Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
Q: Pixar’s “Inside Out” has left many
critics counting their sobs and neuroscientists praising
its depiction of thought processes, but the New Yorker’s Richard Brody
by its “deformation of children and mental life,” the way it presents
childhood as a period that begins with joy (or Joy), rather than
disorientation and loss. What are the best movies about childhood — not
the best movies with children in them, but those that most precisely
capture what it’s like to be a child?
Kyle Turner, Under the Radar, Movie Mezzanine
The irony of Lukas Moodysson’s “We Are the Best!” is that it has both an aimless and purposeful trajectory for its three spritely young leads. On the one hand, as with all lovely slice of life films, nothing much happens in it, yet, through the varied and similar experiences we see and become a part of in the lives of Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig, Point A to Point B is about emotional trajectory, not narrative. It’s a film that, in its relatively short running time, captures a ludicrousness about youth (jealousy, ambition, hating gym class) that isn’t condescending. It’s wholly empathetic to its characters and does the rare thing of being present with them in their experiences without judgment.
Alonso Duralde, TheWrap, What the Flick?!
I’m a white guy who grew up in the suburbs, but the movie that best captures the bittersweet joys and formative heartbreaks of childhood is, for me, Spike Lee’s “Crooklyn.” From its boisterous sibling dynamic to its exploration of how one parent’s illness can affect the family, this is a movie that presses so many of my buttons that I can only watch it every few years or so. There are so many classics of this genre, though, from “Forbidden Games” to “A Little Romance” to “Ponette” to the underappreciated “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.”
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit
At least when it comes to my childhood, it was all about wish fulfillment. As such, the wave of “kids getting to be involved in big league baseball” films really did it for me, with “Little Big League” and “Rookie of the Year” essentially summing up what I wanted my pre teen days to be like. Of course, I discovered girls shortly thereafter and my priorities changed somewhat, but playing for the Mets (or even managing/general managing/owning them) were absolute fantasies of mine. Something like “Boyhood” or “Inside Out” may be a slightly more universal, but in my own head, it was those two that did it for me.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
As tempting as it is to
go with “Inside Out,” as it really is one of the great movies about
childhood, I will opt for the one that sticks out most to me. I’m
referring to the two part ABC miniseries of Stephen King’s “It. “Yes, I’ve
read the novel and know it’s not as faithful as it could be, but I saw
the miniseries first and it really moved me when I was a kid and then on
a whole different level when I watched it again in college. Yes, it’s
scary and yes it is bathed in a skewed notion of Rockwell-esque America,
but what always stayed with me was the notion of growing old enough to
literally forget huge and important portions of your childhood. When I
was ten, the notion seemed like an evil spell cast by Pennywise, but of
course when I rewatched it in college it worked on a whole different
level. Obviously that stuff is in the novel too, but one of the reasons I
still defend the miniseries is how much of that mournful and somber
tone it gets just right. The first half, which
centers on the kids as they battle the demonic child killer in the
sewers, is justifiably held up as one of the greatest Stephen King
adaptations of any medium, but that second clunkier part really gets to
one of the sadder parts of adulthood, when you realize how much of your
childhood you’ve forgotten and you take stock of all the ways you did or
didn’t become the person you thought you would be when the everything
was possible. Also, if I may cheat and offer a second pick, I’d go for
Disney’s “The Kid,” which deals with somewhat similar concepts in a far
more kid-friendly manner. Through the gimmick of Bruce Willis meeting up
with the ten-year old version of himself, it also offers a sobering
look of the notion of who we thought we were going to be versus who we
became, with a nod to the inexplicable ability to forget even the most
important and traumatic childhood moments as a means of self-defense.
Jeff Berg, Las Cruces Bulletin, Reel NM
For me personally, “The Tree of Life” was remarkably similar to my own childhood. I was mesmerized and watch it on occasion to see if it will trigger forgotten memories from those early years. On a different level, Ralphie’s excitement in “A Christmas Story” about a particular desire, shall we say, for “that” Christmas present also rings very true.
