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Top Ten Movies for Recent Grads

By Christopher Schonberger

Commencement season is coming to a close once again, and around the country important people have been getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to grace the Class of ‘09 with some measured words that will be forgotten

almost immediately.

But what happens when the graduation caps float back down to earth, the booze finally wears off, and you find yourself sitting in your childhood bedroom thinking, “Um, okay. What happens now?” At that point, it’s time to watch some MOVIES.

If you’re already lining up your Netflix queue for a marathon post-graduation R&R session, be sure to throw a couple of these into the mix. Some are inspirational, while others serve more as cautionary tales. All of them will fill in some of the gaps that your commencement speaker left out:

The Graduate (1967)
This is the ultimate graduation movie based on its name alone. And even though it came out ages ago, it tackles a timeless post-college conundrum: How do you find sex beyond the carnal conveniences of the dorm? Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) discovers his answer in the form of pop culture’s most famous cougars (Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson), but at what price? I guess the invaluable lesson of The Graduate is even if you’re feeling a little lost and disillusioned after college, you shouldn’t fornicate willy-nilly with older people. Because when you’ve got a generation gap staring you in the face, that’s tantamount to sleeping with the enemy.

Reality Bites (1994)
This film paved the way for the web-to-TV series Quarterlife, but thankfully it is much funnier and does not involve “vlogging.” Lelaina Pierce (Winona Ryder) graduates college, settles in Houston, and starts filming a mockumentary about life as twentysomethings. Her cast? Friends Troy (a wannabe musician; Ethan Hawke), Vicki (a Gap manager who thinks she might have AIDs; Janeane Garfofalo), and Sammy (a bloke struggling with his sexuality; Steve Zahn). When Lelaina meets a TV exec/interest who promises to get her film onto the air (Ben Stiller), she must choose between chilling with yuppies and keeping it real with grungy nihilists. Since keeping it real is essentially the greatest challenge of post-college life, this plot is pretty on point.

St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, and Demi Moore? Yeah, people, we're talking about the 80s…deal with it! Named after an extreme weather phenomenon, St. Elmo’s Fire takes a broad stroke to the challenges of the post-college transition, presenting seven central characters who are all struggling in their own unique ways. Billy is a recovering frat boy who can’t hold down a job. Kevin’s a depressed writer stuck scribing obits while trying to figure out LIFE in his free time. Wendy’s a rich virgin, so you know she’s got some issues to sort through. Anyway, you get the general idea. There’s a nice smorgasbord of lost souls, so you should be able to find at least one character you relate to. (Trivia: Estevez was also in The Breakfast Club playing a high school student in the same year that St. Elmo’s came out…talk about versatility!).

Into the Wild (2007)
Whoa, depressing! Yeah, I feel you—this film is mad depressing. But watch it for two reasons: 1) Hal Holbrook is amazing and will make you cry. 2) It teaches the important lesson that there really is such a thing as “reading too many books.” Post-grad life is all about balance—by obsessively reading Thoreau and hanging out by himself, Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) is extremely imbalanced (perhaps chemically so). While we can all agree that “selling out” and being materialistic are definitely two slippery slopes to avoid, hauling ass to the literally slippery slopes of Alaska might not be the best alternative.

Lost in Translation (2003)
Traveling after graduation is a time-honored tradition, and it can be a lot of fun when done right. But tagging along to Tokyo with your new husband whom you secretly resent? That’s just a bit depressing. While sitting around a hotel staring blankly at things, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) crosses paths with Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an aging movie star who no longer feels the magic. One is entering adulthood and feeling lost; the other is preparing for old age and feeling lost. Hopefully the “in-between” part is sort of fun? One thing that’s important to remember about this film is that Charlotte is a Yale graduate with a philosophy degree. It would be weird if she weren’t depressed.

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