6. Frances Ha (2012)
With all due respect to Cooper Hoffman, there’s no disputing that Licorice Pizza is, on all counts, Alana Haim’s story. The emotional nuances of her character make her spiritual endeavors both relatable and touching—a completely adrift 20-something woman who overcompensates for her jaded disillusionment and existential dread by playing sidekick to some teenagers’ adventures. Much like PTA’s film, Frances Ha probes into the trials and tribulations of young adulthood through an off-kilter 27-year-old woman who struggles to find her bearings in New York City.
In both movies, the main character tries to navigate life to the best of her abilities, conflicted by the uncertainty of finding a fulfilling vocation that will also pay the rent. Much like Alana, Frances desperately clings onto her youthful spirit until reality hits her with a punch, all while the rest of her peers in the grown-up world seem to have their whole lives sorted out.
Watching her plunge into a downward spiral can be emotionally draining, but the film is not a complete downer as it arrives at an ultimately reassuring conclusion—that no matter what life throws at us, we should all find some love for ourselves every once in a while.
7. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Writer and future director Cameron Crowe went undercover and attended high school in Southern California to catch a glimpse of the teenage experience of the early ’80s. The best anecdotes and stories were then assorted in a book which would later serve as the foundation for this benchmark of coming-of-age movies.
As is the case with Licorice Pizza, Fast Times feels less like a singular narrative entity and more like a collection of vignettes loosely bundled together. On the surface, the film shares the same easy-going spirit as Anderson’s hangout flick, however, hidden in this veneer of lighthearted campiness, Fast Times surveys darker themes like abortion and misogyny without pulling any punches. Whereas Licorice Pizza may have found two diamonds in the rough in Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, Fast Times served at the time as a showcase for a bunch of unproven newcomers who would go on to become perennial A-listers (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Nic Cage). But the stand-out performance comes courtesy of Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, a perpetually stoned surfer dude, channeling the same chaotic energy as in his show-stealing cameo as William Holden’s doppelgänger in Licorice Pizza.
8. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
As two contemporary talents who burst onto the scene in the ’90s and spearheaded a renaissance in independent filmmaking, Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino have always been pitted against each other. Though there’s no such thing as a personal rivalry (they’re actually pretty close friends), it’s hard to fault critics and fans for drawing parallels between arguably the two biggest names in modern American cinema, who also happen to share a lot of traits and interests.
One could describe Licorice Pizza as a bittersweet time capsule that rests almost entirely upon recreating the version of Southern California where the director grew up as a kid. Notice that the above description similarly applies to Tarantino’s ninth feature. In many ways, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like Quentin’s most grounded story to date, one where he managed to keep his worst tendencies at bay in favor of characterization and setting. There’s a lot of overlap between both movies beyond the shared backdrop, such as the relaxed atmosphere or the masterful attention to detail that evokes a long-gone era with razor-sharp accuracy. What’s more, they both seem like the product of a seasoned director still at the height of his powers but with nothing else to prove.
To no one’s surprise, PTA declared himself a big fan. “This is a magnificent film. I’ve seen it four and a half times now,” he enthusiastically admitted. “One of the things I love about it is how much joy there is in it, just pure joy.”
9. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
Yet another Linklater film rooted in the director’s personal memories sneaks its way into our list. This time around, stoner high school seniors make way for cocky college freshmen in what’s widely regarded as a spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused. Everybody Wants Some!! refines and expands on the cocktail of emotions and testosterone-heavy tribalism of the former, staying true to Linklater’s naturalistic flair and retaining the same groovy vibes that defined its 1993 counterpart. At its core, the film boils down to ‘guys being dudes’—whether it’s pranking each other, picking up girls, hitting the dance floor or sharing cosmic epiphanies between bong hits.
There’s a brazen vitality beaming through the entire runtime that feels thrillingly contagious, sliding through these lively episodes without a defined finish line in mind. Nor does it ever hint at making a grand statement beyond conveying the freewheeling mood of that age. It doesn’t come as a shocker to learn Paul Thomas Anderson has been singing the praises of this movie, confessing that a rewatch is long overdue. “F—, what a good film! And so underrated! When it comes to the light touch of my contemporaries, Richard Linklater is the king.”
10. The Last Picture Show (1971)
Bookending this list, we turn the clock all the way back to 1951 into a dead-end town in the middle of dust-and-oil Texas, where two high school seniors and best friends slowly transition into manhood and contemplate the uncertainty of their future. Love and reckless rebellion are about the best antidotes against boredom given their limited sources of fun with an all-night diner, a pool hall and a royal theater being the only three places to go in a meager town that proves too small for their big dreams. In turn, lofty aspirations slowly fade into bitter emptiness and the only way to break the cycle is to fly the nest and find luck elsewhere.
The great Peter Bogdanovich, one of America’s premiere chroniclers, rendered an earnest portrait of youth that rings true because it doesn’t sugarcoat any of the growing pains that come with it and, much like Licorice Pizza, never deals in empty platitudes. The film evokes a sort of bittersweet melancholy, at the same time reminiscing about the past while wary of what the future will hold. The story of these young characters, who feel trapped at the bottomless pit that is their hometown, longing for connection and purpose while never having a firm grasp of life, still resonates as strongly as it once did upon release.