“Some people are OK, but mostly I just feel like poisoning everybody.”
The 90s were a great time for apathy and cynicism. I graduated from high school in ‘99, and let me tell you, we hated everything. Ghost World, an indie art house film directed by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Bad Santa) and starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi, took that 90s angst and injected it with a bit of Existential angst. It’s equal parts Daria and Waiting for Godot. It’s a biting satire not only of the world of the 90s, but also of the angry counterculture that sprang out of it, showing that even all those people who said that everything sucked also sucked. Sardonic, darkly funny, and vaguely depressing, this film is edgy in a way that many other films try to be, and it dares to push further into that territory than any other film I’ve seen.
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“I wish I could live through something.”
Cultural revolutions happen when a generation gets old enough to get their ideas out into the world. The baby boomers had their revolution in the 60s and 70s. Gen-Xers like me had ours in the 90s. Well, guess what? We’re due for a new revolution for the Millennials. Over the next 5-10 years, we’re going to start seeing media through the eyes of Millennials. Leading the charge in this revolution is the brilliant Greta Gerwig with her directorial debut, Lady Bird. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, this film neatly encapsulates the gap between Millennials and Generation X, as well as the frustrations that Millennials faced in adolescence. It’s also a sweet, funny, and touching story about a daughter growing up with an overbearing mother. This film works equally well as a coming of age story and a metaphor for the coming of age of an entire generation, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better Millennial anthem than this film.
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“The dream I must have had, I can never recall. But… the sensation that I’ve lost something lingers for a long time after I wake up.”
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’m typically not a fan of anime, just like I’m typically not a fan of horror movies. But some movies, like Psycho and The Shining, are so good that they rose above the trappings of the horror genre. Your Name is a movie that rises way, way above the trappings of your typical anime. Directed by Makoto Shinkai (The Place Promised in our Early Days, 5 Centimeters per Second), this is the only anime movie to out-gross Spirited Away, which was a classic I’ve reviewed before. It’s one of the best love stories I think I’ve ever seen. There is a touch of the supernatural in this, but rather than that being the focus, it serves to enhance the drama and romance in the film that remain the focal point. This is a beautiful story beautifully told, and the fact that it’s an anime actually makes it better—that format tells the story better than any other would. Anime skeptics take heart: you will probably like this film.
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“Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.”
I’ll be honest: I initially didn’t want to include The Karate Kid on this list. Directed by John G. Avildsen (Rocky) and starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, and Elisabeth Shue, it follows the underdog formula popularized by Rocky, but brings it into the 80s with the now-familiar stereotypes: the everyman teenage boy, the evil bully, the sweet girlfriend, the parent who just doesn’t get it. On paper, it looks very cliche and much like the sea of other 80s teen movies. I didn’t want to like it. But on a recent viewing, I realized that The Karate Kid has actually aged very well. The dialogue, while cheesy at times, has moments of clarity and humanity to keep the movie grounded. The villains are surprisingly well-written in the end (especially with some of the deleted scenes). Daniel is just such a likable character that it’s very hard not to like him. Even the martial arts aspects are very down-to-earth and not overdone (with a few notable exceptions from sensei Miyagi). If you can look past a bit of 80s camp and stereotyping, this is a real gem of a movie that still holds up well today.
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“You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”
There are teen movies that are simply about teenagers, and there are teen movies that define universal teenage experiences. The Breakfast Club, directing by John Hughes (Home Alone, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and starring a host of 80s teen stars, is one of the latter. This movie not only defines and portrays universal teenage experiences, but it shows teenagers discovering that many of the things they thought were unique to them are, in fact, shared amongst all of them. Admittedly, this movie will probably not be mind-blowing for anyone over 30; but younger folks, especially those in high school and college, may walk away with some new insight into life. It shows that, no matter who you are, there are no good guys or bad guys in life—there are only people with different experiences, different outlooks, with probably a lot more in common with you than you think, and anyone can choose to be good or bad no matter where they are in life.
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“Hawaii. All right, that’s good. That’s hard to trace, I guess. Wait… you changed your name to… McLovin?”
Two teens go on a minor quest to score with some girls. It’s a tale as old as time, and one that’s been done to death in film. What sets Superbad apart isn’t an original idea, but excellent execution. Directed by Greg Mottola (Paul, Adventureland) and starring Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, this is a highly accurate representation of high school life, and it is hilarious. And despite its often raunchy humor, the ending is actually fairly sweet and heartwarming. This is a stand-out film in the teen genre that will be remembered as a classic.
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“I knew this girl who like had this crazy freak out because she took too many behavioral meds at once and she like ripped off her clothes, and dove into the fountain at Ridgedale Mall and was like, ‘Blah I am a Kraken from the sea!’ ”
Juno, directed by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Thank You for Smoking) and starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman, is an offbeat teen comedy with quirky dialogue and surprising depth. It was written by Diablo Cody, an unknown writer at the time, with the intent of being a small indie film. But when it made back almost 20 times its production budget and won an Oscar for best original screenplay, it was clear that they had stumbled onto something magical.
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“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
That closing line is the perfect ending for Stand By Me. Directed by Rob Reiner (This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride) and featuring future stars like Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, and even Kiefer Sutherland, the story is told by an adult reminiscing about what he eventually realized was a defining moment in his life. It leaves you thinking about similar moments in your life: moments that stick with you, but you can’t put your finger on why until years later, when you realize that they’ve made you into the person that you are.
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“And what if you could go back in time and take all those hours of pain and darkness and replace them with something better?”
The first thing to know about Donnie Darko is that the entire story is not contained in the movie. The movie references a book, The Philosophy of Time Travel, which is vital to understanding the story, but only hinted at in the film. The official website for the film contained the vital excerpts from the book. I’ll admit that I was a little lost after my first viewing of the movie; but things neatly fell into place when I reviewed the short book excerpts on the web.
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