A Fresh Face

Baby Boy is director John Singleton’s transitional period between the hood and Hollywood. Since it was sandwiched between his hard R Shaft remake and action sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious. Baby Boy wasn’t on my radar until two of my favorite co-workers brought it to my attention. Although it’s rougher than I’m used to, I did end up liking Baby Boy for what it is. It’s tough, but it can be funny when it wants to be. The title refers to the young black Jody Summers being compared to a baby who refuses to grow up.

Despite having 2 kids by 2 different baby mamas, Jody continues to fool around while living with his mama. His only ambition is fixing bikes and selling women’s clothes. Despite his lifestyle, Jody at least tries to be better than what society expects him to be. Although the role was made for Tupac, he died before he had the chance to play Jody. So Baby Boy ended up being Tyrese Gibson’s debut performance. It’s arguably his best performance alongside Taraji P. Henson who also got the role early in her career.

Jody is molded by the people in his life. Peanut doesn’t have much of a role, but he truly loves Yvette. His mama gives good advice, but Ving Rhames plays a complicated potential father figure. Omar Gooding doesn’t quite live up to his brother, but Sweetpea is a memorable best friend. Snoop Dogg is particularly unlikable as Yvette’s ex-con ex-boyfriend. It’s not as hard-hitting as Boyz n the Hood, but Baby Boy is a hood film with something to say.

Baby Boy

Jody and Yvette fight

Stay Gold Ponyboy

The Outsiders may be the most crucial teen movie ever made. It’s responsible for launching the careers of C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, and even Tom Cruise. So many young future stars getting their start in the same movie. It led to the creation of the Brat Pack which lasted throughout the 80’s. I love teen movies, but my history with The Outsiders is a little complicated. The Outsiders is based on a 1967 novel by S. E. Hinton. She wrote the coming-of-age book when she was in high school. I ended up reading The Outsiders in middle school and we watched the movie in class, but I have a scattered memory of it.

Acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola isn’t known for angsty teen dramas, but he was inspired to adapt the book after students recommended him for the job. The Outsiders is certainly different with a shorter runtime than most Coppola films. Hinton worked closely with Coppola and the actors in order to stay faithful to the story. As the title suggests, the greasers are a group of outsiders living in 1965 Oklahoma. Most of them have nicknames, but all of them are at odds with the high class socs. Dally is the toughest greaser who flirts with danger and redheaded socs girl Cherry Valance.

Ponyboy and Johnny are the most sensitive greasers who come from the roughest families. Ponyboy lives with his brothers Darry and Sodapop and Johnny lives with his abusive parents. Reality strikes when a fatal stabbing forces them to go on the run. The Outsiders is all about those who continue down a dangerous path and those who strive to be better. Dally, Johnny, and Ponyboy are labeled heroes after saving kids from a burning building, but it ends tragically for two of them. All you can do is “Stay Gold” and make life worth living. The Outsiders set the standard for many teen movies to come.

The Outsiders

Dally (center) helps out Johnny (left) and Ponyboy (right)

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CODA is powerful beyond words. First premiering at Sundance, CODA was a true underdog that nobody expected to win Best Picture. I’m so glad it won, because CODA is honestly one of the most deserving Best Picture winners I’ve seen in a long time. Although I was adamant about never getting Apple TV+, it was worth the experience. Beating Netflix to become the first streaming service to win the Academy Award. Similar to The Departed, CODA is technically an American remake of a French-Belgium film called La Famille Bélier. CODA stands for child of deaf adults. Ruby is the only hearing child of her deaf family. Director Sian Heder worked extensively with the deaf community in order to get the story right. Winning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for her effort.

Marlee Matlin was a major contributor who threatened to leave if deaf actors weren’t cast. Matlin plays Ruby’s commanding mother Jackie, Daniel Durant plays Ruby’s determined brother Leo, and Troy Kotsur plays Ruby’s embarrassing father Frank. Kotsur is so funny and passionate without saying a word. Winning Best Supporting Actor brought things full circle since Matlin was the first deaf actress to win an Oscar with Children of a Lesser God. The Rossi family may be deaf, but they’re sexually active proud business owners who stick together no matter what. Unlike La Famille Bélier, the Rossi’s are fishermen instead of farmers. The open waters are gorgeous even on a TV screen. Ruby is expected to be her families interpreter, but she just wants to live her own life. She discovers a passion for music that her parents will never fully understand.

