“Election” (1999) dir. Alexander Payne / scr. Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor


One of the most brilliant comedies of the last 25 years, “Election” is the kind of film Stanley Kubrick would have made had he ever made a high school comedy. However, as many other terrific films (“Citizen Ruth,” “About Schmidt,” “Sideways”) have confirmed, Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor are in a class by themselves.

The central plot centers around a high school election, but is actually a very dark satire of American politics in general. What’s so great about “Election” is how you can’t trust anyone in this film. With the notable exceptions of Chris Klein’s character Paul and his sister Tammy (played by Jessica Campbell), almost all of the characters are unreliable narrators. The way Payne juxtaposes each character’s narration with how their character actually behaves is consistently hilarious and unnerving.

With the exception of her role in 1996’s “Freeway,” Reese Witherspoon’s characterization of the ruthless Tracy Flick is her absolute finest acting performance. The film also contains Matthew Broderick’s all-time best acting performance as the high school history teacher in charge of running the election. He is the ultimate unreliable narrator of this film and his portrayal of a teacher in his late 30s who is secretly bitter about his fate while his students move on and move up is exceptional.

Easily the best film MTV ever slapped their logo onto.

“Freeway” (1996) dir. Matthew Bright


At what point does an exploitation film become an art film? Take for example, the nasty, but incredibly fun suspense thriller “Freeway” from 1996. “Freeway” updates the “Little Red Riding Hood” story to modern times, but the heroine is not the sweet, innocent girl she is in the fairy tale. While Reese Witherspoon’s teenage character Vanessa Lutz has been dealt a lot of bad cards in life, make no mistake, Vanessa is really f–king scary! Even scarier is Kiefer Sutherland’s child psychologist Bob Wolverton (Wolverton = wolf, get it?) who moonlights as a serial killer of hitchhikers and prostitutes. Anyway, Bob picks up the wrong girl with Vanessa and as the attached trailer shows, turns the tables on Bob. Lots of trouble ensues …

Make no mistake, this is one sleazy tale, but it’s gleefully sleazy and doesn’t pretend otherwise. However, the acting (especially by Witherspoon and Sutherland), script, and direction are all top notch. And it proves that just because you’re making an exploitation film, it doesn’t mean that it has to be crappy. It’s too bad Bright’s directing career didn’t take off after “Freeway.” Let’s just say he’s made some “interesting” choices since then. And while the trailer is fairly cheesy, this is by no means is indicative of the quality of the film. If you have the stomach for it, “Freeway” is a wonderfully sick thrill ride.