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Education for the teenage girl: classic movies

As the proud owner of a teenage girl who’s turning into a fine young woman, I’ve reflected on the various stages of parenthood:

  1. spending 49% of salary on baby food, and 49% on nappies
  2. bedtime stories
  3. grazed knees and reassurance
  4. helping with homework
  5. realising you’re unable to help with homework
  6. pretending not being sad when they say they hate you
  7. making them work for relatively trivial amounts of money so they understand that money is valuable
  8. being polite to spotty herberts with ludicrous hair and unstable voices (Teenage Boys)
  9. “this is a house not a hotel”
  10. “Bye!”

The daughter is pretty well-equipped for adulthood. She already excels in many aspects of the curriculum at Bruce’s Finishing School for Modern Young Ladies® – she can fart outrageously, think deeply, belch loudly, accept differences, kickbox and knock down arse-gropers, play guitar, say “no”, say “fuck off”, spin out a really good joke to entertain both friends and eavesdroppers on a bus, get a paedophile deported, support her friends, swear inventively and hold her vodka down.

So I’m beginning a programme of watching classic movies with her. Not worthy art films, just those that have a different view of life, are surprising, or beautiful, or don’t portray women as idiots or trophies to be won, or simply those you’ll feel embarrassed saying “I haven’t seen that” at a student party.

Here’s a list so far:

Your recommendations (with a line about why) would be highly useful.

47 Responses to “ Education for the teenage girl: classic movies ”

Comment by Kim Johannesen

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, should see these three fine films:
– Clerks (actually, do watch most of Kevin Smith’s work)
– The Godfather
– Trainspotting

Comment by Dave Sussman

Kill Bill – a woman who kicks ass.
Gattaca – beautifully filmed, but also the subtext of “you can achieve”

Comment by Marc George

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. I’m looking forward to when my kids are old enough to watch this with me. Instilled in me a healthy fear and loathing in the teenage me.

Comment by James

2001, because it’s such a visual treat and different way of telling a story
The Italian Job, because it’s the most perfectly-polished heist movie
Fargo, because Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi
American Beauty because Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey

Comment by Daniel Davis

Spartacus – so she can quip “No, I’m Spartacus” at opportune moments and smile smugly with the in-crowd.
And anything Audrey Hepburn.
And Moonrise Kingdom for an original modern option which has a strong female lead.

Comment by Elizabeth

Velvet Goldmine – a beautiful dream of a film wrapped in a mockumentary about ’70s glam rock. An education in queer rights, plus great music, fab fashion, and more than a bit of fairy dust.

Comment by Patrick H. Lauke

I’ll add them here, rather than just on the twitters…

Rambo: most people remember the franchise as an all-out action fest, but the first (original) one is actually a great drama about a vietnam vet returning home, trying to integrate in society, and being forced to use the (killing/guerrilla) skills he learned. Surprisingly few (but effective) action scenes, lots of slow paced scene setting in the first act.

Deer Hunter: continuing the theme of vietnam war vets and reintegration in society.

JFK: dense, long, obviously skewed towards one specific interpretation, but masterfully shot and put together.

2001, 2010: where the first one is psychedelic, the second one plays it mostly straight as a hard-scifi film (until it goes a bit mystical towards the end). may be possible to watch 2010 without having seen 2001, but may not have the full impact.

Robocop: mainly for the tone – the satirical media break, humor, gore, action, morality/identity issues.

Comment by Nadi

The Blues Brothers
A very funny movie with a great inner message and an even greater soundtrack.

American Graffiti
So that’s how teenagers used to be. Another great soundtrack.

Comment by Le Dahu Lévogyre

After or before 12 monkeys (I prefer after), “La Jetée” the 30 minutes film by Chris Marker, which inspired Terry and has a completely different style.

Shortbus, because she’ll embarrass others saying “I have seen that” at a student party.

Comment by karl

ok let’s see.

* Apocalypse Now. Coppola. For the insanity of war.
* La Jetée. Chris Marker. What is memory, fantasy, time?
* High and Low. Kurosawa. Rich people and their morality.
* The bad sleep well. Kurosawa. Corruption.
* Ikiru. Kurosawa. Meaning of life as a bureaucrat.
* M. Fritz Lang. What is crime?
* Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Terry Gilliam. About drugs.
* Il sorpasso. Dino Risi. For people we meet in life and who are different from us.
* Serpico. Sidney Lumet. Corruption and friends.
* Brazil. Terry Gilliam. For the society and what is the state.
* Edward Scissorhands. Tim Burton. For the poetry.

ok that’s a few. I could put a lot more. but step by step.

Comment by Owen

Quite a few of these aren’t classic movies in any sense of that word. But there might be something in each of them for a young woman.

Some Japanese animation is a must:

* My Neighbor Totoro
* Spirited Away
Two of Studio Ghibli’s best. Fun, curious, imaginative.

