Ladies and Brian, it all comes down to this. A month ago, we set out to find the best teen movie of all time. Through the irrefutable science of a single-elimination, NCAA-style tournament, we have been narrowing down the field week by week. And today, all your hard choices, Saved! vs. Empire Records, Easy A vs. Adventures in Babysitting, The Outsiders vs. Say Anything, come down to this final deathmatch.
In one corner of the ring, we have 10 Things I Hate About You. In the other, Clueless. Both are 90s cinematic juggernauts based on classic literature. Both feature high school cliques, dead(beat) moms, overbearing fathers, unnecessary musical numbers by real bands, improbable parties, spin-off TV series, and school administrations that make you fear for education in America. These two films basically hit up every teen movie cliché in the book, not because they were subscribing to the genre but because they helped shape it. In past rounds, they absolutely slaughtered every film in their path to victory, including three John Hughes films. But what will happen when they go up against each other?
Megan no h will be representing 10 Things in this deathmatch. Megan believes 10 Things is the best teen movie, hands down. Even her dad loves it, and together they wore out that VHS. Alix and her middle school BFF used to watch Clueless almost daily, and Alix can probably still recite the entire film from memory. Both ladies love both movies, but both KNOW that their respective favorite deserves to win.
But only you can decide the victor. May the odds be ever in your favor.
THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS
Megan: 3 of my favorite teen movies (10 Things, Get Over It, She’s The Man) are based on Shakespeare, whereas only one of my favorite teen movies (Clueless) is based on Austen. Numbers alone would have my vote sway toward Shakespeare.
Alix: Shakespeare’s awesome--I’m not going to argue with that. But Taming of the Shrew sucks. Seriously, have you ever seen that play? It’s a feminist’s nightmare. Katerina is all fierce and independent until the very end, when suddenly she’s like “Yay! I will marry Pertruchio and become a subservient housewife, because that is my womanly duty!”
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
What. the. actual. fuck. Billy.
10 Things does its best to gloss over this aspect of the source material, but I still find the ending extremely problematic. Kat finds out that Patrick was paid to date her, and then she just... forgives him? After she cries over some poetry and he gives her a guitar? I don’t buy it.
Emma, on the other hand, is great. Although Pride & Prejudice is my favorite Austen, I think Emma is a much better novel, and Alicia Silverstone captures Emma’s deliciously flawed and nuanced character perfectly.
Megan: Austen’s great, NO DENYING THAT. But what I like about Shakespeare adaptations is that people tend to do a lot more with them. Some of them are utterly unrecognizable. I just think there is a lot of variation with Shakespeare. With Austen, I feel like all the retellings are just the same story. Very few of them do anything different or unexpected (Clueless being for me, the one notable example). If I had only these two sets of source material to use to craft my own teen movies, I would have to pick Shakespeare.
Alix: This isn’t actually a discussion, right? I mean, Clueless actually shaped the world of fashion. Not only that, but I STILL wish I could wear some of Cher’s outfits two decades later (I can’t). If 10 things contributed to fashion trends in any way, it needs to be tried in court for its crimes against humanity.
Megan: It really isn’t. God bless 10 Things, but it came out in 1999 and 1999 was a terrible time for clothes and the people who had to wear them. I mean, the clothes in Clueless were ridiculous, but at least they reveled in the ridiculousness. 10 Things was all crop tops paired with high waisted pants. And Bianca wears white jeans on more than one occasion. And for christ sake, Kat, WEAR A DAMN BRA.
Alix: Oh, Bianca. Remember that angel shirt she wears to go sailing? SO TERRIBLE.
But Cher. I can only aspire to match my gum to my plaid mini-skirt/suit
Megan: Re-watching Clueless in high school actually inspired me to buy a black lace, see through shirt. So I do have to personally blame Cher for that.
Alix: Touchée. And I might hold Tai responsible for my tragic overall phase. Maybe Clueless's subsequent negative influence negates its initial aesthetic victory.
Alix: 10 Things may be eminently quotable, but Clueless wins this round, hands down. Like fashion, Clueless was a game-changer for slang. You might not even realize it because it’s so ingrained in your 90s psyche, but like half of the vocabulary you went around using was popularized or invented by this movie. The actors didn’t even know what they were saying half the time. Heckerling basically inceptioned all of us into using a different vernacular. 10 Things may be based on Shakespeare, but in terms of shaping language, Heckerling is The Bard of the 90s.
