Coming-of-age stories are a dime a dozen. They come in all shapes and sizes, deal with themes large and small. We see them clog American multiplexes every year, yet almost none of them capture the youthful exuberance, danger and authenticity of impending adulthood. This fact makes the below list of films even more impressive. Each, in their own way, toes the line between hope and despair, discovery and repression, growth and stagnation with a level of tenderness and honesty that few films can claim.
1. Lake Tahoe
Inspired by the work of Jim Jarmusch, Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke examines teenage angst and familial trauma with minimal aesthetic flash, waiting patiently as characters experience daily surprises and heartaches in and out of the frame. A poem of physical stasis and personal evolution, Lake Tahoe explores every corner of a restrained rural landscape defined by subtext, where life beautifully flies by at a snails pace.
2. Somers Town
Trains are a gateway between childhood and adulthood in Shane Meadows‘ beguiling film about friendship lost and gained in modern day London. Class, family, and displacement are all crucial themes, but this is ultimately a study in intimate camaraderie shared between young people.
3. Everyone Else
This devastating character study from Maren Ade is like a slow motion train wreck come to life, intricately detailing the downfall of a young couple quietly falling out of love. Each emotional compromise is like a plunging dagger.
4. The Return
Atmospheric doesn’t come close to describing the brilliantly menacing tone director Andrei Zvyaginstev achieves in this bitter cold tale of fathers and sons in conflict.
A house by the sea, a father and his boy, and an inevitable parting that is both painful and sublime: Jose Gonzalez-Rubio’s wonderful fable is a hazy and singular cinematic dream.
6. Our Beloved Month of August
Documentary and fiction dance together like two impassioned teenagers meeting for the first time in Miguel Gomes deceptively complex film about young people in small town Portugal.
Whit Stilman has surveyed the lives of verbosely witty debutantes in all of his films, but none are as affecting as his intoxicating debut about NYC twentysomething’s realizing they don’t know shit about life.
8. The Strange Case of Angelica
The image of a young woman takes on an altogether ethereal meaning in Manoel de Oliveira’s oddity about both earthbound lust and divine love.
Richard Linklater’s rambling debut feature is a nutty and dark portrait of disaffected youth running amok in a town forced to recognize their existence.
Mike Ott’s tender film about a young Japanese tourist who begins a friendship with a spastic wannabe actor from California achieves a rare level of sincerity and understanding of daily rhythms.