Photography Tom Emmerson. 

ten coming of age movies that defined 2018

Whether you're in the messy throes of adolescence or approaching your 70th birthday — we all stand to learn something from the experiences of young people beamed onto our screens.

by Douglas Greenwood
06 December 2018, 8:30am

Photography Tom Emmerson. 

Just as the world around us reckoned with responsibility and maturity in 2018 (we’re still waiting for some people in positions of power to grow the fuck up), so too did our cinema. This year’s crop of stand-out coming of age movies were all quietly laced in the kind of important life lessons we all need to be reminded of: from the easily dismissed importance of teen friendships in Crystal Moselle's Skate Kitchen, to our reckoning with independence in films like Lean on Pete, there was a new found respect towards the young protagonists of 2018's strongest movies.

What's more, the way in which many of these films blurred the boundaries of genre and seeped into the Oscar circuit meant they gained more clout and bigger audiences than ever before. Coming of age movies are no longer for kids. Whether you're in the messy throes of adolescence or approaching your 70th birthday — we all stand to learn something from the experiences of young people beamed onto our screens. These ten spectacular movies prove that.

1. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig doesn’t know what a bad movie looks like. Ever since she cracked the mainstream with her role in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg in 2010, she’s gone from project to project, winning the kind of complex yet crowd-pleasing roles most actors would kill for. It makes sense then, that someone famed for playing displaced and awkward characters (see Frances Ha, it’s perfect), would go down that route for her solo directorial debut. Starring Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan in the titular role, Lady Bird rightfully won our hearts: a breezy comedy drama set at the turn of the 21st century, telling the story of a plucky, young woman desperately trying to escape her Californian hometown. Packed with pop cultural signposts and starring current i-D cover star Timothee Chalamet as an out-of-character douchebag, this was a comely, coming of age masterpiece for any small town kid who grew up in the early noughties.

2. My Golden Days (Trois Souvenirs de ma Jeunesse)
It’s not really surprising that this low budget French drama about a man reminiscing on his wild teenagehood slipped under the radar when it was released earlier this year. It premiered in France back in 2015 at Cannes Film Festival, but spent three long years making it to our shores; we saw the movie back then, and have been waiting ever since for it to arrive. Directed by French arthouse heavyweight Arnaud Desplechin (who has since made a movie with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard), My Golden Days is split graciously into three parts, breaking down the adventures of an anthropology student as he navigates hedonism and heartbreak in his early twenties. Effortless and teeming with life, this unsung gem didn’t get the respect it deserved when it arrived here. Do yourself a favor: seek it out and savor it; you might just discover your new coming of age favorite.

3. Lean on Pete
Andrew Haigh has a fascination with human connections. In the past, the British director told the story of a gay couple in regional England with his award-winning drama Weekend, and picked at the fraying seams of an septuagenarian husband and wife’s relationship in the Oscar-nominated 45 Years. For his third feature, though, he upped sticks and headed to America to tell the story of Charley: a teenage lad from a broken home who finds purpose and solace in an ailing race horse. Part road movie, part coming of age drama, Lean on Pete takes you by surprise, swerving old American movie-making cliches and evolving into a touching film about our found families instead. It might star legends like Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny, but it’s anchored by its young lead, Charlie Plummer, and his faultless performance.

4. I Kill Giants
Grief was a theme that ran through much of this year’s stand-out coming of age films, and what a surprising gift that is. I Kill Giants tells the story of Barbara: a teenager whose independence has allowed her to retreat into fantasy land, away from the pains of her personal life, where she meets giants and battles with monsters. It’s here that she learns lessons about mortality and familial love that will follow her back into the real world. Produced by the director of Home Alone and Harry Potter, Chris Columbus, this wise rendition of the 2008 graphic novel source material packs a surprising emotional punch.

5. Skate Kitchen
The streets of New York City are easy bait for any coming of age movie. Perhaps it’s the way the skyscrapers make everybody feel woefully small and insignificant, just like we do when we’re kids. But the city, as the stars of Skate Kitchen proved to us, also gives you a certain kind of street savviness no rural upbringing ever could. Inspired by an all-girl skate group based out of NYC, this punkish teen movie directed by Crystal Mozelle was a festival darling, winning big at Sundance early in the year. It follows Camille, an outsider from the suburbs who finds the kind of friends she’s been searching for in the skateparks of lower Manhattan. Unlike many movies that treat teen friendships like fickle things, Skate Kitchen understands how powerful those early ones are, unpacking them with serious guts and grime.