Megan: No denying which of the two was more influential. Clueless wins that crown without effort. But I will argue...is that really a good thing? Even nearly two decades later, I have not fully eradicated superfluous LIKES from my vocabulary. And every time a girl touches her thumbs together, puts her pointer fingers out and says “whatever”, God kills a puppy.
Alix: This is actually really difficult for me, because I LOVE both soundtracks. But I think I’m still going to have to side with Clueless on this one, and not just because I’m repping it here. Supergrass! The Mighty Mighty Bosstones! Celine Dion! And this scene:
It’s not just that the songs are good; it’s that they complement the film perfectly.
Megan: I didn’t really listen to the Clueless soundtrack, but I definitely cherished my burned (yes, I remember specifically that it was burned) copy of the 10 Things soundtrack. I adored the mix of poppy alt-rock. Sure there are a couple of duds on there, but the Letters to Cleo covers more than make up for that. And that Semisonic song is still my jam. Besides, 10 Things takes the cake for integrating more superfluous real band scenes than any other teen movie. Letters to Cleo play at the bar, at the PROM, and then ON THE SCHOOL ROOF at the end, for no other reason than it looks awesome.
Alix: I’ll admit that at one point, FNT was in my iTunes top 25. But I’m still siding with Clueless.
SETTING THE SCENE
Location, location, location!
Megan: California basically ruled 90s teen pop culture. From 90210 to Saved by the Bell, everything seemed to be about Southern California. As a person who grew up in the suburban midwest (which is about as far removed from that, albeit exaggerated, lifestyle), I felt like fictional Cali culture really did a number on people’s sense of reality. 10 Things was refreshing in that a much more alternative feel to it. Sure, it was still fictionalized, but everything seemed more relatable.
Alix: I’m actually going to agree with you here. Clueless definitely did Southern California best, but 10 Things wins for me for being different. Even if they were like 5-10 years late to the riot grrrl train and their clothes are hideous, it’s a refreshing change from the norm.
High School Caste System
Alix: Both these films’ caste systems are determined somewhat by their locale; you wouldn’t have your coffee kids or your white rastas in Beverly Hills, nor would you have your Persian Mafia in Seattle. I dunno, this one’s a draw for me.
Megan: I would agree! 10 Things has a little bit more social variety out of its main characters, which I think keeps it interesting.
Alix: So much scheming in both of these movies! And so much of it incompetent, also.
Megan: The scheming in 10 Things is definitely more elaborate, albeit more ridiculous as well. Basically, Bianca tricks Cameron into tricking Joey into paying for Patrick to trick Kat. Quite the complicated daisy chain! Not sure why any of these people thought they’d get away with it.
Alix: Cher’s scheming, by contrast, is a lot more cause and effect--point A to point B. Her scheming would be a lot more logical if it weren’t also straight up delusional sometimes. Then again, she also convinces her teachers to change all her grades and successfully plots to get Ms. Geist and Mr. Hall together. But also, she inadvertently turns sweet Tai into a monster.
I guess the winner of this category depends on your rubric. Are you voting based on rate of success and believability? Or maximum hilarity?
Alix: On one hand, we’ve got Cher’s sassy monologue and the world’s most spectacular collection of workout ensembles; on the other, Bianca inadvertently shoots the gym teacher in the ass. So there’s that.
Megan: Uhhh, I’m going to concede to you on this one. Bianca shooting the gym teacher is perhaps my least favorite part of the movie. It’s just so ridiculous that it really takes me out of the movie. Until you mentioned it, I’d forgotten about it because I actively work to repress my memory of it. Cher wins here, full stop.
Bogey Lowenstein’s vs. The Val Party
Alix: I just realized that both Kat and Tai concuss themselves on light fixtures at these parties. Seriously, IS THIS ACTUALLY THE SAME MOVIE?
