sympathized with the geeks and the misfits mostly. He even managed to humanize and sympathize with a jock, which is--for a '90s teen film is no small accomplishment.

CONAN: Well, we do have Colleen Balkan now on the line with us from Madison, Connecticut.

Thanks very much for joining us today.

Ms. COLLEEN BALKAN (Listener): Hi.

CONAN: And I know you have a nominee.

Ms. BALKAN: I do. My favorite is "Sixteen Candles."

CONAN: And why is that?

Ms. BALKAN: Well, it took me awhile to come up with why it's my favorite because I'm so familiar with this movie. I've seen it probably 30 or 40 times that it's--I had to take a step back and sort of think again why did I like it in the first place. And I think that it's because it does have realistic characters in it, although there are some exaggerated characters in exaggerated situations. There are a lot of things you can relate to as a teen-ager, but ultimately what I thought of was the ending of the movie, the last few minutes that I can just remember my friends and I rewinding and replaying over and over and over again. Every single time we watched it sort of swooning and sighing over, you know, the girl gets the hot jock at the end.

CONAN: Well, let's listen to a clip from "Sixteen Candles."

(Soundbite of "Sixteen Candles")

Mr. ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL: (As Farmer Ted) You like Jake? Jake's my boy. I just talked to Jake in the gym. He asked me about you.

Ms. MOLLY RINGWALD: (As Samantha Baker) Did not.

Mr. HALL: He did too. He asked me what you were like?

Ms. RINGWALD: Oh, my--if you're lying I'll beat the crap out of you.

Mr. HALL: I'm not lying.

Ms. RINGWALD: Oh, my God. What should I do?

CONAN: Well, any flashbacks, Colleen?

Ms. BALKAN: Yes.

CONAN: I do have to ask. How old were you when you saw it?

Ms. BALKAN: Probably about 15 or so.

CONAN: Ah, ha, ha.

Mr. HORWITZ: Bull's eye. Colleen, I want to ask you. If you've seen it 30 to 40 times, how many times do you think you saw it in the theater?

Ms. BALKAN: I probably never--as far as I can remember, I did not see it in the theater.


Mr. HORWITZ: See, and to me, that's a big point. We have to remember that when old fogies like me saw, you know, "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Rock Around the Clock" and "Blackboard Jungle," we only saw these films once or twice until later, when we were no longer teen-agers and we were watching them on television.

CONAN: On the late, late show, part two.

Mr. HORWITZ: Right. And waxing nostalgic about five years ago. But the truth of the matter is that your generation and since the '80s, people have had home video and so they've memorized these films. They've seen them dozens of times and they've really become not only teen movies; they've become teen age nowadays. People live their lives through these movies.

Ms. BALKAN: Yeah, I mean, I used to entertain friends in college by just reciting dialogue from the movie because I knew it so well.

CONAN: I could only do that from, oh, "Casablanca" and a few hundred others, but anyway...

Mr. HORWITZ: And I do the spoken dialogue from "Birth of a Nation."

CONAN: There you go. That's hard to do. You'll be going to mime school for many years. Anyway, Colleen, thanks very much. We appreciate your time.

Ms. BALKAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Colleen Balkan listens to TALK OF THE NATION on WSHU in Madison, Connecticut. We have another listener on the line: Jordana Fornier Dalonial(ph)--am I pronouncing that right?

Ms. JORDANA FORNIER BALONIAL (Listener): Close enough. Fornier Balonial.

CONAN: All right. We missed an N in there. She joins us from Arlington, Virginia.

And it's nice to have you on the show.

Ms. BALONIAL: Thank you so much for having me.

CONAN: So what's your favorite teen movie?

Ms. BALONIAL: My favorite teen movie is the movie "Mean Girls," which came out last year.

CONAN: And why is that so special to you?

Ms. BALONIAL: Well, I just feel that it's, you know, just such a satire of teen-age life that it basically encompasses every single aspect of being a teen-ager, being in high school or being a teen-ager in general.

CONAN: Ah, let's listen to a bit from "Mean Girls."

(Soundbite of "Mean Girls")

LIZZY CAPLAN: (As Janis Ian) There are two kinds of evil people. People who do evil stuff and people who see evil stuff being done and don't try to stop it.

DANIEL FRANZESE: (As Damian) Does that mean I'm morally obligated to burn that lady's outfit? Oh, my God, that's Miss Norbury.

CAPLAN: Oh, I love seeing teachers outside of school. It's like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's funny. That's funny, Jordana.

Ms. BALONIAL: Have--you've never seen the movie?

CONAN: I've never seen the movie.

Ms. BALONIAL: Oh, it's a great movie. It's very sharp and witty and funny, and it's, you know, basically talks about--the movie in itself is almost like, you know, a screen sensation of the cesspool that is, you know, being a teen-ager, those rocky years of going into high school and trying to grow up and trying to figure out who you are. And you know, I recently saw this movie, certainly, like, well after I'd been out of high school, and I just--you know, it's so easy to identify with so many of the characters in it.

Mr. HORWITZ: I just want to thank Jordana for naming not only a comedy because one of the things to think about with teen movies are the ones that are comedies, the ones that are real strong dramas and the ones that are in between, but also a satire. And this was written by the redoubtable Tina Fey, if I'm not incorrect.


Mr. HORWITZ: And she's terrific and she manages to say some very, very serious things in a very hysterical movie, and we actually showed the movie at our theater at AFI and the audience mostly of younger women and teen-age girls was--felt just the way you did, Jordana. I mean, they were just--this was a bull's eye movie. This is one went right to the heart of a lot of people.

