Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused is my most rewatchable movie: Richard Linklater’s teen-drinking/pot-smoking opus is like the opposite of a GEICO commercial — whenever I stumble across it while channel surfing, I’m unable to turn away. The movie is so invested in every member of its large ensemble cast that when that kegger in the woods finally materializes we care about every single one of the subplots that seamlessly intertwine. Most movies are lucky to get us to care about one or two characters — the film equivalent to a party where you know a couple of people and wind up desperately hanging on to them the entire night. But here is the kind of party where you know everyone and everyone knows each other, so every interaction is loaded with history and inside jokes and you feel like you’re actually connecting with other people instead of just getting drunk enough to create a fake intimacy.
Whether Dazed and Confused captures what it was really like to be a teenager in Texas in the 70s or merely filters it through gauzy layers of nostalgia is not for me to say, as I’ve never set foot in Texas or the 70s. But it’s also beside the point. Even if Dazed and Confused’s teenage existentialism is a tad bit fuzzy, it’s that fuzzy mixture of romanticism and honesty that every generation holds towards its adolescence. That’s the thing about the high school experience — we get older, but it stays the same. And that’s why Dazed and Confused speaks to students (and partiers) of any generation.
Get Him To The Greek
I wasn’t actually that big a fan of Get Him to the Greek (they lost me at the inexplicable three-way), but let the record state that it features an all-time great party scene. After smoking a sketchy drug cocktail known as a “Jeffrey,” Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, and a scene-stealing Diddy start tripping balls: Brand snorts an ant, Hill takes an adrenaline shot to the heart Pulp Fiction-style, and everyone becomes disturbingly fixated on a furry wall. An epic fight ensues and, best of all, it’s all set to “Come On Eileen.” Plus, Brand describes a long hallway as “Kubrickian.”
Eyes Wide Shut
Eyes Wide Shut’s infamous (and utterly terrifying) cult orgy has to make the list, if only because it features so many key ingredients of a great party: formalwear, beautiful décor, costumes, anonymous sex, and vague implications of satanic murder. Eyes Wide Shut masterfully captures the essence of that party from your worst nightmares – the one where you’ve trespassed without invitation, so you must tiptoe around the periphery in constant fear of being exposed as an unwanted outsider. For me, that usually means dreaming I’m back in high school and have inadvertently wandered into the “cool kids” party, but the film depicts an even more agonizing situation: you are Tom Cruise and you’ve foolishly embroiled yourself in a pagan cult that seems very, very down with O.P.P. Uh oh.
The best party in Superbad isn’t the one that high school seniors Seth and Evan are dying to go to, but the one that they mistakenly end up at along the way. Isn’t that always the case? Hosted by the underrated Kevin Corrigan (after bit roles in several Scorsese movies, this, Pineapple Express, and an appearance in a great Community episode, Corrigan entered my personal “Hey, It’s That Guy!” Hall of Fame), it’s the kind of house party that turns out to be way more intense than you expected: the crowd is a little rougher, you’re pretty sure a fight might break out at any moment, and people are doing drugs that you thought only existed in Scruff McGruff commercials. Sure enough, before you know it, a bunch of scary looking dudes are forcing you to sing tender 60s pop rock, somebody perioded on your leg, and all hell breaks loose.
“We’re the party brigade — and we’re here to play some drinking games.” It’s as lame as it sounds, and that’s the point; Landfill and his Broken Lizard buddies seem a little too old (and weird) to be partying and playing drinking games with a bunch of college-aged kids. But if you had any doubts, they’re surely erased when the nebbish Fink successfully completes the dreaded “Strikeout” by taking a bong hit, then chugging a beer and taking a shot before blowing out the smoke. In a lesser comedy, the overmatched Fink probably would’ve projectile vomited or something, but here, in a stroke of comedic genius, he merely notes, “…That’s…not bad at all…” while slowly laying down on the kitchen floor mid-party and falling asleep.
Boogie Nights is filled with complex set-pieces that allow Paul Thomas Anderson to follow his ensemble cast in unbroken shots through glorified 70s landscapes like garish night clubs and porno-rich L.A. backyards. One of the most memorable is the 1979 New Year’s Eve party held by porn director Jack Horner (a spectacular Burt Reynolds), where the optimism and success of the movie’s first half takes a nightmarish turn into the horrific grime of the second half. The signs of impending destruction for Dirk Diggler and his friends are readily apparent at the party: more cocaine than a Tony Montana sneeze; ominous warnings about the future of porn and its unglamorous transition from film to video; Philip Seymour Hoffman kissing Mark Wahlberg on the lips; and a terminally cuckolded Little Bill (William H. Macy) shooting his wife and whatever dude she happened to be banging. In a touching flourish, he then blows his own brains out with a sly smile as the clock strikes midnight and the title card flashes “80s.” People say that New Year’s Eve is the holiday that always disappoints, but here’s one that’s thankfully more Budd Dwyer than Dick Clark.
