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Jack Thorne's Top 13 Films About Adolescence

Film4 The Scouting Book For Boys

Jack Thorne, writer of The Scouting Book For Boys, This Is England '86 and '88, and The Fades shares his favourite films about adolescence with Film4.com, as The Scouting Book For Boys screens on Film4.com

1. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

I think this has to be number one on my list simply because it made my life better. In fact, it’s probably my favourite film of all time. Elliot made it OK to be a kid who wants an imaginary friend, who wants any friend and who needs that friend to be an all-consuming one. ET starts out almost like a pet, and becomes a psychological ally, in fact more than that – he becomes Elliot. But really far more than being a drama about aliens it disguises a very simple story underneath - the story of a kid going through a divorce, and it tells that story simply and beautifully.

I found an interesting interview with screenwriter Melissa Mathison in the New Yorker the other day where she compared working with Spielberg – and working with Scorsese (as she did on Kundun) - Scorsese would always ask "what’s the shot?" Spielberg would ask "what is the impression? What’s going on in the theatre seats? If E.T. is coming through the corn stalks, is it funny or scary or thrilling? Choose!" I love that as a distinction between the two. If you’re going to buy it on DVD – buy the three disk edition with the original cut on it, it is so much better than the two-disk purely digital version.

Film4

"Spielberg would ask ‘what is the impression? What’s going on in the theatre seats? If E.T. is coming through the corn stalks, is it funny or scary or thrilling? Choose!"

2. Requiem

Requiem is a German film about demon possession where you never see the demons. It's The Exorcist without the spinning heads and the vomit. It's 1971. A young vulnerable epileptic girl from a protective background goes to University against her Mother's wishes. She initially excels, but as her social world becomes more complicated and sex creeps in, she finds the world increasingly hard to deal with. When she can't reach her rosary beads during an epileptic fit, she decides that God is rejecting her. And slowly we inch towards a tragic conclusion. Its an horrific watch and thoroughly brilliant.

Film4

"She initially excels, but as her social world becomes more complicated and sex creeps in, she finds the world increasingly hard to deal with."

3. Y Tu Mama Tambien

This is one of those films I think that you can watch over and over again. Because the detail in it is extraordinary. You can watch it with Tenoch's head on, Julio's and Ana's. I watched it again the other day because someone pointed out that actually it was all about class. I hadn’t understood that at all (I'm not a particularly sophisticated viewer of films). Tenoch is rich, Julio is not, this is the last time they’ll be together because money is about to pull them apart. From a purely script envy angle, this also has the best use of narration ever (rivalling perhaps of recent films only The Big Lebowski in my eyes).

Film4

"From a purely script envy angle, this also has the best use of narration ever, rivalling perhaps of recent films only The Big Lebowski in my eyes."

4. The Outsiders

Along with ET this was my favourite film growing up. I must have watched it 30 or 40 times. I love the relationship between Pony Boy and Johnny but the bit that always got to me was one character's death and the rampage that follows. The others try and save him - they fail. I don't know, it feels like it really examines what it’s like to be a boy who’s trying to be a man. The love story is ludicrous, some of the violence belongs in a musical but the relationship between the boys is glorious. That said, I am too frightened to watch it again because I’m worried it’ll be shit - so it’s possible it lives better in my head than it does on the screen.

Film4

"The love story is ludicrous, some of the violence belongs in a musical but the relationship between the boys is glorious"

5. Hoop Dreams

So apparently Hoop Dreams started life intended to be a 30 minute documentary for PBS and then grew and grew until it was a 170 minute portrait of two black kids, William and Arthur, who want to play professional basketball. They both go on scholarships to a predominantly white school and we watch them struggle to acclimatise. It’s one of those films that’s sort of not just about the central characters growing up but the world in which they live growing up around them.

One of those films where you just hope all the participants turn out OK, and want follow-up documentaries released yearly to tell you so. Apparently they are OK, and thriving thanks to the doc, though both have had older brothers killed. Anyway, perhaps Roger Ebert put it best when he said: "A film like Hoop Dreams is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself."

6. Kes

ET is my favourite film of all time but the film I wish I’d made is Kes. It’s probably perfect. Actually the bit I don’t particularly like is the bit that everyone seems to love most - the Brian Glover football scene - because I just don’t buy it, it doesn’t feel like it exists in the same world as the rest of the film. But the rest of it is just this incredible portrait of brutality and joy. When Billy first gets the kestrel flying from his glove, you feel incredible.

It’s so interesting which films date and which films. I’ll bet anything that Kes will never age and it will still be as fresh and as much of a masterpiece in 100 years. It also has the best and saddest ending to a film ever, I won’t spoil it for those of you that haven’t seen it, but what I love about it is that watching it first as a kid I hated Jud – but as I’ve got older I’ve understood Jud’s position just as much as I’ve understood Billy’s. It’s a film that doesn’t make judgements about its characters, rather it just tells their story.

Film4

"I’ll bet anything that Kes will never age and it will still be as fresh and as much of a masterpiece in 100 years."