And of course, “The Sandlot,” since I was obsessed with baseball.
Piers Marchant, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Conceptually, the film about childhood that gets the effect just about right is “The Tree of Life” — before Malick’s visionary representation of the fragmentation of childhood memory, where we only catching half-whispers of things on the edge of our periphery, the standard mode of perfect memory realization seemed reasonable, but not so much since then. Thematically and emotionally, however, I’d have to go with del Toro’s utterly heartbreaking “Pan’s Labyrinth,” a film whose beauty absolutely floored me before the ending ripped out my insides. A perfect metaphor for the intrinsic fragility and noble essence of the young spirit, even as its being crushed under the jackboot of a cruel and demented fascist fanatic.
Carrie Rickey, Yahoo! Movies, TruthDig
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” “Los Olvidados,” “Pixote,” “Sugar Cane Alley,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Whistle Down the Wind.”
Gary Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News
While “Boyhood,” a coming-of-age film like no other, is a great (albeit obvious) choice, I would also recommend “This Boy’s Life,” the underseen adaptation of Tobias Wolff’s boyhood experiences with an abusive step-father. Films about childhood tend to emphasize the desires and fears of parents, but these films, like Steven Soderbergh’s superb “King of the Hill,” all focus on the youths and how they cope with the world around them. That is why they resonate.
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket
We don’t have to look too far in the past to find the best movie about childhood. It came out last year. Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” simply, yet meaningfully captures what it’s like to be a kid. The film depicts all the magic, wonder, and confusion of being a child, as well as what it’s like to assimilate new, more mature information into your worldview as you get older. No other film has done this with such astonishing accuracy. I’d also cite Steven Soderbergh’s “King of the Hill” as a great movie about childhood. Its central character learns some tough lessons about how screwed up adults can become, while still retaining a sense of innocence and purity. And as for “Inside Out,” well, it’s pretty great, too.
Casey Cipriani, Indiewire, Refinery 29
I don’t agree with Brody’s takedown of “Inside Out,” I loved it and thought its representation of emotions incredible, but unfortunately my two choices do depict childhood as being one of disorientation and loss. But they’re also two of my favorite movies ever. “Stand By Me” and “E.T.” both capture what it’s like to have that childhood ability to believe in the power of storytelling and the imagination. Though the messages and feelings the kids in these movies feel are gender neutral, sadly, both of those films revolve more around (and all around in the case of “Stand By Me”) young boys, which makes “Inside Out” even better in that it features the childhood roller coaster of being a young girl.
Danny Bowes, The A.V. Club
Two answers here, based on which part of childhood we’re talking about: the one that best captures the feeling of being a young kid to me is John Boorman’s “Hope and Glory,” based to an extent on his own experiences growing up in England during World War II. The adult world as seen through the eyes of the protagonist is alternately inscrutable beyond any hope of understanding and a farce played out by a bunch of big old goofballs who’ve lost sight of the important things in life. There’s a lucidity and clarity to it that’s fairly unique in Boorman’s career (and I freely acknowledge that it’s a little weird that one of my favorite movies of all time is practically the only one by its director that I like, but I like to think that just contributes to life’s rich fabric of inconsistency), and its emotional highs and lows have a kind of unqualified totality that resembles that of the very young.
For slightly older kids, specifically those at the end of their childhood, there is no competition with “Dazed and Confused.” The specifics I can’t speak to, not being a suburbanite or a Texan, but the general emotional truths of adolescence all ring beautifully and perfectly true in the movie, in a way oddly diametrically opposite of Linklater’s later — and near-universally acclaimed — “Boyhood,” one of the most emotionally alienating movies I’ve ever seen. Would that it had been otherwise.
Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot
I’m going to say — strictly from memory — that John Boorman’s “Hope and Glory” captures both the genuinely real fear of the world and bullying that exists for children, and the ability to find wonder and escape in the imagination even in circumstances adults consider dire.
For one without direness, “The Red Balloon.” No explanation necessary if you’ve seen it.
