For decades, filmmakers have been using the university as the optimal setting for microcosmic character studies. It only makes sense, as college is an atmosphere of perceived freedoms under actual limitations, populated by people just beginning to know themselves. The 1990's were pretty dense years for college movies. I humbly propose that the following are the best among them. PCU (1994) Anyone who was alive and socially conscious in the early part of the 90's can remember what it was like to watch the good intentions of the Political Correctness movement derail into an unnavigable mess of slogans and dogma. Perhaps no place felt this shift more deeply or thoroughly than college campuses all over America. Hart Bochner's PCU makes a direct commentary on the phenomenon through the lens of a National Lampoon-style exercise in juvenilia. Part of PCU's success belongs to its clever casting. Jeremy Piven headlines as Droz, the de facto leader of the grungiest house on the campus of the fictional Port Charles University. More than a decade before his fast-talking huckster routine won him praise on HBO's Entourage, Piven honed his craft in movies like this. He played well with the likes of a young Jon Favreau and an extra-smarmy David Spade. The movie may have resolved in an absurd way, as has been the tradition with college comedies since Animal House, but it's also rather subversive. Though the rest of the movie is little more than a series of drug jokes, it was a stroke of genius to close things out with a "We're not gonna protest" protest. Higher Learning (1995) On the flipside of college-as-social-commentary comes John Singleton's tense drama Higher Learning. At the quintessential Big 10 university, a tapestry cast faces a series of tough socio-political issues ranging from race, to religion, to sexuality. Kristy Swanson plays an innocent girl who gets raped, then goes on to explore the possibility of an attraction to other women. Omar Epps plays a gifted student and athlete who has to compete with perceptions of race in addition to the high expectations placed on him. Without a doubt, the most striking performance comes from Michael Rapaport. He plays Remy, a meek Midwestern boy who falls in with a group of Neo Nazis after an otherwise innocent failure to fit in. We watch him transform from a wounded puppy into a killer. The strokes may be broad and the conclusion foregone, but that doesn't change the fact that Higher Learning asked some hard questions concerning the impending age of multiculturalism. It becomes increasingly apparent as the movie goes on that the only thing any of these kids have in common is a complete unpreparedness for the challenges of the new world. Threesome (1993) Andrew Fleming made a deeply personal and uncommonly striking film in Threesome. It is an engrossing, excellently-scripted drama about how shifting sexual mores have complicated basic interaction. The film opens with Edward, played by the tragically under-used Josh Charles, being placed in a dormitory suite with Stephan Baldwin's Stuart. At first, their relationship fits the typical neat guy/slob dynamic that has existed for the better part of the history of human storytelling. Things get a lot more interesting when a clerical error lands a girl named Alex (Lara Flynn Boyle) in the same room with the two guys. Instead of diving headfirst into the inevitable sexcapades, the titular trio approaches their new dynamic with apprehension. Alex doesn't so much introduce sexual tension as she blows up the dam holding a rush of it from drowning the movie. Things get even messier when Edward comes to realize that he is equally attracted to both Stuart and Alex. The resulting love triangle can do nothing but end in tears, but the journey getting to that end is a revelation. Few college movies ever allow their characters to be real enough to learn things the way most young people do: The hard way.