Art School Confidential is this year’s third major satire — and three is enough to declare a trend. It picks less conventional targets than Thank You for Smoking and American Dreamz and therefore lands more punches. I loved it.

The protagonist is the virginal Jerome Platz (Max Minghella), whose dreams of becoming a famous artist by attending the illustrious Strathmore Academy are quickly deflated. A quiet, sensitive painter, Jerome soon finds out that assholes and no-talent hacks have a better chance of getting gallery shows — and the hot figure study model (Sophia Myles). The movie abounds with the walking cliches that populated the art school I attended. Jerome’s roommates, for example – a closeted fashion design major and obstreperous film student (Ethan Suplee). (Former film students will enjoy Suplee’s arc from fundraiser to pretentious director to action hack.) Bardo (Joel Moore), the four-time freshman, takes Jerome under his wing and shows him the ropes — the culminating lesson, a visit with Jimmy (Jim Broadbent), a delirious, drunken madman living in a squalid rent-controlled apartment — and Strathmore graduate. If Jerome doesn’t impress in the freshman showcase, this is what he has to look forward to.

Oh, and did I mention that in the backdrop of all the pseudo-academic intrigue, there’s a serial killer on the loose?

The usual suspects have said the serial killer subplot is unnecessary — they are dead wrong. It is the whole point of Art School Confidential, and what elevates it from parody to satire. A quick glance shows that art and serial killers have and continue to go together.

Art School Confidential doesn’t have anything to say, per se, about the nexus of art and exploitation — but it hangs them up for all to see in a way that is quite funny. The cynical sensibility that gives way to nihilism clearly dropped the floor out from many viewers on this movie — as it probably did with viewers of Dr. Strangelove or Network. Still, as an indictment of the world of art, it could be a lot more bitter. The final shot, of love simultaneously denied and gratified, is as fitting a metaphor for the agony and the ecstasy, the eros and thanatos, the paradox of human existence to which great art aspires.