CODA is a fairly simple coming-of-age story with the horny best friend, mean girls, a charming crush, and that one extra supportive teacher who pushes the main character. Emilia Jones elevates everything with her beautiful singing voice. She had to take vocal lessons and American sign language lessons just for the movie. Although they have trouble letting go, Ruby’s family comes to support her. Most of CODA is surprisingly hilarious, but I had to cry when Ruby sang for her father. Just as emotional is Ruby signing “Both Sides Now” for her family near the end. I actually think I prefer Emilia Jones’ cover over the original. CODA is a story I’ve heard before, but I love it all the more for telling it. 🤟

CODA

Ruby signs “I really love you” to her family

You Have to Promise You Won’t Fall in Love with Me

A Walk to Remember is sadder than The Notebook, but not as remembered by the general public. The Notebook was of course the first Nicholas Sparks adaptation that I saw. A Walk to Remember seemed like a good follow up due to its similarities. Both books take place in the past and have sad endings. A Walk to Remember keeps the sad ending, but the setting is modernized. Most of the North Carolina set was even borrowed from Dawson’s Creek. Most critics wrote it off, but I knew there was a loyal fanbase.

I was genuinely moved by A Walk to Remember no matter how cliché it might be. Landon Carter is your typical bad boy who acts out. Jamie Sullivan is your typical reverend’s daughter with her own interests. Though they’ve known each other a long time, they’re brought together when Landon is forced to do a school play. Jamie only helps him under the condition that he doesn’t fall in love with her. Of course that’s a promise he won’t be able to keep for long. Jamie’s disapproving father and Landon’s mostly lousy friends can’t get in the way of them falling in love.

Their romance is sweet with Landon helping Jamie accomplish everything on her list. Shane West has a fine emotional transformation and Mandy Moore proves herself as an actress. Though she does sing on two separate occasions. The sadness comes in when Jamie reveals she has leukemia. Sparks wrote the story for his own sister battling cancer. Jamie actually looks sick, but her faith is refreshingly shown in a positive light. I cried from the reveal to Jamie’s final wish to be married. Love Story may have done it first, but I prefer A Walk to Remember.

A Walk to Remember

Landon sits with Jamie

If I Were a Boy

Boys Don’t Cry is the most transformative film of Hilary Swank’s career. Although I would’ve prefered seeing American Beauty win all five major Oscars, I completely understand Swank winning Best Actress. The Academy loves major transformations. No matter how controversial the subject matter is. Boys Don’t Cry is centered on real life transgender individual Brandon Teena. Although I rarely gravitate towards movies like this, I can still appreciate the performances, direction, and handling of tragic events. Transgender movies were almost unheard of in 1999.

Until director Kimberly Pierce learned about the story in college. Swank lost weight, cut her hair, and wore male clothing to effectively pass for Teena. The movie tries to focus on a love story and coming-of-age themes before the brutality comes in. Pierce uses several artistic techniques to represent confinement and longing. The Nebraska trailer park setting only emphasizes 1999’s fascination with escaping a mundane lifestyle. Teena tries to live like a boy, but several reckless decisions with rough male friends make things worse.

Eventually Teena falls in love with burnt out singer Lana Tisdel. Chloë Sevigny gives the second best performance that also deserved an Oscar nomination. There’s plenty of intense passion even if it isn’t entirely factually accurate. As I saw in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, Boys Don’t Cry nearly received an NC-17 for its graphic sex scenes and inevitable assault. The latter is particularly hard to watch. Teena was later murdered by the same “friends” who committed the assault. Leading to a change in hate crime law. Boys Don’t Cry leaves a lasting impact.

Boys Don't Cry

Brandon Teena in a skate park

Do Right By Me

The Color Purple did right by its source material. The 1982 novel was frequently banned, but that wasn’t enough to keep African American author Alice Walker from winning a Pulitzer Prize. The movie was made only 3 years after the book was published with none other than Steven Spielberg as director. It was his first serious drama, even though people thought it should’ve had a black director. Despite being Jewish and understanding the material well enough to do the film justice. I’m always impressed by Spielberg’s ability to turn even the most tragic stories into fully engaging epics. Apart from its reputation, I actually never knew much about The Color Purple growing up.