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge
I perused some other Best Movie Party Scenes on the internet before putting the finishing touches on this list and, needless to say, I’m the only one who included A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Hell, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who even remotely likes this movie – and man, oh man, do I like this movie – which I’ll take as continued evidence that I’m the only sane person in an insane world. What else could explain your collective apathy for Freddy Krueger terrorizing an 80s pool party by turning it into a boiling, hellacious inferno? Although ostensibly just a mindless slasher flick, the undeniable subtext of Nightmare 2 is main character Jesse’s coming to terms with his homosexuality (No, I’m not kidding – check out this telling YouTube video … or this one…or this one…hell, just search “Nightmare on Elm Street 2 gay”). Freddy, and the various nightmares he inflicts on Jesse, represent both Jesse’s fear of coming out and the trauma caused by repressing his true desires (Jesse keeps awkwardly referring to Krueger by screaming, “He’s inside me!”). When Jesse’s female crush tries to get up in his business at the pool party, his tongue gets all weird and gray (don’t ask), so instead of making it with her he decides to flees to his bro Grady’s house for a sleep over. At this point, as Jesse becomes unable to control his libido, Freddy literally bursts out of his skin, disembowels Jesse’s male love interest, then leaves and goes HAM on the pool party. HOW DID THIS NOT WIN ALL OF THE OSCARS.
Rock critics are obsessed with authenticity; so too is Almost Famous, a movie about an aspiring 70s rock critic and the arena rock scene. Authenticity and success clash after Russell (Billy Crudup), guitarist for the fictional band Stillwater, gets into a heated argument with his bandmates. Fighting over such banal topics like new t-shirts and their image, Russell ditches them and leaves on a search for what he calls “real people.” Thanks to his popularity as a rock star, he quickly finds a high school party in Topeka, Kansas – and what could be more real, more genuine, or more innocent than that?
Unfortunately, Russell finds that even at an innocuous house party filled with guileless teenagers, it’s nearly impossible to sincerely connect with others. Although we associate parties with friends and good times, they are only as effective as the social lubricants provided for the guests. Desperate, Russell attempts to forge a connection with these adoring high schoolers through the aid of beer, pot, and acid. But, the resulting bond is just as disingenuous as the materialistic drive that keeps his band together, the very thing that drove him to escape in the first place.
In one of the movie’s funniest exchanges, Russell attempts to explain his frustration to one of the stoned teens throwing the party, only to have his point sail completely over the teen’s head:
Russell: You, Aaron, are what it’s all about. You’re real. Your room is real. Your friends are real. Real, man, real. You know? Real. You’re more important than all the silly machinery. Silly machinery. And you know it! In eleven years it’s going to be 1984, man. Think about that!
Aaron (Stoned Teen): Wanna see me feed a mouse to my snake?
The scene climaxes with a tripped-out Russell standing on the roof of the home, directly above a beckoning swimming pool. Summoning some poetic last words before taking a potentially fatal plunge, the best he can come up with are “I dig music!” and “I’m on drugs!” In his effort to find something real, Russell is forced to scrape the very bottom of the barrel. Who hasn’t?
Animal House – the Citizen Kane of party films. I would’ve been viciously attacked in the comments if I hadn’t included this classic (I’ll probably still catch heat from a bunch of outraged House Party 2 fans or something), but I include Animal House not merely as a concession to convention, but because the toga party thrown by the Deltas is still as badass as ever. First of all, it’s chiefly responsible for making toga parties such a widespread phenomenon; unless the bottomless parties from Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay ever catch on, that’s a pretty incomparable feat. Secondly, it features Otis Day & the Knight’s performance of “Shout,” which has inspired millions of partygoers to writhe across semen-encrusted frat floors for decades, most likely resulting in an untold number of accidental inseminations. Finally, it created two of the most ubiquitous party movie tropes: somebody sleeping with a middle-aged woman (usually either the wife of the dean or the mother of a friend) and somebody hooking up with a girl who turns out to be unconscionably young (in this case, 13). Statutory rape, lol!
The Rules of the Game
Going into The Rules of the Game, I knew a few things: it’s considered one of the greatest films of all-time (#4, according the famous Sight & Sound poll), it’s French, it’s from 1939, it’s about rich socialites, and it’s often described as a “comedy of manners.” In other words, it’s one of the movies you know you should see but never do because, hey, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge is on HBO7. Anyway, when I finally saw it, I found myself admiring it, but not really totally getting into it, and also not totally sure that I wasn’t just convincing myself that I admired it so that I wouldn’t feel like a mouth-breathing philistine. And then about two-thirds of the way through there’s this party and SHIT GETS REALLY REAL. It’s amazing — the palpable undercurrent of crushing despair and hedonistic longing that simmers for the first hour just completely erupts. As the camera burrows its way through the unending rooms of a beautiful country estate, we observe an epidemic of unseemly behavior — everyone is drunkenly making out, yet no one is making out with the person they want to be making out with, so they all start fighting, and eventually some people get shot. And it’s beautiful and hilarious and tragic and it’s a movie about aristocratic French snobs from the 30s that says more about the alluring emptiness of today’s stereotypical American college experience than any other movie I’ve ever seen.