I’ve always been somewhat mystified by the logistics of Bogey Lowenstein’s. How does Michael putting “Free Beer” on the flier magically translate to people showing up with kegs and DJ equipment? I’ve thrown a lot of parties in my life, and the only thing people seem to show up with are a million bottles of red wine or racks of Natty Light that then fester in the back of my fridge for the next several months. Although one time, somebody DID randomly show up with DJ equipment and set it up in my kitchen, so I guess I’ll let that one slide. Plus, the flier distribution in the stairwell is epic.
One thing I appreciate about the Val party is that it’s taken straight out of Emma. I only realized this like a year ago, but all those Christmas decorations are not just because a bunch of stoners don’t know what season it is, but because it is actually Christmastime. I love that Heckerling took this classy Jane Austen Christmas party and turned it into some drunk kid puking into a pool next to light-up candy canes. Tactical chunder ftw!
Megan: I enjoy both of these party scenes, especially because the parties in both instances are utter failures for the characters involved. Clueless wins points for realism. But Bogey’s party has two points for it. One, is that it’s a REVENGE party, which is basically the best kind of party. And two, it is Bogey Lowenstein’s Party. And Bogey Lowenstein is a ridiculous and wonderful fake name.
Alix: I also don’t think a better line has ever been uttered than “That must be Nigel with the brie!”
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Kat vs. Cher
Megan: On the one hand, Kat gave us angsty, no nonsense, feminist teen girls a fictional movie heroine to look up to. On the other hand, Kat can be really annoying, so...
Alix: Yes, what I love about both characters is how awful they can be. Cher is unbelievably self-involved, but Kat is so damn preachy and self-righteous. I like them both for their flaws, rather than in spite of them. I think I prefer Cher, however. Kat is more similar to teenage me, making her 1000x more cringeworthy.
Bianca vs. Tai
Alix: Bianca is the worst.
Megan: That is sort of true. But at least she was played by Larisa Oleynik, who is adorable and was Alex Mack and Dawn from the Baby-sitters Club movie. Plus, she had character growth, so we have to give her credit for that!
Alix: True, but you can’t give her points just because she’s Alex Mack. It's not like she can melt into a puddle or do anything cool whatsover.
Megan: And Tai is...uhhh, I dunno. She’s so ridiculous that sometimes I just want to hit her. Plus, I have a hard time forgiving her for that time she was way harsh to Cher.
Alix: In Tai’s defense, Bianca spends a significantly higher quotient of her movie being a heinous bitch than Tai does. And Tai is sweet and confused and insecure, normal teenage qualities that Cher manipulates for her own amusement. Cher kiiiinda deserves what she gets. Plus, “You’re a virgin who can’t drive,” is an amazing insult.
But Bianca does beat the shit out of Joey Donner, so I guess she redeems herself.
Cameron vs. Josh
Alix: Alright, we need to hot tub time machine this one because I feel that Clueless is going to lose this round simply because JGL plays Cameron. And while I LOVE JGL, and I even LOVED JGL way back when everyone was drooling over Heath, I think Josh should win this round. Cameron is cute and all, but his infatuation with Bianca is both obsessive and wholly superficial, which is a terrible combination. Josh is kind of a Baldwin, AND he knows Marky Mark.
Megan: I have a lot of love for Josh and a great deal of that is due to my current day love of Paul Rudd. But if we take this out of the fictional realm, I’ve got to argue that Paul and Cher’s relationship is fundamentally creepy, for two reasons:
1. STEP SIBLINGS. Now I know plenty of you will take the comments and say “but they’re not blood related!” Or “they were only even step siblings for a year or so. They’re ex-step-siblings, so it doesn’t even count!” And maybe even give me some anecdotal story about how you are living happily ever after with your ex-step-sibling. IRRELEVANT. It is still creepy. MY INCEST TABOO IS STRONG. But maybe even worse...
2. JOSH IS IN COLLEGE. What on earth is he doing dating a 16 year old!!?? When you’re in high school, you think dating a college guy would be super cool. And then one day you are IN college and you realize that high schoolers are babies and the guys you know in college who would date high school girls are the worst guys. There is usually a reason they aren’t dating people their own age. And for those of you who are going to say I’m being super judgemental, damn straight I am! Date people your own age. At least until you’re out of college, then whatever.
