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The Kids Are (Mostly) Alright

by Mitchell Anderson

Created 07/30/12

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The phrases "Teen Film" and "Children's Film" don't inspire much confidence from cinema fans. It's too bad that many excellent films about children and teens aren't more well known known by the public and teens themselves. Being a seventeen-year-old (as I originally write this), these films truly capture adolescence, the feelings of growing up, and youth's aftermath.

  • Almost poetic in its rambling and underachieving. Perfectly captures the feeling of any teenager feeling trapped, no matter where they are growing up, and the great things that can happen and people you can meet waiting for your chance to leave. A film that really sums up all sorts of loose ends in the young mind, from pondering the importance of knowledge versus life experience, what it means to really "grow up", and the hypocrasy and willfull ignorance behind nostalgia. Though set in the '70s, the feeling of the film is timeless.

  • The wonder and pain of first love has rarely been better captured (or symbolized) on film. Max's struggles to woo Ms. Cross should feel painful to anyone who was (or is) young and in unrequited love (so, pretty much everyone), as well as fighting with someone who happens to have the same feelings. The "I wrote a hit play!" brag/plea manages to be one of the few movie scenes that is hilarious and devastating.

  • Much like Rushmore, only the genders, setting, ages, and characters are different. Andrea Arnold manages to capture the surprise and sheer brutality first love can bring. While she's at it, she also manages to perfectly capture the often unsung adaptability of the young mind: even within (beautifully shot) urban decay and waste, her characters manage to get by and survive. Katie Jarvis is truly brilliant as Mia, playing a rather complex character whose lashing out is a coping tactic to cover her uncertainties and feelings she's unfamiliar with.

  • Manages to capture the pure acidity that underlies most young male relationships (both friendly and antagonistic), something many people like to pretend isn't there. The dialouge in this film is hilarious, both due to its magnificent wit and timing, but also because it is so recognizable to any man who's had to spend extended time in the unfiltered company of others, be it for a day or even years, like the school in the film. The truly unforgettable ending is a shocking but accurate visualization of the darkest revenge thoughts that most adolescents have had against authority. The disjointed nature of the film manages to perfectly capture the thought process of the growing teen, lingering on the most random thoughts and passing over potentially important ones.

  • Truly puts you in the middle of that one slow, hot, endless-but-fleeting summer. Perhaps the greatest on-screen depiction of a true summer, the time when you and your friends make great plans and talk about doing great things, but fate, circumstance, and time prevent the greatest of them from coming true. The film also captures the vacuum effect of the American small town on its youth: a place where growing up is planning your escape, only to find it incredibly difficult (or literally impossible). A great depiction of first encounters and coping with tragedy. Similar to Stand by Me, but with poetic dialogue that couldn't flow off such young tongues in real life, an effect that I love in films.

  • Shows to perfect effect the age-old misconception by the old that the aggravation of the young is out of hostility. Makes you think that although we all know why we act out when we're young, most eventually forget the feelings of youth as they age. I have yet to see the rest of Truffaut's Doinel films, but I love the idea of following a youth as he matures through the eye of cinema. A very simple film with very deep meaning.

  • A film that was very misunderstood in the US, seen by most as showing how bad life can get against the innocent. Yet, that is exactly what it is. Shows that the concepts of good and evil are very clear to children, exhibits why attachment to animals is important to children, and poses questions about how much we can change from our youth onwards. A heart-rendering film, but ultimatly moving and inspirational.

  • Sort of the meeting point of Dazed and Confused and George Washington, a fine example of the dying town being a terrible vacuum for the dreaming and creative. The rare film that realistically deals with teen relationships, in all their speed, destiny, and heartbreak. It also paints a great portrait of the eternal relationship between the young and the old: some can relate to each other, but many won't even try. If you've ever been stuck in decrepit rural USA where you grew up, the final minutes of this film can simultaneously break your heart and give you hope. Being weeks from graduation as I add this final sentence, I am increasingly able to understand Bogdanovich's ingenious capture of this feeling.

  • A film that only glancingly deals with literal adolescense, but very accuratly captures its aftermath. This film has had lots of anger directed at it, and my opinion is that much of that anger comes from the fact that the characters are very accurate. The disillousioned college graduate has always existed, but in a recession, uncertainties of life and achievement that have a somewhat arrested development effect become amplified. Lena Dunham plays this type to perfection, and her dialouge with her mother and sister, who's unsure of the future she's heading into as well, manages to create an excellent family dynamic that instantly feels real to anyone who's grown up in a passive-aggressivly creative family, and requres no exposition or explanation.

