My Favorite Films, by Rich Paschall
We all have to grow up and learn the lessons of life. Some are fun. Some are work. Some are terrifying. Nevertheless, it takes time and experience to bring a person to maturity. Many films show these various aspects of growing up. The movie may be a Risky Business or capture 400 Blows. They can introduce you to Harold and Maude or perhaps to Willie Wonka. You may find a birthday of Sixteen Candles while you are Pretty in Pink. You may even find a Rebel Without A Cause.
As a boy, a teenager and even as a young man I would identify with the younger heroes of the story, whether they were the lead character or not. When I saw Swiss Family Robinson, I was more interested in the young son’s adventure (James MacArthur) than the parents who were trying to protect themselves while stranded on an island. I was quite young at the time but remember it well. If you saw Disney films in that era, you knew there was a young hero for kids to identify with, who might also own a dog or horse. I loved those movies.
As I got older I saw more mature themes. Some are poignant. Some are jubilant. Some are sad. Since there are so many great films in this category, I could not cut it to a top 10. My “short list” had a lot of entries. When I subsequently looked at some published lists, it reminded me of others. There may be better ones that I have not seen, but these are my favorites from my local theater or living room screen.
20. Mysterious Skin. A young Joseph Gordon Leavitt is a teenage hustler. This is not your “feel good” movie.
19. St. Elmo’s Fire. The 1985 Brat Pack classic about recent college grads.
18. Donnie Darko. The 2001 cult hit stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an odd teenager.
17. Good Will Hunting. Matt Damon is the math wiz discovered by Robin Williams.
16. The Breakfast Club. If you served high school detention on Saturday morning, you get it. A John Hughes classic film.
15. Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. Ferris cuts class and comes to Chicago with a couple of friends. Matthew Broadrick is Ferris.
14. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. A young man (Johnny Depp) and his mentally challenged younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio).
13. October Sky. Based on the true story of a boy (Homer Hickam) who dreams of being a rocket scientist. Jake Gyllenhaal stars.
12. Big. Tom Hanks stars as the boy in a man’s body. The best movie ever to try this film trick.
11. The Karate Kid. It does not matter which one you see (Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith). Skip the sequels.
10. The Last Picture Show. A black and white film about life in a dead-end southern town. The 1971 film stars Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges, with Cybill Shepherd and Cloris Leachman.
09. American Grafitti. It’s the end of summer vacation 1962 and you are cruisin’ in your convertible and listening to Rock and Roll on the car radio. You might be getting into a little bit of mischief as well. The low-budget 1973 film was box office gold.
08. Dead Poets Society. High School seniors form a poetry society and learn to “seize the day” (carpe diem) from English teacher Robin Williams. The setting for the 1989 film was an elite academy in 1959. The film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
07. Billy Elliot. An 11 year old boy in a poor northern England town ends up in ballet class one day while going to his weekly boxing class. The coal miner’s son is in for a rough time, but sticks with the dance class against his father’s wishes. The film’s success lead to the eventual Broadway play.
06. Dirty Dancing. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey get up close and personal on the dance floor in this 1987 film. It’s forbidden love and hot dancing. What’s not to like?
05. Old Yeller. A boy, his dog and another Disney tear-jerker. This one may be for kids but many of them will be crying at the end. Is this a good lesson for kids? Next I suppose you will tell me Bambi’s mother is dead.
04. Summer Storm (Sommersturm). This 2004 German language film follows the friendship of two boys on the rowing team as one learns his feelings for the other. It was a winner at the Munich Film Festival among others.
03. The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho). The 2014 Portuguese language, Brazilian film shows the difficulty of seeking independence for a blind boy who does not know the way he looks or if he will be attractive to others. His life becomes more complicated when he starts to have feelings for another student. Based on the amazing viral success of a short film, the feature was made soon enough thereafter to star the original three teenagers. We talked about the development of this film in the article, In Another Language.
02. A Separate Peace. Like many of the above, I guess you might call this a “loss of innocence” story. Based on the 1959 best-selling novel of the same name, the 1972 movie is set in World War II England at an all boys boarding school. The author is quick to point out there are no homoerotic implications. “It would have changed everything, it wouldn’t have been the same story.” It’s a love-hate relationship between friends. I have not seen the 2004 Showtime film.
01. Harry Potter 1-8. It really is the greatest coming of age movie of all because it is actually 8 movies. How fortunate that we were able to have the same young actors throughout the ten year film-making odyssey. It took all these stories for young Harry to become the man he needed to be to defeat the evil that confronted him throughout. Daniel Radcliffe will forever be everyone’s vision of the boy wizard who grew up before our eyes.