Anyway, those are my two VERY LARGE points against Josh. Which brings us to Cameron. I was a huge Cameron fan at the time, but even I didn’t have any idea he’s grow up to become this:
Cameron was sweet, cute and persistent (but not in a creepy way, because Bianca did, afterall, imply that she would date him if his schemes were successful.) The only negative for Cameron is that he likes Bianca. And I was nothing like Bianca. Cameron should have liked a girl like me!
Alix: I have to completely disagree in the case of Josh v. Cameron. First, in defense of Josh: I appreciate what you’re saying, but I think their relationship is as uncreepy as possible given the circumstances. In Emma, Mr. Knightley is 16 years older than Emma and has basically watched her grow up since she was a baby. Heckerling took that relationship and preserved the best parts of it--their banter, Josh’s unwillingness to put up with Cher’s bullshit and vice versa--and minimized the gross parts--the age difference, the sibling-esque relationship. And normally I pull a Fred Savage SO HARD when it comes to college/high school relationships, but I think Clueless needs that age difference for storytelling purposes. Cher’s character growth is dependent on her realizing how young and immature she’s been, and if there’s nobody older and wiser around to act as her foil, that transition would be much more difficult.
Moreover--and this is the dealbreaker for me--Josh’s interest in Cher is way more legit than Cameron’s interest in Bianca. Josh comes to like Cher despite her endless primping and mean girling, recognizing the awesome underneath that most people never acknowledge (including, at times, Cher herself). Cameron, on the other hand, wills Bianca's hidden depth into being based solely on his physical attraction and without any tangible evidence that Bianca is not as vapid as she outwardly seems. The second he sees her it is instalove, and he spends the rest of the film deluding himself into thinking she’s a better person than she is because he wants her to be something she’s not.
Since you’re invoking Future JGL against my wishes (those gifs are dirty tactics!), I’m going to further my argument in the same way. Cameron and Bianca is the pre-cursor to Tom and Summer. 500 Days of Summer is a movie that ladies like you and me LOVE to misinterpret because we love JGL so much. We paint Summer into some kind awful, man-eating villain simply because she’s not who Tom wants her to be. 10 Things is the same. Bianca may have used and abused Cameron to get her way, but Cameron does the same thing by transforming her into this fantasy dream girl that never existed. In short, Cameron should have left Bianca in his spank bank and moved on.
But yeah... both dudes are a little creepy.
Patrick vs. Travis
Alix: Ugh, I’m totally going to lose this round, aren’t I? Well, I’m still going to give it the old college try, because Travis deserves our love, too. Unlike Patrick, who, let’s be real, is KIND OF A DICK, Travis is never anything but super duper nice and sweet to Tai, even when she shits all over him following her dramatic brush with death at the mall.
Megan: Yeah, I mean, I love Travis. I really do. But he’s going up against Heath Ledger, who had the power to insta-panty melt women and men of all ages.
Alix: Fine. I’ll just make one more argument:
Ok, now everyone go vote for Patrick, leather pants and all.
Mandela vs. Dionne
Megan: Mandela is a funny enough character and I loves me some Susan May Pratt, but she’s really underdeveloped. She’s a bit of a caricature, which is fine for comedic effect. But would any of us actually want to be friends with Mandela? I mean, she talks about Shakespeare like he is real, living person. That kind of quirky would get old REAL FAST.
Alix: Aw, I love Mandela! But yeah, she’s shitballz crazy. And I hate how she lets Kat walk all over her, whereas Dionne is much more Cher’s equal than her minion. Plus, her hats are amazing.
Michael vs. Murray
Megan: It’s really hard to compare these two, since they don’t really function in the same role. Michael is basically Cameron’s spirit guide. I love that he knows everything about everyone, all the gossip and all the cliques. Basically, if I were a new kid in school, I could only hope I’d be so lucky as to make Michael as my first friend.
Alix: Michael is a delight. But Murray is often the voice of reason to Cher and Dionne's shenanigans, whereas Michael is as deeply entrenched in Delusion Land as all the other characters. Also,
Street slang is an increasingly valid form of expression. Most of the feminine pronouns do have mocking, but not necessarily misogynistic undertones.
But on the other hand,
What we need is a backer... Someone with money, who’s stupid.