* Orlando
Visually stunning and kind of bonkers. Witty. Flawed. Gender-bending. Quentin Crisp as Elizabeth I.

* The Breakfast Club
Classic 1980s teen stuff. Growing up, meaning of life, finding out who you are.

* Donnie Darko
Teen weirdness. Fate. Madness.

* Heavenly Creatures
Peter Jackson before the Tolkein years. Murder, obsessive relationships.

* The Silence Of The Lambs
Clarice and Hannibal. Creepy. Nasty. Fava beans and a nice chianti.

* Secrets And Lies
Powerful British drama. Families and relationships, and the small betrayals and lies that can grow to destroy them.

So many, many more.

Comment by Algy

“Withnail & I” will give her a vast array of quotes to state. Here hare here. Flowers are prostitutes for the bees. Etc etc etc

Comment by Ben Haldenby

Do The Right Thing
Might make a good double bill with Malcolm X

The House I Live In
Amazing documentary on the (failed/successful?) war on drugs

The Lives of Others
Powerful story about life under the Stasi before German reunification

Rear Window / Psycho / North by Northwest / Vertigo
To my mind the most accessible Hitchcock movies

The Red Balloon
It’s beautiful, but if only to see the inspiration for the opening scene of Up

The Silence of the Lambs
Horror classic

Synecdoche New York
Mind-bending storytelling

Withnail & I
Just so funny

also, Threads – although I think this might be a bit too upsetting for a 15 year old

Comment by Bruce

@ Le Dahu Lévogyre Oh, we did Bladerunner a few years ago when she was 11. Her comment: “they don’t know when they’re going to die. But none of us do.”

Comment by César

WarGames. Classic teenager movie, and has computer people who almost seem real (Sneakers, too, if she likes WarGames).

Children of Men. Classic science fiction, good bookend to Blade Runner.

+1 to Eternal Sunshine, Breakfast Club, Brazil, Studio Ghibli movies, Do The Right Thing, The Lives of Others, North by Northwest and Memento, already on the list.

Comment by Tom Turton

There’s plenty more, but these are few from off the top of my head:

Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998)
If only for the terrifyingly realistic beach landing scene.

The Godfather (Ford-Coppola, 1972)
Plus Part 2 if she likes the first, for that satisfying, guilty feeling that you’re part of a suave mob family.

The Constant Gardener (Meirelles, 2005) (not sure if this counts as a ‘classic’)
Because we all love Ralph Fiennes and deep down know that Capitalism sucks.

Schindler’s List (Spielberg, 1993)
I don’t need to spell out the significance of this one.

Shallow Grave (Boyle, 1994)
A must-see British dark-comedy and a great start to the careers of Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Danny Boyle.

Plus all the early Spielbergs (Duel, Jaws, Indy, ET etc. if she hasn’t already seen them!)

Comment by Phil

Jess is 13, but staying a little young at heart in some ways is no bad thing.

We love and rewatch these (on her request):
The Hunger Games
The Birds // dubious and dated at times, but over all full characters
Ferris Buler’s Day Off
The Hole //
How to Train Your Dragon
Gammera Movies // and other old Kaiju flicks (some have remarkably strong female characters. But more importantly, all the movies are totally stupid.
Stardust //the strength and originality of the female roles are subjective, but overall I like

One’s I really want her to watch, but she’s still a tince too young:
Fargo // This is my top recommendation of all.
The Shining //
Utopia // TV show, but good stuff
The Returned // French TV Drama.

Comment by Jo

Definitely “Sixth sense” one of my daughter’s all time favourites.
I really enjoyed “The Returned”. What would you do for your children concept…
A Beautiful Mind – she will have met people like this to one extent of the other via school!
Chocolat- where the lady goes against the grain of the whole community in fulfilling her dreams.
Top Gun- because every girl should see what Tom Cruise used to look like!!! (Just a little cheeky one but actually the lead lady has a surprise career.)And if everyone else says it is awful then she will have an opinion one way or the other!
Little Women – there’s a girl called Jo!
“The Help” civil rights and female role models.
The “Terminator” series has Sarah Connor. Strength personified,saving the universe…
But you may disagree.

Comment by Gary Stanton

+1 for JFK and while we’re at it, Charlie Wilson’s War – Anything by Sorkin is a must anyway, but a healthy bit of cynicism and curiosity when reflecting on the workings of politics of the west is a pretty important thing to add to the arsenal of any young person.

Traffic is well worth a look and challenges the viewer to think of all facets of the drug trade.

Have to also say +1 for Withnail – anyone reaching university without being able to quote from this is likely to be ostracised, and rightly so.

Will also say +1 for Schindler’s List, and I’d add Life is Beautiful – How on earth it’s possible to make an uplifting movie against that backdrop I’ll never know, but it’s wonderful and all should see it.

Comment by Allan

+1 for Amelie, Donnie Darko, Momento and Fear and Loathing.


