In anticipation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is getting great reviews, I've compiled a list of 20 of our favorite coming of age movies, in no particular order. See Part 1.
11. Kes (1969) -- Directed by Ken Loach and written by Barry Hines
Billy Casper (David Bradley), a 15-year-old living in Yorkshire, is bullied at school and by his abusive half-brother. He's academically unsuccessful and engages in petty crimes and acts of mischief. Billy's own mother calls him a "hopeless case," and he fears being trapped in a life as a coal miner. Billy has nothing positive in his life until he takes a kestrel from a nest and teaches himself to care for and train it. This is a bleak, realistic film which offers a clear view of life in working class England.
Interesting Quote By Ken Loach: Why do they say I hate my country? And what does that even mean? Am I supposed to hate my town, am I supposed to hate all English people, or my government? And if I do hate my government, does that mean I hate my country? It's a democratic duty to criticize the government. (I agree with that last sentence. :-) -- Steph)
12. Precious (2009) -- Directed by Lee Daniels and written by Geoffrey Fletcher based on a novel by Sapphire
In 1987 Harlem, 16-year-old Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) lives with her abusive mother Mary (Mo'Nique) and is pregnant, for the second time, by her father, who has molested her since she was a baby. Removed from school because of her pregnancy, she gets a second chance through an alternative school.
Many things -- including strong story-telling and powerful performances by Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique -- elevate this movie above a mere "issues" story. It's both brutally heart-wrenching and hopeful. By the way, Mary rates top billing as the worst movie mother of all time. She makes Joan Crawford look like someone you'd gladly invite over to mind your children.
Memorable Quote: (Precious taking an assessment test) There's always something wrong with these tests. These tests paint a picture of me with no brain. These tests paint a picture of me and my mother, my whole family as less than dumb. Just ugly black grease, need to be wiped away, find a job for.
13. What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) Directed by Lasse Halstrom and written by Peter Hedges
In a dead-end Iowa town, Gilbert tries to carve out a life for himself while looking after his mother and mentally disabled brother. This is a smart, funny movie about growing up and the conflicted feelings we have for the people who need us, although we love them unconditionally, and the yearning for love and freedom.
Memorable Quote: We don't really move. I mean, we'd like to, but... my mom is sort of attached to the house. Attached is, I guess, not the right word. She's pretty much wedged in.
14. El Bola (2000) -- Directed by Achero Mañas and written by Achero Mañas and Verónica Fernández -- review here
from Sarah's review: Shortly into El Bola, the twelve-year-old protagonist overhears a woman at his family's shop tell his father that "if we were Pablo's age, we wouldn't have any problems." If only that were true. Not only is that false in general terms (cartoonist Bill Watterson once said that "People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children"), but Pablo is living with a load that would be unbearable for anyone, in a household where breathing could get one beaten.
El Bola is a full-blooded film about child abuse, yet lacking cheap shock value (Joan Crawford smudged with face cream, screaming "NO WIRE HANGERS!" while her little daughter cowers, comes to mind) ... this movie concentrates on the children affected. Not only that, but it directs these performances well, which is hard to do.
15. Cachorro (English title: Bear Cub) (2004) -- Directed by Miguel Albaladejo and written by Miguel Albaladejo and Salvador García Ruiz
Strictly speaking, this isn't really a coming of age film, though this nine-year-old boy's difficult journey seems to qualify. Or maybe the "coming of age" isn't actually done by nine-year-old Bernardo but by his adult uncle, Pedro, who for the first time must live for someone other than himself. "Coming of age" can happen at any point in life, can't it?
As a favor to his hippie sister, who has gone off to India, Pedro (José Luis García Pérez), a gay dentist, has agreed to look after his nine-year-old nephew, Bernardo (David Castillo) for a few days. His nephew’s presence forces Pedro to take a respite from his extremely active sex life -- he was beginning to tire of his string of superficial relationships anyway. Then six weeks pass with no word from the boy's mother, forcing Pedro to make some difficult decisions.
This is a wonderful movie offering realistic glimpses of life and rich, flawed characters.
16. Stand By Me (1986) -- Directed by Rob Reiner, written by Raynold Gideon based on a novella by Stephen King
This adaptation of Stephen King's "The Body" is both funny and sad. Twelve-year-old Gordie (Wil Wheaton) hangs out with three friends: Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), who carries the albatross of being from a family of criminals and alcoholics, Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), who is eccentric and physically scarred by his mentally unstable father, and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell) who is overweight, timid, and often picked on. Vern overhears his older brother talking about finding the body of Ray Brower while dumping a stolen car, and the boys embark upon a journey to see if they can find Ray's body and become local heroes.
Memorable Quote: Wish the hell I was your dad. You wouldn't be goin' around talkin' about takin' these stupid shop courses if I was. It's like God gave you something, man, all those stories you can make up. And He said, "This is what we got for ya, kid. Try not to lose it." Kids lose everything unless there's someone there to look out for them. And if your parents are too fucked up to do it, then maybe I should.
17. Ordinary People (1980) -- Directed by Robert Redford and written by Alvin Sargent, based on the novel by Judith Guest
Conrad (Timothy Hutton) returns home from a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, after a suicide attempt. He feels alienated from his friends and family, especially his mother (Mary Tyler Moore). The family is desperately trying to find some version of "normal" after the accidental death of Conrad's older brother and Conrad's hospitalization.
Memorable Quote: Feelings are scary. And sometimes they're painful. And if you can't feel pain... you won't feel anything else either. You know what I'm saying?
18. Whale Rider (2002) -- Directed by Niki Caro and written by Niki Caro based on a book by Witi Ihimaera
Twelve-year-old Paikea Apirana ("Pai") (Keisha Castle-Hughes), an aboriginal New Zealander, is the only living heir to the tribal chief. However, Pai is female and technically cannot inherit the leadership.
Her grandfather, the leader of the tribe, has a close bond with her. At the same time, he is bitter over losing his grandson, Pai's twin brother who died at birth, and being left with a "worthless" female. She is determined to prove herself and win her grandfather's unconditional love and respect.
This is a beautiful and heart-wrenching movie. When Pai stood up and tearfully offered a presentation in honor of her grandfather, my husband and I were both in tears. :-)
Memorable Quote: A long time ago, my ancestor Paikea came to this place on the back of a whale. Since then, in every generation of my family, the first born son has carried his name and become the leader of our tribe... until now.
19. Ben X (2007) -- Written and directed by Nic Balthazar-- review here
from Sarah's review: At the beginning, we are introduced to Ben (superbly played by Greg Timmermans), a teenage boy with Asperger's Syndrome who lives with his well-meaning mother and younger brother. Ben spends all his free time playing Archlord, a fantasy role-playing game where he becomes Ben X and plays alongside Scarlitte, a teenage girl who is impressed by his gaming skills. The game gives him a sense of purpose in a world that becomes increasingly out of control.
Memorable Quote: It's hard to explain. It's hard to explain myself. But I never tell lies. Everything I say is true, even when I don't say a thing.
20. Adventureland (2009) -- Written and directed by Greg Mottola
In the summer of 1987, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), graduates from Oberlin College with a degree in comparative literature. He is looking forward to touring Europe for the summer and going to Columbia University for graduate school in journalism, when his parents break the news that they won't be able to help him financially. The only summer job he can find is at Adventureland, an amusement park in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In spite of -- or maybe partly because of -- James's frustrating immaturity and sense of entitlement, he won me over. He was wholly believable as a young man reaching the end of adolescence and yearning for love, freedom, and experience.
Memorable Quotes: Look, am I gonna get in trouble? No one's ever supposed to lose a giant-ass panda.