It’s the tale of two African American sisters growing up in the South at the turn of the 20th Century. A saga that spans approximately 40 years. Like most black women at the time, Celie is constantly mistreated by the men in her life. The PG-13 rating makes the darker themes easier to get through, but no less uncomfortable. Racism is present, but that’s not the primary focus. The only person who cares about Celie is her close sister Nettie. Unfortunately, Celie’s life takes a turn for the worst when her abusive father gives her to the equally abusive Mister and he separates the sisters for what seems like an eternity. The ensemble cast of respected black performers delivers some of their best work.

Whoopi Goldberg makes her breakout feature film debut as Celie. Effectively showing her progression from timid maid to strong independent black woman. Oprah Winfrey makes her film debut too, by practically disappearing in the role of the strong-willed Sophia. Even the much more irredeemably cruel Mister and Old Mister are fleshed out with Danny Glover and Adolph Caesar in the roles. The final ingredient was Margaret Avery holding the family together as singer/showgirl Shug Avery. SPOILER ALERT! It was satisfying to finally see Celie stand up for herself and just as emotional to witness her tearful reunion with her sister. The Color Purple had 11 Academy Award nominations, but not a single win. Ironically, it lost Best Picture to another female focused film with Africa as a setting. The Color Purple may have been overlooked, but that doesn’t make it any less deserving of appreciation.

The Color Purple

Celie and Nettie in a field of purple flowers

Living in the Moment

The Spectacular Now is all about living in the moment. As one of the earliest films from A24, I knew I needed to see The Spectacular Now now. I didn’t read the book, but Shailene Woodley’s strange romantic connection to three of her Divergent co-stars is what caught my attention. In this case it’s with her onscreen rival played by Miles Teller. What elevates The Spectacular Now from other coming of age teen flicks is just how genuine it feels.

Set at the end of Senior year, Sutter Keely is only concerned with drinking and partying with his girlfriend Cassidy. But living in the now comes at the expense of his future and even his girlfriend. I’m not the biggest fan of Miles Teller, but he does manage to make a popular alcoholic like Sutter likable, or at least believable. The breakup hits him hard and he goes on a bender that results in him passed out on a strangers lawn. Genuinely likable introvert Aimee Finecky finds him and they start talking. Aimee’s a lot like how I was growing up. Not exactly shy, optimistic, nerdy, comfortable staying out of social situations, but willing to do more.

Shailene Woodley is a natural who plays Aimee very kind and forgiving. Although they seem like polar opposites, they become a couple that feels real. Their first kiss is awkward, their first time is realistic, and they have rough patches before and after prom. It’s just Sutter meeting his deadbeat drunk father for the first time that causes self doubt. I thought it would take a darker turn, but The Spectacular Now works best as a personal journey that points to an optimistic future.

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Aimee helps Sutter pick out a song

Freak and Max

The Mighty is a tale of adolescent nobility. Like so many other people my age, I was introduced to the book Freak the Mighty in my 6th grade Reading class. The book stood out for its relatable coming of age story. We were also assigned a project where we had to make a sequel to the book. Since I used to create comic books when I was younger, I made my own comic book sequel (I got an A++ for project). Of course like most school books, we watched the movie as well. The Mighty was made 5 years after the book was published. It tells the tale of two outcasts who couldn’t be more different.

Max is the narrator who’s picked on for his enormous size, low intelligence, and father in jail. Freak (Kevin) is highly intelligent, but struggles with a condition known as Morquio syndrome. Where his body is too small for his heart. They form an unlikely bond where Max benefits from Freak’s brain and Freak benefits from Max’s legs. Freak’s fascination with King Arthur gives them a greater sense of purpose. They face bullies, return belongings, and eventually deal with their problems. With an all-star cast, it’s possible The Mighty was written off as Oscar bait.

It features the likes of Harry Dean Stanton and Gena Rowlands. Along with odder choices like Gillian Anderson and Meat Loaf. James Gandolfini is pretty much proto-Tony Soprano. But it’s actually Sharon Stone who gives a surprisingly strong performance as a struggling single mother. Elden Henson fits Max’s description, but Kieran Culkin is probably too big. He also shares several similarities to at least three of his brother’s characters. He’s named Kevin (Home Alone), wears glasses (The Pagemaster), and the role will definitely make you cry (My Girl). The Mighty is an underrated gem that shouldn’t be forgotten.