Mulholland Drive, because David Lynch
Army of Darkness, because “This… is my boomstick!”
Pi, because, math.
Boxing Helena, because Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn and Jennifer Chambers

Then, the first time she mentions someone at her school trying drugs, Naked Lunch, because Burroughs.

Comment by Luz

Oh, I’m so late to this I’m not sure you’ll read it, these are my favorites that I can remember now:
– Fog of War
– Black Hawk Down
– The Mission (w/ Robert De Niro)
– Das Boot
– The Conversation (w/ Gene Hackman)
– Machuca (Chilean but should be widely available)
– The Official Story
– The Reader
– Serpico
– 12 Angry Men

Comment by Mo

(Skipping the ones I’ve seen recommended above — there are many I’d agree with)

Fifth Element, Taxi, Banlieue 13 (okay, I like Besson). Fifth Element is just wondrous, Taxi is excellent silliness, Banlieue 13 is Besson-themed serious-message.

Se7en: all round excellent film. Plus, the head.

Fast and the Furious (in order); not least because they take themselves less and less seriously with each film in the series)

Final Destination (et al.): brain off.

Being John Malkovich: brain fried.

This is Spinal Tap: turn it up to 11.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers: because they’re both gorgeous (and you don’t need to think very hard while reading the subtitles)

Wag the Dog: because _everybody_ should see this film.

Comment by Hamish

American werewolf in London as it scared the crap out of me at her age

and going a bit more low brow but I loved them in my teens

History of the World Part 1 and Blazing saddles

got to love Mel Brookes

Comment by rpk

Big Fish – One of the most beautiful movies Tim Burton ever did visually.

Spies like us – Hilarious 80s spy comedy with Chase and Aykroyd

The city of lost children – A french movie in a pretty unique and bizarre visual representation as well as the story. A must see. One of my all time favorites.

Four Lions – A movie by Chris Morris director of Brass Eye – it is mostly tagged as comedy but if you know Chris Morris you know what to expect – funny on the first sight but well, disturbing and deeply troubling on the second thought. A movie to think about.

The Sting – A classic – Newman and Redford at their best – The most well known con of all time. 😉

Stardust – Beautiful fairy tale with a superb cast and fun story. Robert De Niro in quite an unusual underpart, i don’t want to spoiler too much. 😉

Blue Velvet – One of David Lynches best works. Starts with an ear 😉

And last but not least no real movie but a real must see anyway – Twin Peaks. The two movies and the two seasons. Best invested time ever. All about the murder of Laura Palmer in the idyllic town of Twin Peaks. In the course of the movies and episodes the illusion of the ideal world cracks step by step. A masterpiece… period. 😉

Comment by Brian Moon

I am not sure if it will have the same impact on her as it did my kids, but Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is a great film that really shocked my kids. Happily they were shocked that plot was such a big deal and that the movie was ever controversial.

Comment by Ruth B

Little Miss Sunshine. Beauty pageants, teenage angst, families and misfits. And Alan Arkin as the grandad everybody would secretly like. Best of all, it’s laugh-out-loud funny

Comment by Phil Ingrey

The only film I would say everyone needs to watch is:

Life is beautiful

I think it does the best job of showing the atrocities of the second world war by showing alomgside what starts as a comedy.

It’s the film highest on my ‘to watch’ list when my kids are teenagers.

Comment by Henny

1. Apocalypse Now – read the book, Heart of Darkness, first, then watch the film followed by the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. To round it all off then watch Whoops! Apocalypse.

2. To Kill a Mocking Bird – for obvious reasons

3. Badlands – Sissy Spaceck (a amazing actress) and a young Martin Sheen. Follow it up with Natural Born Killers.

4. Spirited Away

5. Midnight Express

6. Sophie’s Choice – but that is tough

Comment by Bruce

Brilliant recommendations, thanks all.

Loads of films there I haven’t seen either. Looking forwards to some great movies.

Comment by Mo

Oh, and both Westworld and The Andromeda Strain: both excellent Chrichton tales of “oh, you humans, you think you’re so clever”, but I think both stand the best of time somewhat better than Jurassic Park.

Comment by Le Dahu Lévogyre

The Names of Love (“Le Nom des gens” in French).
A young woman who uses sex to turn conservative people into left-wing. Fun.

Comment by Doug

“The Women” (1939). Sharp dialog. All female cast. As parent of girls, they should know about the strong women of the past and their lives… and what it is to make art from dialog.

Comment by AlastairC

I know you might not consider these classics (although Empire is regularly voted the top movie of all time), but I would consider Star Wars. She will have to deal with people (mostly blokes?) making references, and it’s better to know than not.

Perhaps she’s already seen them, but when my daughter is old enough (5?) we’ll probably watch them in ‘Machete’ order: (Star Wars, Empire, Episode 2, Episode 3, Return of the Jedi. Skipping Phantom Menace.)

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