7. Spanking The Monkey

I collect published film and television screenplays. Mainly because I’m a nerd. But one that I find myself reading again and again is this one. Ray or Raymond is a pre-med at MIT, he’s supposed to be off to a prestigious internship but his Mother has had an accident and his Father – a travelling salesman – insists he stays home and looks after her. What I love most about is that it doesn’t look sideways, we look full on into Raymond’s confused brain as the girl next door and his Mother confuse him even further. It’s dead-eyed disturbing and totally fantastic.

8. Stand By Me

"Alright, alright, Mickey's a mouse, Donald's a duck, Pluto's a dog. What's Goofy?" Four boys go on a walk because they want to see a dead body. It’s that simple. Along the way they run from trains, dogs and older boys, and talk absolute shit about whether Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman.

The best bits are the bits with Chris and Geordie - Geordie thinks Chris will be his friend forever - Chris thinks they’re going to be pulled apart. There is a beautiful scene where Geordie talks about Chris joining him in college. Chris says he won’t, Geordie asks why not, and Chris says because in the eyes of the town he’s a low-life Chambers kid and that is all he’ll ever be. He talks about being suspended for stealing milk money - he doesn’t deny stealing it - but he tells Geordie he tried to give it back and instead of telling the authorities he’d done so - the teacher pocketed the money. As Chris tells this story, we see behind his eyes for the first time and we watch as Geordie just looks at his friend. It’s an unforgettable scene in an unforgettable film.

Film4

"Four boys go on a walk because they want to see a dead body. It’s that simple."

9. 24/7: Twenty Four Seven

A bunch of kids mourn a guy who ran a boxing club. Sort of a tragedy, sort of a comedy, sort of that brilliant line that Shane Meadows always walk down. What I most love about this film is that it is a film about boxing in which no-one becomes a good boxer. In the end, they step into the ring with another boxing club and they get creamed. Utterly creamed. And the world goes nuts around them.

10. American Teen

A lovely documentary - with one truly transcendent moment in it - which is why I list it here: Jake, a man who struggles with acne, takes a girl on a date and talks to her and then puts his face on the table, and then sits up and looks at the mark he’s left behind and says: “There's a lot of grease on the table now... because I put my face on it.” That is probably my favourite line ever. I wish I’d written it.

Film4

"He says: 'There's a lot of grease on the table now... because I put my face on it.' That is probably my favourite line ever. I wish I’d written it."

11. Let The Right One In

I’m currently writing a stage adaptation of Let The Right One In so I’ve spent along time watching and rewatching this film - the American remake - and reading the original book. It is a masterpiece. Oskar and Eli’s love is compelling and disturbing and true.

There are lots of decisions the filmmakers made in adapting from the novel which are very interesting - possibly the most interesting is that in the book Hakan is a paedophile who Eli has picked up. I much prefer it the way the filmmakers have it - that he is possibly a future Oskar. The other thing which is a lot clearer in the book which perhaps can’t be as clear in a film is Eli’s sexuality, which leaves Oskar very confused as to his feelings. Interestingly, the American adaptation made a lot more of this than the Swedish original and the American adaptation played with Oskar’s sexuality a lot more. Anyway, it’s brilliant, Alfredson’s a genius, but I suspect anyone who reads this site already knows this.

Film4 Let The Right One In

"The other thing which is a lot clearer in the book which perhaps can’t be as clear in a film is Eli’s sexuality, which leaves Oskar very confused as to his feelings."

12. The Squid And The Whale

The film I watched through my fingers, thinking: "I’m hoping as a kid I was like Elliot, but probably I was more like Walt," a kid going through a divorce with less grace than a slightly insane lawnmower. It is a film that you clench your stomach through. Brilliantly horribly funny lines litter the script, perhaps my favourite being in one exchange:

Bernard: Joan, let me ask you something. All that work I did at the end of our marriage, making dinners, cleaning up, being more attentive. It never was going to make a difference, was it? You were leaving no matter what...

Joan: You never made a dinner.

Bernard: I made burgers that time you had pneumonia.

Film4

"It is a film that you clench your stomach through. Brilliantly, horribly funny lines litter the script."

13. The Class

I spent a few years professionally in the education system - ostensibly teaching but working as a co-ordinator and mentor and other things beside and I’ve always wondered how you tell the story of the complication that is comprehensive education in our inner cities.

How difficult it is to teach, how brilliant good teachers are (I wasn’t good), how dangerous that line is that you can cross between good teaching and getting too involved in your student’s lives. This French film comes closest. A complicated portrait of good people trying to do good things and sometimes succeeding and often failing. Based on a book by the film’s star of his life as a teacher, the director spent a year with the pupils improvising, honing and working with them to produce this sensational documentary.

Film4

"Based on a book by the film’s star of his life as a teacher, the director spent a year with the pupils improvising, honing and working with them to produce this sensational documentary."

Best of the rest

Oh, and I had to do films which didn’t quite make the list - just for my own peace of mind - but my mind being what it is, all this means is that eventually I’ll have films which didn’t have quite make the list of not quite making the list... But anyway, they are: Whistle Down The Wind, Walkabout, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The 400 Blows, The Toy Story trilogy, Leon, The Breakfast Club, Whale Rider, Rosetta, Empire of the Sun, My Life as a Dog and Dogtooth.

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The Scouting Book For Boys trailer

The Scouting Book For Boys screens 11.05pm Wednesday 14th November on Film4

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