  • Another film that is more concerned with the aftermath of youth, rather than youth itself. One of the greatest prolouges in cinema history takes its time to introduce the Tenenbaum children, brilliant but flawed in their youth. For the rest of the film, the effects of the children's flawed upbringing translated into flawed adulthood are clear, with Royal's children being (nearly literally) grown versions of their young selves, but with the promises and forgiveness of youth gone. Perhaps the best example of a theme that lies underneath nearly all of Wes Anderson's films, The Royal Tenenbaums how our upbringing and our quirks have a much greater effect on us then we like to believe.

  • Another great Linklater film that deals with the ideas of small towns and extended adolescence. Much like Dazed and Confused, there's poetry in this film's ramblings and non-sequeters, showing a unique and fascinating world where the theories, plans, and thoughts you have as a teenager don't necessarily vanish when you reach adulthood. I particularly love the film's drifting, non-attentive nature, as it mirrors the way a teenager thinks, wondering about the world and people around them. What youth hasn't wanted to see what the rest of some total stranger's day is like?

  • On the other hand, maybe rules and structures are good for the young. The film allows us to stare into the whirling abyss that combines the joy and freedom of lack of authority, and the fear and terror that stem from the same source. To me, this is not only the most frightening film on this list, but one of the most frightening films, period. Whenever I recommend this film to friends, I say it's like Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, only with more plot, less rules, and more terror.

  • Similar to Lord of the Flies, a film that allows the viewer to see the pure fear that youth can create. A surreal, borderline experimental, journey from darkness to light that also manages to capture the unbreakable, often frustrating, always strong, bond of siblings better than just about any film. In my opinion, Harry Powell is to cinema villains what Atticus Finch is to cinema heroes. A true testament to the spirits of fear and optimism, as well as the adaptability and perseverance of children. "They abide", indeed.

  • Ah, to be young, rebellious, British, and in a motorcycle gang with Sting as your leader. Though not as extreme as If...., Quadrophenia still gives a surprisingly in-depth and intense view of a rebellious era. A seemingly simple coming-of-age story spiced with intense street fights, stunning acting, and a fantastic soundtrack. The final few minutes in particular are some of the most breathtaking I've ever seen.

  • Similar to Rushmore (or, should I say, inspiring Rushmore), the joys and pains of first love are explored perfectly in this hilarious, touching, and poignant film. Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon are a true screen coupe for the ages, and the desperation of attention and misguided display of creativity in youth are perfectly presented in Harold's (hilarious) fake suicides. Also, Cat Stevens' soundtrack is excellent.

52 comments

  • By Mary1
    April 30, 2013
    09:26 PM

    Fantastic list!
    Reply
  • By Chris_S
    April 30, 2013
    10:57 PM

    What about The Ice Storm?
    Reply
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 07, 2013
      09:00 AM

      Still need to see it. I'll definitely add it once I watch it. Thanks for the suggestion!
  • By Craig J. Clark
    May 01, 2013
    09:53 AM

    Badlands deserves a place on this list for Sissy Spacek's incredible performance as the guileless Holly.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 07, 2013
      09:00 AM

      Planning on watching it (and adding it) really soon. Thanks!
  • By george darien
    May 01, 2013
    12:11 PM

    Great list. Missing in it is one of the most important directors of children and adolescents in cinema, Maurice Pialat. His harsh and at times bleak portrait of French youth doesn't correspond to the clichés of France and has perhaps contributed to impede his recognition in the US. Besides A NOS AMOURS and L'ENFANCE NUE, both available from Criterion, there is PASSE TON BAC D'ABORD. I wish Criterion also considered releasing his brilliant series made for television, LA MAISON DES BOIS.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 07, 2013
      08:59 AM

      Thanks for the suggestions! I haven't heard this name before (one of the reasons I love Criterion and its community is the names in cinema that you'd never learn otherwise), but I will definitely check these out. Thanks again!
  • By Drew G. Dellinger
    May 01, 2013
    02:52 PM

    I haven't enjoyed reading a list any more than this one. Great, great list.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 07, 2013
      08:54 AM

      Thank you so much!
    • By Drew G. Dellinger
      May 23, 2013
      11:38 AM

      Also...I watched The Spirit of the Beehive for the first time last night and your list is one of the first things I thought of. If you haven't seen it yet I would strongly recommend it. I was blown away.
  • By futurestar
    May 02, 2013
    07:14 PM

    I only have one word since others have made major well thought suggestions above and mine is SLACKER.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 07, 2013
      08:56 AM

      Thanks for your word! I'm working on adding it as we speak!
  • By David Holmes
    May 03, 2013
    05:30 AM

    Great list. I might add Picnic at Hanging Rock. A bit out of time compared to the rest, I know, but still a beautiful and haunting depiction of coming-of-age and sexual discovery.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 07, 2013
      08:55 AM

