The Perks of Being a Wallflower is out in Canada this week so we thought it was probably about time we carried out the torturous task of coming up with our top ten coming-of-age films. But don’t hold it against us that we didn’t include The Graduate; don’t berate us for omitting Stand By Me… Sheez, we know these are the classics! We thought, instead, that we’d try and bring a few new flavours to the table. So sink your teeth into this tasty bunch. Unless, that is, you’re allergic to films that reflect on those (mostly) awkward years.
1. The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997)
Hmm, strange. Director Ang Lee, known for Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (and later The Hulk!!), turned his attention to small-town America for this “˜70s-set drama about dysfunctional families in suburban Connecticut. Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood give stand-out performances as the two confused teens curious about certain unexplored aspects of life, if you catch my drift. An inexhaustible modern classic.
2. Show Me Love (Lukas Moodysson, 1998)
What is it with small towns and coming-of-age films? This one is set in small-town Sweden and follows two teenage girls, one secretly in love with the other. Like the best of the genre, it uses its dreamy-eyed protagonists to create a contemplative vibe. But what makes it unique is how director Lukas Moodysson takes that well-worn cinematic locale, the high school, and turns it on its head… Take that, Mean Girls!
3. Flirting (John Duigan, 1991)
Boarding school is another great locale of the coming-of-age film (think “˜Catcher in the Rye’). This film takes it to the next level though, and places two boarding schools ““ one a boys, one a girls ““ directly opposite each other, with a clandestine love affair between a boy and girl. The distance between their schools, although small, is presented as vast in relation to their love. Ah, young love.
4. Lymelife (Derick Martini, 2008)
Like a lot of coming-of-age indie films, Lymelife is centred on dysfunctional families; it’s also, like The Ice Storm, set in the ’70. With a stellar cast featuring the likes of Alec Baldwin, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin and Timothy Hutton, Martini’s film packs a surprising amount of humour and feels like the closest thing to an honest depiction of adolescence.
5. Christiane F. (Uli Edel, 1981)
Here’s a conspicuous entry. One of the most painful films ever, and perhaps the original Lilya 4-ever, this film is quite possibly the most audacious coming-of-age film of all time. It’s harsh, it’s gritty and it doesn’t judge its characters. Still underrated, it’s one of the best offerings from the New German Cinema.
6. Submarine (Richard Ayoade, 2011)
It’s rare to find a British indie film along the lines of what Wes Anderson does in America, but director Richard Ayoade may well be the British equivalent. His debut film follows the confused 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) and his clumsy, offbeat relationship with Jordana (Yasmin Paige). Thanks to them, Submarine is just as awkward as it is poignant and hilarious.
7. Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009)
Despite its implausible ending, Mottola’s film brilliantly captures the complexities of adolescence, the desires of youth and the unrequited love (even if it doesn’t stay unrequited). Take away all that and you’re left with one sweet Yo La Tengo score. The 3-piece, with their ever-expanding film score repertoire, can do no wrong. NO WRONG.
8. Ordinary People (Robert Redford, 1980)
Even though it’s centred on a family and their grief after the death of the eldest son, Robert Redford’s directorial debut features an astonishing performance from Timothy Hutton as the fragile teen who is, ironically, not all that ordinary.
9. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)
Jessie Eisenberg, again, in that dweeby role he does oh so well (better than Michael Cerra’s nerdy characters for our money). Baumbach’s film is yet another ’70s-set story full to the brim with hormones. Finally, a coming-of-age film set in the city!
10. The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)
Jeff Bridges as you’ve never seen him before, Cybill Shepherd as a knock-out blonde. Peter Bogdanovich never managed to surpass this coming-of-age masterpiece, the ultimate depiction of small-town America and a perennial classic in every sense. Profoundly moving, profoundly attractive and profoundly ace.
Written by Oliver Lunn.
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