5. As You Are (Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, 2016)
2016 Sundance standout As You Are tells multiple times the same story of friendship, heartbreak and growing up in the 90s through different perspectives as three friends are questioned by a police investigation.
It’s not a mystery thriller as much as it is a profound examination of the pain and pleasure of being young and knowing nothing, a cultural remembrance of an era (explicitly referenced in the title, taken out of a Nirvana song), and a compassionate portrait of three characters with vastly different personalities and memories, but the same fundamental growing-up process.
The core trio, composed by talented newcomers Amandla Stenberg, Charlie Heaton and Owen Campbell, carries the film away with ease, sequestering it and turning it into their own story – and As You Are never looks back.
4. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
Celebrated horror film It Follows tells the story of two generations, actually: one of post-adolescents who have finished school and seen their friends go off to do something of their lives as they stay behind, and one of maturing teens who see that same fate getting closer each minute, not unlike the titular haunting, a sex-transmitted curse that puts a shapeshifting creature on our lead’s trail.
David Robert Mitchell’s film is moody and atmospheric, with a 80s inspired synth soundtrack and a production design that never lets us be sure as to which decade the story is set on.
The thing is It Follows as a whole is a fitting metaphor for growing up: you see your fears and your doubts about adult life coming toward you, and you can ignore them and keep living, but they’ll eventually get you. It’s terrifying because it’s an outside manifestation of a very real fear that entranced deep within us, one which we almost never mention.
3. The Spectacular Now (James Ponsoldt, 2013)
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley have both gone on to build very distinct careers after this film, but their team-up is still sweet, filled with impressive chemistry, and tremendously sensitive about the story it tells.
Ponsoldt’s film tells of the chance meeting between hard-partying budding alcoholic senior Sutter, and “good girl”-with-a-plan Aimee in a way that doesn’t make either of them the other’s manic pixie dream something.
It’s just the story of two souls in the cusp of a big moment of their lives growing fonder of each other and finding the heartbreak and excitement of what’s to come together. It’s perfectly crafted, tremendously acted, and made with a precise understanding of that precious moment when childhood ends and adulthood begins.
2. Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011)
Pariah is so alive it barely believes itself. It’s a tender film that Dee Rees has crafted, and yet it marvels on the many colors and feeling and flavors of life in just the same way its protagonist does, in her desperate search for identity and expression.
A metaphorical journey more than a literal one, Pariah is a mash-up of heartbreak, slapstick comedy, optimism, social injustice, and everything else you may find in your growing up story in Brooklyn.
The fact that Adepero Oduye hasn’t become an instant A-list star for her whirlwind performance here is just a testament to how hard it is to make it in Hollywood if you’re not white – like the film she’s in, she’s breathtaking, an injection of reality, in all its kaleidoscopic quality, transformed into film.
1. The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)
The most talented of the Coppola heirs had to be in this list, since she’s now probably outgrown her younger sensibility. Her debut feature may have 17 years on its back, but it’s still a beautiful affair, an outstanding examination of teen wonder and depression, a love letter to nostalgia while also being a cruel punch in the gut.
It’s more cynical tendencies are exaggerated like an adolescent’s disenchantment with the world sometimes is, when he realizes how heartbreakingly sad and unfair it can be; but it finds beauty and art in it, and especially in the way it renders eternal the suffering and maturing of its characters. Just as much a tribute as it is a critique,
The Virgin Suicides deserves the top spot because it understands the conflict between the fascination and the disappointment in the transition between childhood and adulthood.
Author Bio: Caio Coletti is a Brazilian-born journalist, a proud poptimist, and has too many opinions to keep them all to himself.