Greg Cwik, Vulture, Indiewire
The obvious and objective answer is “E.T.,” which captures every emotion of childhood in a narrative ostensibly concerning an alien who may or may not be Jesus. “A.I.” and “Hope and Glory” are also close. If you say “The Goonies” you are a bad person.
Justine Smith, Sound on Sight
I think that Miyazaki’s films capture childhood remarkably well. I always turn to “My Neighbour Totoro” as a rare example of realistic pre-school aged children. They are neither idiotic or precautious, and are instilled with a sense of wonderment befitting of the world Miyazaki is crafting. The story itself is not without it’s moments of great fear or loss, though it is appropriately simplified to meet the level of understanding that kids of that age may have. The giggling always gets me, and fills me with so much nostalgia for my own childhood with my younger sisters and the invented worlds we would inhabit. In other films like “Spirited Away” or “Ponyo,” Miyazaki similarly is able to reach to that specific moment of your development and reflect it outwardly, I am not sure in the history of cinema there is a filmmaker who captures more beautifully or more accurately a sense of growing up — in particular for young girls, who are far less likely to be cinematic subjects than boys.
There are other films that spring to mind, “Spirit of the Beehive” has a lot more of melancholic take on childhood, but one that still feels so true and real. The filmmaking style reflects a world as seen through the gauze of childhood, where impressions of colour and light evoke emotions rather than actions or words. Not unlike Miyazaki, it similarly blurs the line between reality and fiction, though to far more tragic results. Perhaps it skews older, but “The Wizard of Oz” is another film that ever since I was a child seemed to have deep insight into how you see the world when your experiences are limited and your sense of nuance underdeveloped. That innate desire to return home is also one that is deeply felt in particular by children; that continual yearning for an out of sight mother or family always strikes me as an integral part of childhood when you are so dependent on others for survival.
Monica Castillo, International Business Times
Early in my TCM-watching history, I caught a late-night airing of the
movie “The Spirit of the Beehive,” which followed the adventures of two
sisters, Ana and Isabel, in Francoist Spain. The pair watch a traveling
road show screening of the 1931 “Frankenstein,” and the youngest sister,
Ana, becomes convinced the movie’s monster is real. Thanks to Isabel,
Ana is led to believe she can even contact the monster’s spirit. I
know the subtext is so much more than the surface childhood storyline,
but that’s what made this movie stick out in my mind all these years.
The loving yet difficult relationship between Ana and Isabel reminded me
so much of my own with my little sister (although I did not convince
her Frankenstein’s monster was real). Ana’s innocence and good natured
self felt so believable for a child. When her wild imagination gets
challenged or reality dispels it altogether, it immediately drew me back
to those moments where I had to reconcile what was real vs. my own
childhood reasoning. Coming to terms with a concept like death or
divorce as a kid can be a jarring experience, and “The Spirit of the
Beehive” captures that sense of reality’s intrusion without losing its
Farran Nehme, The New York Post, Self-Styled Siren
My instant answer is “The Spirit of the Beehive.” This is what I wrote about it in 2006:
I was astonished at director Victor Erice’s ability to capture the view of a child. An abandoned farmhouse becomes Frankenstein’s lair, a midnight walk becomes a means to summon a ghost, a sister’s playing possum becomes death itself. There were points in the movie where I sat up in disbelief, jarred by a memory of the way I thought and acted as a child, that memory brought back so vividly it was as though I were a little girl again, if only for a minute.
The setting is a remote part of Spain in 1940. Ana (Ana Torrent, about six years old and possessed of eyes that could stop your heart) sees Frankenstein via a traveling movie show. Her sister Isabel convinces her that the monster’s spirit is still somewhere about. Ana’s parents, traumatized and estranged, pursue their own obsessions and are only fitfully present in their children’s lives. Spain’s Civil War has just ended, and throughout the film we sense real monsters barely kept at bay as the girls become more engrossed in their games…Despite the frequent reminders of the grown-up world, so intensely do you enter the minds of the children that when a bit of magical realism takes shape late in the tale, it feels as logical to you as it does to Ana.
Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye for Film
Films about childhood work best when they confront us with interconnectedness. In Book 1 of “My Struggle,” Karl Ove Knausgaard describes his first childhood memory. Walking over a bridge in the early 1970s with his Grandma, he watched an old man with white hair and a white beard, a bowed back and a stick. The four-year-old boy was convinced that he recognized the man, that in fact, this was the same man he had seen on a poster in his father’s office. When he pointed to the poster and told his father and his colleague that he had seen that man on the street, they laughed. The man on the poster was Ibsen (1828-1906). Knausgaard describes something very central to childhood experiences, that “nothing in the world was incomprehensible, everything was connected with everything else.” Carlos Saura in his masterpiece “Cría Cuervos” shows a child, played by the precocious Ana Torrent, linking events and her own powers. As far as authentic physical expression on film is concerned, Torrent at age 8, who already encountered Frankenstein’s monster in Víctor Erice’s “The Spirit of the Beehive” two years earlier, was allowed by Saura to choreograph her own dance. Scott McGehee and David Siegel get a similar energy from Onata Aprile in “What Maisie Knew.” Henry James had written his grandfather-of-custody-battles story exclusively from the little girl’s perspective. James was a great admirer of John Singer Sargent’s portraits. His painting of “The Boit Children” from 1882 always makes me think of Maisie. (Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends opens this Tuesday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art). The one-dimensionality, meaning that everything walks in the same realm and time does not present a barrier, has a lot in common with cinema itself, where any encounter is possible. For Knausgaard, it could just as well have been Ibsen on that bridge, or, as Sam Shepard put it in “True West,” “Picasso is in town.”
Miriam Bale, Fandor
“Récréation” by Claire Simon perfectly captures childhood rules of the game. And I think no one has shown the emotional complexities of childhood better than Vincent Minnelli, “Meet Me in Saint Louis” most notably, but also little Ron Howard’s anguish in “Courtship of Eddie’s Father.” I wrote about the former and the difference between films for children and films by children here.
As far as children’s movies: “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Meet Me in St Louis,” “Mary Poppins,” “Robin Hood” (1973),”101 Dalmatians”
“The Wiz,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Home Alone,” “Adventures in Babysitting.”
Alison Nastasi, Flavorwire
“Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” captures the confounding, erotic, and sometimes grotesque nature of
puberty and young womanhood, navigating the chasm of wolfish desire and
duplicity that awaits. It’s an awakening that bestows its heroine with
knowledge without sacrificing the wonder that lingers.
Tina Hassannia , Movie Mezzanine, The Dissolve
important skill to learn in childhood is empathy. It can develop quite
rapidly and really does a number on kids: it changes their perspectives
and can seriously affect their actions (which are sometimes rational,
sometimes silly, but always understandable). In Abbas Kiarostami’s “Where is the Friend’s Home?,” doing the right thing becomes a self-journey unto itself, and I think
it’s the film’s handling of the child protagonist’s moral dilemma that
makes it one of the finest films about childhood, as it explores the
simple but painful internal struggles that accompany that confusing
period of life. Ahmed accidentally takes home his friend’s notebook on
the same day that the friend is harshly reprimanded by their teacher for
not doing homework properly — that
is, in his notebook. In order to prevent the friend from being expelled
for a simple mistake, Ahmed must take a painstakingly long quest to
find his friend’s home. It’s an impossible trip, but Ahmed’s dogged
determination reflects a truism of childhood: knowing what’s the right
thing to do becomes more important than what’s possible. An older child
would still try to help his friend, but devise an easier, if-not
deceitful manner — namely,
simply doing the friend’s homework. But Ahmed is too young to
understand such complexities (he may not think of it right away, or may
fear the teacher will find out), and so the power of empathy and
friendship overtakes his ability to understand the logistics of what he
thinks he must do. This kind of immature understanding of the
world is what makes childhood empathy so fascinating. It’s the
simplicity with which Ahmed views the world that makes him so stubborn
to give up in the face of multiple obstacles (parents and grandparents
who order him to fetch him items, his not knowing the friend’s address,
unhelpful villagers who can’t point out the right direction, etc.), and
that kind of nobility can’t be replicated in anyone over the age of ten.