Nobody vs. Christian
Alix: Christian doesn’t really have a counterpart in 10 Things, but we should still include him. How many 90s teen movies feature positive gay characters?
Megan: In 1995? Like, maybe zero? Sure, sassy gay friend has become a pernicious trope now, but in 1995 it was practically enlightened. I mean, no one even made a big deal of it or even wondered if he had AIDS. (Again, 1995.)
Elton vs. Joey
Alix: Ugh, they’re both so awful. How can we even decide which is worse? Joey is funnier, but Elton wins the creep award. I mean, he tries to woo ladies by singing along to his Cranberries CD in the car. No.
Megan: Yes, this category begs the question...are we judging who we like more or hate more? Joey is the funniest, but Elton is the most REAL. And I don’t mean that in a good way. The scene were he make-out assaults Cher, only to abandon her in a parking lot? Horrifying.
Alix: Ugh, yeah I don’t know what criteria we’re basing this vote on. I might have to side with Joey just because Elton is SO GROSS.
Chastity vs. Amber
Alix: I love Amber. Her outfits, her sass, her slow clap, everything. And I love that she and Cher are rivals, wherein they have all the same friends and attend all the same social events, but clearly despise each other. I think it’s better than the backstabbing bestie trope.
Megan: Whatever, Amber is a total Monet! Chastity is the better villain because she and Bianca were BFF before she chose Joey and a date to the prom over her friend.
Mr. Stratford vs. Mr. Horowitz
Megan: Ho, ho, ho, just hand over the trophy on this one. Mr. Stratford is basically perfection. There is a reason they took him over to the television show. He is utterly quotable. He even has his own imdb page of quotes. I will only leave you with this:
What's normal? Those damn... Dawson's river kids sleeping in each other's beds and what not? I've got news for you. I'm down, I've got the 411, and you are not going out and getting jiggy with some boy, I don't care how dope his ride is. Mamma didn't raise no fool.
Alix: No fucking way. Mr. Stratford is hilarious, but Mr. Horowitz wins my heart. He’s fiercely protective of Cher, but unlike Mr. Stratford, he also lets his daughter be her own person. Their relationship is the sweetest. I counter your quote with this:
Cher: I like this boy.
Cher: And he likes someone else.
Mel: How could that be?
Cher: I don't know, but I feel wretched.
Mel: Well, obviously this boy is a complete moron. You are the most beautiful girl in Beverly Hills. And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure I want you with a stupid fella like that.
Megan: But Mr. Stratford comes around in the end. He even pays for Kat to go to Sarah Lawrence, which is the most expensive college in America!
Mr. Morgan vs. Mr. Hall
Alix: Oooo, another toughie. I love Mr. Morgan, but come on. Wallace Shawn. It’s inconceivable that he could lose this round, amiright?
Megan: If you think I would fall victim to one of the classic blunders, you are wrong! Never go in against Wallace Shawn when DEATH is on the line! That said, Mr. Morgan is a bit of a misogynist. Mr. Hall, hands down.
Ms. Perky vs. Ms. Geist
Megan: Allison Janney is perfection and he basically steals every scene she is in. Plus, she is responsible for heralding an era of the sassy guidance counselor in future teen movies and television.
Alix: Ms. Geist is sweet, and I like that she’s not a cartoon character like Ms. Perky. But yeah. C. J. Cregg. You win.
Alix: At the end of the day, I Skechers-like 10 Things, but I Prada-backpack-love Clueless. But this is so much bigger than like or love, which are totally subjective. This is about which movie we’re going to crown The Greatest Teen Movie of All Time. And objectively, I would argue that Clueless is a better and more influential film. Clueless was not only genre defining, it was culture changing. And without Clueless, films like 10 Things might not even exist.
Megan: It’s hard to know what I could say that would change anyone’s mind at this point. I feel like most of us picked our favorite years ago. But if you have time, re-watch 10 Things. Bask in its glory. Let its beautiful joy wash over you.
Now that you've weighed all the arguments, it's time to take the movies as whole entities into consideration. Moment of truth: which movie should win Teen Movie Madness?
And yeah, the results are hidden, because we're evil. Muahahahahaha! Polling closes at Midnight, CST on Saturday, April 13, so get your vote in!