The Mighty

Max carries Freak

A Life in the Woods

Bambi is the first Disney animated movie to focus entirely on animals. If it’s not a fairy tale, then chances are it’s an animal picture. Although Dumbo did feature an animal protagonist, there were still humans in it. Bambi very much focuses on the animal world, with no visible humans at all. Unlike everything else made at the time, Bambi was based on a recently published novel titled Bambi, a Life in the Woods. It was an Austrian book brought to Walt Disney’s attention before World War II.

Although intended to be live-action, animation was really the way to go. So Disney bought the rights with the intention of making it his second animated feature after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It may not show too much in the final product, but the book was actually much more somber. Cuddly sidekicks were added, while the most memorable plot points stayed the same. The only thing that stalled production for so long was the complicated task of animating deer realistically. So other movies took its place until Bambi became the fifth animated Disney film (and the last from the Golden Age)…

9. Bambi

Bambi and his friends

Bambi is known for its reputation as one of the saddest Disney movies ever made. Which made many children who saw it cry their eyes out (myself included). I saw it when I was very young, although I never owned it on VHS. Just like the book’s title indicates, Bambi is about Bambi’s life in the woods. From his birth as a fawn, to childhood, to adolescence, and finally as a grown up buck. Instead of a roe deer, Bambi is a mule deer born to his caring mother doe. She teaches him all about the forest and his destiny as the Great Prince of the Forest. It’s Bambi’s childhood appearance that’s the most iconic. Since that’s when the most memorable moments take place. He meets an energetic bunny named Thumper who helps him to walk and talk. And a sweet skunk ironically named Flower. Both became beloved Disney sidekicks.

Bambi is eventually introduced to his father the current Great Prince of the Forest. As well as the dangers of “Man.” It’s not till the first winter that Bambi fully understands what those dangers are. In the most infamous scene in the entire movie, Bambi and his mother desperately run away from hunters. Bambi escapes and his mother doesn’t. Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing Bambi tearfully call out to his deceased mother. The Great Prince steps in and decides to raise him. Bambi grows into a strapping young buck, antlers and all. With mating season on the horizon, Friend Owl teaches Bambi, Thumper, and Flower all about being twitterpated. Thumper and Flower pair up in no time. While Bambi runs into his childhood doe friend Faline.

Of course this wouldn’t be nature if Bambi didn’t have to fight for her affection. A jealous deer named Ronno fights Bambi in an intense confrontation. However “Man” is still the bigger antagonist when they accidentally set off a raging forest fire. In the end there’s still hope when Bambi has children of his own. While not to the same degree as the book, the movie still has a strong environmental message. A message so strong that “Man” was named the 20th greatest villain in movie history according to AFI. Without ever having to appear on screen. All it took was the single sound of gun fire.

The animation is highly expressive with movements that do manage to capture realistic animal movements. Made even more powerful with dramatic silhouettes and believable seasonal changes. This was one of the earliest Disney movies that animators carefully studied real life animals for. A practise that continues to this day. The only thing that Bambi doesn’t have is memorable songs. The only one that comes to mind is a song about “Little April Showers.” It’s really the stronger focus on music without lyrics that works well for the story. In fact, there are only 900 words spoken in the entire movie. So the visuals are truly the highlight of the movie. Bambi is a precious coming-of-age story that isn’t afraid to teach children difficult life lessons.

10. Bambi

Bambi and his friends

Kitty, Panties and Flawless Kissing

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging is the most mature thing Nickelodeon did at the time. As it was given a PG-13 rating. Granted it was only released in the UK, but that’s still not the image Nick usually displays. The film is full of sex jokes, mild swearing, and innuendo. It’s also very British. Hence the title that may confuse those stateside. Such as myself. Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging refers to three important things in teenager Georgia Nicholson’s complicated life. Angus is her beloved cat, she disapproves of wearing thongs, and she has her heart set on snogging the boy she fancies.

Most of the innuendo comes from Georgia and her friends almost constant sex talk. As well as one character wearing a thong or the inclusion of gay characters. I can’t say that the film spoke to me too much, but Georgia’s problems are quite relatable. Her mostly unknown actress of the same name does well in the role. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was the only actor I recognized (and I didn’t even realize he was British). The main theme that Georgia deals with is growing up. Something her best friend seems to be doing faster than her. In the end, it’s important to just be yourself. Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging has a dodgy title, but a brilliant message.

ATAPS

Georgia (right center) and her friends spy