When we’re young, we are compelled to do stupid, illogical things
because of a gut reaction that tells us what is right from wrong. And
because we lack the ability to understand more, or the skills to do
more, we may very well sacrifice ourselves to the task.
Luke Goodsell, Movie Mezzanine, Empire
Haven’t seen “Inside Out,” but I’m generally irked by Pixar’s attempts to depict childhood as four-quadrant universal experiences, when it’s anything but generic. Childhood is strange and not necessarily a thing of wonder, which is why movies like Jan Svankmajer’s “Alice” and Terry Gilliam’s “Tideland” jump into my head instantly as responses. There’s also a great childlike sense to a lot of Jacques Tati and Miyazaki (“My Neighbor Totoro” most obviously.) And Spielberg’s “E.T.,” I gotta admit, is still a pretty overwhelming slice of loneliness and childhood vanishing.
Richard Brody, New Yorker
Since movies about childhood are made by directors who are no longer children, they’re created in the mode of memory, and the filmmaker who reconsiders his own past most comprehensively and discerningly is Terence Davies, whose diptych of “Distant Voices, Still Lives” and “The Long Day Closes” shows an adult’s childhood to be both elusive and burningly, unshakably present — and to be deeply enmeshed with the world of adults who surrounded him, a sort of spectatorship — and connoisseurship — that unfolds its belated discoveries throughout a lifetime. In “The 400 Blows,” François Truffaut showed a respectable family making a child’s life a living hell; he never ceased filming oppressed and abused children in such characters as Catherine Deneuve’s, in “Mississippi Mermaid,” and Bernadette Lafont’s, in “A Gorgeous Girl Like Me”; but in “The 400 Blows,” he had too many fish to fry to fit them into the one-meal pan of his début feature; I wish that he had lived to make the “Berlin Alexanderplatz” of his own wartime childhood. Yasujiro Ozu’s “Good Morning” catches cruelty, frivolity, inanity, willfulness with a uniquely ironic tenderness; Samira Makhmalbaf’s “The Apple” — one of the few films about childhood made by someone nearly still a child — catches even better than The Wolfpack the primary mode of childhood: subjection to parental authority. So, of course, does Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter,” albeit with a self-conscious touch of poetry (the primary aesthetic deformation of many movies about childhood). Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” is as much about a girl and her father as it’s about the birth of her aesthetic on the basis of that relationship and those memories. The great classic Hollywood poet of lost and wild children is Vincente Minnelli; sticking to the notion of childhood as pre-pubescence, his masterwork on the subject is “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.” But the wildest cinematic child of all is an adult, Jerry Lewis, whose hieratic self-identification is as illuminating as his destructive, guilt-ridden, pious, and terror-stricken performances: “I come to you as the child who recognizes the child who did it.”
Ethan Alter, Film Journal International, Yahoo Movies
It’s perhaps an obvious choice, but “The 400 Blows” is the movie that springs immediately to mind. Despite being five decades and a continent removed from that film’s time and setting, there’s a timeless universality to how Truffaut dramatizes young Antoine’s feelings of isolation and neglect. And I have to think that “Inside Out” director Pete Docter used Jean-Pierre Leaud’s remarkable performance as a reference point for Riley’s animated facial expressions, particularly in the sequences where she’s decided to run away.
Max O’Connell , Rapid City Journal, Movie Mezzanine
“E.T.” and “The 400 Blows.” The former is the best film ever made about the loneliness that often comes from even a relatively happy childhood in a mostly-functional home, the frustrations and bonds between siblings that become more pronounced after a parent leaves, and the lasting impact a friendship has on a child’s life, be it with a person, a dog or an alien. It’s such a successful retelling of “Peter Pan” — magical figure comes to three siblings, befriends them, gives them greater appreciation of each other/their parent(s) — that it makes Spielberg’s later “Hook” redundant on top of being a hollow misfire that feels as dishonest about parent/child relationships as “E.T.” is honest. “The 400 Blows,” meanwhile, is my favorite film about what comes out of a clearly dysfunctional family (though Truffaut is, as always, more charitable to Antoine Doinel’s parents than he initially seems) with a clearly unwanted child. It’s funny: I had a pretty good childhood overall, I think, with good relationships with my parents/siblings, and yet I gravitate towards movies about how much of a drag it can be (see also: “Where the Wild Things Are”) and the lasting effects of it (“Magnolia,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”). I’ll take it up with the shrink.