CONAN: But comedy--like "Clueless," for example.

Mr. HORWITZ: Right, and then there are those sort of in-between--I mean, you know, with the John Hughes films we talked about "Breakfast Club" and--which is sort of in-between and maybe "Sixteen Candles." You mentioned "Donnie Darko." There are some incredibly strong, powerful dramas that are more contemporary movies. Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" actually I think won a major prize at the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years ago. And "Kids," which is another movie--very, very strong drama, but then on the other hand, you have, you know, "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," which is a terrific teen movie.

CONAN: Whoa.

Mr. HORWITZ: You have all these other--some--one of our programmers suggested, look, "American Pie" is a very good teen movie. And there's something to be said for that.

CONAN: Jordana, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. BALONIAL: Well, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

CONAN: Thanks very much again. We're talking about best teen movie ever.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Murray, here's an e-mail we got from Denault--I hope I'm pronouncing that correct. `I have to submit "Rushmore" as the best teen movie ever. The film's final scene, shot to the tune of the faces--ooh, la, la--is far and away the most cathartic teen movie moment I've ever experienced and wraps up a beautiful film with warmth and grace. "Rushmore" doesn't aim for laughs and panders to no demographic. It's a simple portrayal of a simple teen-ager and the difficulties he faces trying to find his way. No gimmicks, no silliness. Also, this movie put Bill Murray on the map as a legit actor.'

Mr. HORWITZ: Yeah. I was all with Denault all the way through that, and it's funny. I'm trying to ev--you asked me to moderate or mediate because I'm so well-known for my moderation. This is a rare Wes Anderson film, and it's one I didn't particularly care for, but I understand why so many people consider it great. I think that Bill Murray was a very good actor; the fact that much of what he was doing was comedy doesn't not make him a serious actor. But it's true, and Denault also puts his finger on something else, which is music. It's one of the opportunities that teen movies affords filmmakers are to use real contemporary music, where it's, you know, Bill Haley & The Comets in 1956 or, you know, Nine Inch Nails. What did I just see that had Nine Inch Nails in it? Anyway, they--and that's already an old group. What am I talking about? But with--the images that appeal to filmmakers and visually teen movies tend to be great, with fashion and cars and all that stuff.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: But also with music. They're terrific and they do things that other movies don't do.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail from Roger Spellmer(ph) in Chennai, India. Could be Indiana there. No, it could be India too.

Mr. HORWITZ: Yeah, you know.

CONAN: `"American Graffiti"--why? Because it's about nothing. Driving around on Saturday night in the United States, but it's about so much more because it captures that era of innocence before Saturday nights became hard-core. Second choice, "Summer of '42," the ultimate coming-of-age movie--thoughtful, touching and so elegantly filmed and told.' Well, of those two, well, we have a clip from "American Graffiti."

Mr. HORWITZ: That's right.

(Soundbite of "American Graffiti")

Mr. RICHARD DREYFUSS: (As Curt Henderson) Quick. Quick. Hang a right.

Mr. RON HOWARD: (As Steve Bolander) What? Why?

Mr. DREYFUSS: Steven, cut over to G Street. I just saw a vision. I saw a goddess. Come on. You gotta catch up to her.

Unidentified Actor #1: Sandy(ph), right?

Ms. CINDY WILLIAMS: (As Laurie Henderson) Come on, Curt. We can't be spending half the night chasing girls down for you.

Unidentified Actor #2: Boring.

Mr. DREYFUSS: I'm telling you, this was the most perfect, dazzling creature I've ever seen. God.

Mr. HOWARD: Forget it.

Mr. DREYFUSS: She spoke to me. She spoke to me right through the window. I think she said, `I love you.'

CONAN: A movie much beloved by radio people as well...

Mr. HORWITZ: Right.

CONAN: ...for its portrayal of the great Wolfman Jack.

Mr. HORWITZ: (Imitating Wolfman) Oh, no Wolfman likes it. Yeah, and I'm so grateful to Roger for bringing this one up because that's one that doesn't appear in a lot of lists, and interesting because it was not a contemporaneous teen movie. It's a teen movie made in the early '70s about the late '50s or early '6--well, actually the early '60s I think, and launched a number of careers: Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss. And how could it be about nothing with Suzanne Somers and the T-Bird?

CONAN: And there is one more teen movie we want to get to. This, from, well, "Rebel Without a Cause."

(Soundbite of "Rebel Without a Cause")

Mr. DEAN: Do you live here or don't you?

Ms. NATALIE WOOD: (As Judy) Who lives?

Mr. DEAN: Hey, where's Dawson High?

Ms. WOOD: At University and 10th.

Mr. DEAN: Oh. Thanks.

Ms. WOOD: You want to carry my books?

Mr. DEAN: I got my car. You wanna go with me?

Ms. WOOD: I go with the kids.

Mr. DEAN: Yeah. Yeah, but...

CONAN: One of only three movies made by the great James Dean, and immortal.

Mr. HORWITZ: Immortal, and as the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic for The Washington Post, Stephen Hunter, says, this defined the teen-ager and maybe forever.

CONAN: And appropriate, our topic next week: the movie with the best car chase ever.

Mr. HORWITZ: I can't wait.

CONAN: "French Connection." "Bullitt." What is it going to be?

Mr. HORWITZ: "Bullitt."

CONAN: Murray Horwitz is director and COO of American Film Institute's Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. He was nice enough to join us here in Studio 3A. He'll be back next week...

Mr. HORWITZ: With the Keystone Kops.

CONAN: With the Keystone--'course, it's gotta be--oh, man. What is it? Send your nominees:

It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

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