6. The Ciambra (A Ciambra)
Italy’s entry for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at this year’s Oscars was a low-key docu-drama about a Roma family fighting to survive in southern Italy, but it makes this list for the protagonist at its core. In The Ciambra, director Jonas Carpignano focuses his lens on a 14-year-old kid named Pio who might seem cocksure and outspoken, but under the surface is torn apart by his social anxiety. After the disappearance of his older brother, someone he idolizes greatly, Pio is forced to grow up and become the “man of the house” — whether he’s ready for it or not. By using a real life Roma family to tell his fictional tale, Carpignano creates a riveting story of borderless friendships, unfounded responsibility, and a desire — one we all get as teenagers — to be older than we are while still holding on to the freedom of our youth.

7. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
This Netflix Original seemed to appear on our screens out of nowhere and swiftly became the internet’s new fave. The story behind To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before instilled fear in everyone who’d fawned over their high school crush. It followed a high school girl who has to glue her social life back together after five love letters she wrote to her crushes wind up being mailed to them. Based on a 2014 young adult book by Jenny Han, it resurrected the classic hallmarks of vintage teen cinema with so much love and became one of the few American coming of age movies that cast an asian actress in the lead role. It also reminded us of how Hollywood is spawning a new generation of teen heartthrobs right now: Noah Centineo’s bright white smile and freakin’ PERFECT hair have made him the ultimate poster boy for 2019 too.

8. Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993)
The point at which we come of age differs depending on how kind life has been to us. For six-year-old Frida — the protagonist of Carla Simon’s sorely unseen debut film Summer 1993 — that point came to her earlier than in most of our lives. The film starts with the bleak image of Frida watching every one of her belongings being packed into boxes in a place that will soon become a distant memory of ‘home’: she’s preparing to move to her uncle’s house in the Catalonian countryside. Her mother and father have both died of AIDS. It’s a melancholic set-up for a film that unfolds in the sprightly heat of a Spanish summer, filled with scrapbook recollections of a childhood that Carla herself once lived — but there are two things that make this film completely unmissable. For one, young Laia Artigas delivers a startling mature and measured performance as Frida. And secondly, it’s one of the few films that truly understands the complexities of childhood. While most films use young kids in family dramas out of necessity, Summer 1993 does a remarkable job of showing how pivotal those years are in all of our lives.

9. Coco
This Dia de los Muertos-inspired movie from the giants at Disney/Pixar was one of the most ambitious and singular projects the mega studio have delivered in the last decade, and at its heart was a story that you’d have to be dead inside to not shed a tear over. Set in Santa Cecilia, Mexico, Coco follows a 12-year-old boy whose great ambitions to become his country’s next musical megastar are crushed by his parents’ ban on singing and playing guitar in the house. Keen to break free and prove them wrong, he sneaks into his late great-great-grandfather’s tomb (dark, we know) and gets his hands on the guitar that supposedly propelled him to fame as a world famous singer. One chord later, he’s being dragged into the afterlife to find its owner, who he hopes will give him all the answers to his problems. It could’ve been a mind-numbing, candy-colored and saccharine sweet kids’ movie, but Coco harbors some real life lessons about listening to those who have wisdom and hindsight, and learning to let go of people we love. If you don’t cry at this, you’re truly dead inside.

10. The Rider
In a desolate town dotted somewhere across the American midwest, a young man called Brady spends his days stacking shelves at a grocery store and bumming around with his friends in the wilderness, staring at the stars. It wasn’t how his life used to be. A few months prior, Brady was a prize-winning Bronco rider with his sights set on money and fame, but he’s had to give that up, having been thrown off his horse and suffering a serious brain injury that could kill him if he gets back on. Directed by the criminally underrated Chloe Zhao, this masterful modern fable about a young man having to navigate his dreams with his whole life still ahead of him has the power to reinstate your faith in American indie cinema. You know when your grandparents say, ‘They don’t make ‘em like that anymore?’ Show them this.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

coming of age
Lady Bird
skate kitchen
to all the boys i've loved before
noah centineo