Charles Bramesco, Random Nerds, The Dissolve
Spike Jonze’s adaptation of seminal children’s picture book “Where the Wild Things Are” unsettled me when I first saw it, and not just because I was hearing Tony Soprano’s voice coming out of a creature that looks like something Ray Harryhausen might cook up with today’s technology. Jonze’s film reminded me of all the aspects of childhood I’ve tried to wallpaper over: the emotional vulnerability that comes with friendship, the jealousy and the insecurity, the feelings of helplessness and confusion. There are certainly passages in which Jonze captures the ecstatic potential of youth, that early stage in which the human body apparently contains endless reserves of energy. But Jonze, true to form, cultivates a potent atmosphere of melancholy throughout the film. He sees how an errant word leads to tears, a stray thought leads to rage, and a well-placed gesture can neutralize it all. The touches of whimsy and surrealism — a huge spherical nest made of twigs, for instance — perfectly communicate the violent unknowability and private awe of childhood.
Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity
The film I’ve felt most precisely evoked what I remember from childhood was “Where the Wild Things Are” — which has a lot in common with “Inside Out,” I think. That confusion about your emotions, and how you’re supposed to
deal with them, and the slowly dawning realization that grownups are
also just people with feelings, plus the sense of sweet loss as you grow
up a little, is all there, and so beautifully. I loved the film, but
with a lump in my throat.
Nell Minow, The Movie Mom, Beliefnet
“To Kill a Mockingbird” somehow captures the voice of the novel in allowing us to see the story through the eyes of a child but with the understanding of the now-adult Scout who provides the narration. It is almost as though the camera is at a child’s eye level, as we, along with Scout, have a growing appreciation of what her father is doing and what kind of a man he is. Even the music expresses the wonder of children for whom so much of they see is equally new and intriguing, but who also take so much still for granted.
Peter Howell, Toronto Star
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Alan J. Pakula screen adaptation of the Harper Lee bestseller, makes a timely return to mind for this topic. I remember first seeing it on TV when I was about 10, or close to the age of Mary Badham’s inquisitive Scout in the film. The film was rightly hailed for its searing inquiry into racial injustice and also for Gregory Peck’s towering performance as righteous courtroom defender Atticus Finch. But for me as a child, Scout’s perspective on the terrors of adulthood, waiting just outside the garden walls of childhood, made a lasting impact.
Calum Marsh, Village Voice
Elem Klimov’s “Come and See.”
Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter
The problem with most films about childhood is that they so prominently have children in them, and most children are only so-so actors, heavily reliant on the skill of their directors (the handling of junior performers is a pretty reliable litmus-test of directorial ability, I always think). One obvious recent exception is of course Neill Blomkamp’s “Chappie,” which so cleverly gets round the kiddie-actor problem, but which I wrote about in this space last week. So instead I’ll shine a spotlight on a Korean picture which most folk have never heard of, namely Jeon Soo-Il’s “With a Girl of Black Soil,” in which two bairns are raised in a slag-heap-encircled pit village by their alcoholic ex-miner dad. Her slightly older brother has developmental difficulties and her pops is near-permanently in a booze-stupor, so it falls to 9-year-old Yeong-Lim to keep the family going. And it falls to Yoo Yeon-Mi (aka Yu Yun-mi) to carry the burden of the whole film on her teeny-tiny shoulders. She does so with breathtaking, sometimes heartbreaking aplomb, delivering a pantheon-worthy performance that utterly transcends considerations of age.
Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037
“The Spirit of the Beehive,” “Phantasm,” “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Night of the Hunter,” “Don’t Go to Sleep,” “The House of Dies Drear,” “Days of Heaven,” “The Peanut Butter Solution,” “Lady in White,” and “Over the Edge.”
Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly
There are so many films from so many different perspectives that I’m sure are going to get much-deserved attention. But a couple of 1990s titles stick in my mind for the vivid emotions they bring to different kinds of coming-of-age. Steven Soderbergh’s “King of the Hill” is a magnificently crafted story of a boy having every support structure pulled out from under his life until he’s left to understand what it is to survive alone. And Jacques Doillon’s “Ponette” might still represent the most remarkable child performance I’ve seen in 20 years as a critic, with 4-year-old Victoire Thivisol portraying a girl coping with the death of her mother. There’s anxiety and complexity in those stories that for me capture the essence of what it is to be completely dependent on others, and not even fully comprehend what that means.
Michael Pattison, Sight & Sound, Fandor
This passage, from David Walsh of the World Socialist Web Site’s otherwise negative review of “The Tree of Life”, has stayed with me:
By far the strongest section of “The Tree of Life” treats Jack’s growing awareness of life, his departure from childhood. Here the elliptical, imagistic style works supremely well. Malick precisely conveys the newness of certain experiences, those moments when the boy becomes conscious of difference (and suffering in some instances) for the first time: the haggard prisoners, a crippled man crossing the street, a group of black people at a barbecue joint, the drowning death of a young boy at a local pool.
A brief sequence in a classroom is done with great sensitivity. Jack notices a girl. Nothing much is made of it. But the filmmakers arrange the images in such a way as to subtly suggest why all of a sudden the boy focuses on her — in reality, an entire bio-psychological process comes to life before our eyes. In the film’s most heartbreakingly beautiful shot, we see the same girl, in the middle distance, in an otherwise deserted street at dusk. Jack then enters the frame, some distance behind her. We never see the girl again.
Other than that, I’ll chip in with “The Wire” Season Four.
Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine
I’m going with a potentially darker answer, Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” Nearly 15 years after its release, I find the film (especially its first act) extremely haunting in its depiction of childhood, portrayed both through the perspective of the adults who raise them—from the implacable mother played by Frances O’Connor to Jude Law’s sly Gigolo Joe — as well as the complete outsider/Pinocchio figure played masterfully by Haley Joel Osment. (Osment’s quite good in “The Sixth Sense,” but his work in “A.I.” is next-level.) Childhood can be wonderful, and prickly, and terrifying, and confusing, and few modern films are quite as good at capturing all of those imbalanced emotions as “A.I.” There are obviously many more positive depictions of childhood in film, but this one stands out to me far more.
Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times
“The Sandlot,” “Stand By Me,” “Crooklyn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and is it too soon to say “Boyhood”? No? (…Really?) OK, then: “Boyhood.”
John Keefer, 51 Deep
The first film that springs to mind is “The Little
Fugitive.” Maybe because children are at the center, maybe because it
captures that feeling of being out in the world, lost and incapable of
navigating the terrain. Maybe because it’s shot on location with
non-actors, serving as a window into a specific time and place that no
longer exists. Maybe just because I love it. But then I think about “Invaders from Mars” and its dreamscape of fear and paranoia, that you
don’t really know who your parents are and what motivates them. Gee
Marc V. Ciafardini, Go See Talk, The Film Stage
A highly unconventional choice, I’m going to go with “The Land Before Time.” Barring the fact the characters are dinosaurs, the
film deals with a myriad of issues which kids will face in their
lifetime; many are mature subjects they must cope with from a very young
age. Death of a parent, self-reliance, acceptance of those different
from yourself, teamwork, and more, Don Bluth puts it all out there in
his 1988 classic. I’m willing to take some laughs and sideways glances, but
this truly does capture (from mannerisms to thought processes) what it
means to be a child…thematically of course. Side note here, the
rousing and emotional score from James Horner was a big part of my
childhood soundscape. So, because we lost him far too soon, this film
has been on my mind for a variety of reasons as of late.
Q: What is the best movie in theaters?