      Thank you! I'll definitely check it out, and add it if it's as good as you say.
  • By PATIENCESHEHULK
    May 05, 2013
    12:01 AM

    It's essential that you include Whit Stillman's Metropolitan on this list, with it's cast of luminous teenage actors who we never saw again, and it's biting yet loving satire of the sheltered débutante scene.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 07, 2013
      08:57 AM

      I still haven't seen it, but I'll definitely watch it and add it. Thanks for the suggestion!
  • By Alex Wanshura
    May 08, 2013
    04:34 AM

    Two suggestions I'd give. One, that is sadly out of print for Criterion at the moment, is Forbidden Games. And the second, even though its kind of a noir fairytale above anything else, I'd put Night of the Hunter. It definitely has a child's eye in its aesthetic and tone.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 08, 2013
      09:08 PM

      Thanks for the Forbidden Games suggestion! And how did I not think to add Night of the Hunter? I'll add it right now! Thank you!
  • By apologia7
    May 08, 2013
    06:34 AM

    I, too, think it's a shame that teen movies don't get much appreciation. I used to fall into that category, also, but along the way, I'd see a few that would interest me. When I'd check them out, I'd be amazed at how much they reminded me of my teen years (which weren't so long ago - about 12 years). As a result, I've become more open to 'teen movies'. Teen movies should be appreciated, at least, for the nostalgia, if for no other reason. Those of you infected with nostalgia understand the power it can wield.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 08, 2013
      09:11 PM

      Thank you for your post! I love teen movies, but only the good ones (i.e. not a studio executive's idea of childhood, teen years, etc.). I feel that nostalgia in small amounts can be a good thing, but it can be a dangerous thing to become trapped in. That's why Dazed and Confused and Rushmore speak to me the most about adolescence: there are plenty of great times to have as a teenager, but you shouldn't just forget about the rough times. Thanks again!
  • By apologia7
    May 08, 2013
    06:42 AM

    I've seen Fish Tank (good stuff), I have 400 Blows and The Last Picture Show. I've always been curious about "If...", but my experimental mood has yet to push me in that direction. Slacker is definitely on my list. I've wanted to see it for a while. I plan on jumping on it right after finals.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 08, 2013
      09:13 PM

      Definitely check out If... when your're in the mood for something unique. You'll be in for a bizarre, unique treat. Slacker is definitely a great summer film. Thanks for your comment!
  • By Patryk
    May 08, 2013
    07:42 PM

    So wonderful to read such a meaningful essay. Even more so now that it will lead me to films I may have overlooked. Thanks!
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 08, 2013
      09:13 PM

      You're welcome! Thanks for reading!
  • By oz-rob
    May 08, 2013
    11:24 PM

    Great list,, LACOMBE LUCIEN is well worth a mention here..
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 10, 2013
      02:11 PM

      Thank you! I'll definitely check out Lacombe Lucien when I get a chance.
  • By HENRY
    May 12, 2013
    08:32 PM

    where is KIDS ???????
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    • By Scott_DAgostino
      May 12, 2013
      11:54 PM

      It's not in the collection.
  • By Brock Pace
    May 20, 2013
    09:55 AM

    Would "Time Bandits" count? The main character is a kid and it is one of the only family movies on criterion.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 23, 2013
      10:54 PM

      Still need to see it (need to catch up on my Gilliam). Thanks for the recommendation!
    • By Brock Pace
      May 25, 2013
      02:14 AM

      Also Red Balloon should be put on there as well.
  • By Cinemacannon
    May 20, 2013
    10:26 PM

    What about Fat Girl? I don't see how anyone didn't mention that movie. It would be prefect for this list.
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      May 23, 2013
      10:55 PM

      I haven't seen it yet. Thanks for the recommendation! I'll check it out as soon as I can and add it to the list.
  • By SputnikSweetHrt
    June 22, 2013
    10:45 PM

    Great list! I was around 17 when I discovered good cinema--Dazed and Confused was one that ushered me into a new way of looking at movies. Have you seen Picnic at Hanging Rock? It might work with this list...
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    • By Mitchell Anderson
      June 29, 2013
      11:15 PM

      Thank you! Dazed on Confused had a similar effect on me, hence it's #1 spot. I haven't seen Picnic At Hanging Rock. I'll add it to the list if I get the chance.
  • By mrfun0000
    July 06, 2013
    10:08 PM

    what about Walkabout? the whole idea of a Walkabout is the chance for a teen to become an adult and when the city kids get mixed in the journey is all the more profound. if you haven't seen it, you need too.
    Reply
  • By Brian
    July 08, 2013
    02:21 PM

    Over The Edge (1979) and River's Edge (1986) Should be at the top of this list.
    Reply
  • By Josie Renkwitz
    August 17, 2013
    09:25 AM

    Very good choices
    Reply

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