Monday, February 25, 2013

Top Youth Ministry Movies: Part 4

I love movies and I love youth ministry, so when the two interconnect, it's a beautiful thing. Here is part four of top youth ministry movies: ten more films about adolescence, youth culture, discipleship, and identity formation, listed in alphabetical order. These aren't films for showing to your youth group; these are films for youth workers and parents, and use discretion and wisdom when deciding to watch a film. (Here is part one, part two, and part three of youth ministry movies, as well as the list of top movies you can show at youth group):

Easy A (2010): This is a film I probably shouldn't like, but I do. It goes beyond the pointless schlock of the teen movies from the past 20 years and brings us back to the good ol' days of the 1980s teen film: charming, funny, romantic, and far more insightful than it should be. A loose adaptation of The Scarlet Letter, the film tackles numerous adolescent themes--gossip, finding a sense of belonging, affinity groups, and the power of the truth. Emma Stone carries this entire film on her delightful performance as a misunderstood girl with a fake reputation to uphold. Her parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) win the award for coolest movie parents ever (at least since Juno).

Fish Tank (2009): Fifteen-year-old Mia (Katie Jarvis) is an aggressive young woman living in a lower-income apartment in Britain. She has an anger inside of her that is only fostered by the sense of isolation she feels. Her relationship with her mom and sister is strained; most conversations are dealt out in screams. She picks fights, dances alone to music in abandoned buildings, and seemingly has no friends. When her mom's new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender) shows a tiny bit of interest in her, it quickly spirals into something disturbing and disastrous. Like Thirteen, Fish Tank focuses intensely on the life and perspective of a young woman coming of age in isolated and difficult circumstances. Katie Jarvis was cast right off the street at age 15, and was pregnant with a daughter by the following year. Fish Tank is grim and disheartening, but certainly unforgettable.

Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no haka(1988): Setsuko and Seita are brother and sister living in Japan during World War II. After their mother is killed in an air raid, they find a temporary home with relatives. Having quarreled with their abusive aunt, they flee the city and make their home in an abandoned shelter near a river. While their soldier father's destiny is unknown, the two must depend on each other to somehow keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. When everything is in short supply, they gradually succumb to hunger. Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most tragic and depressing movies you might ever watch. It's also deeply moving as Seita and Setsuko bravely face the dark world together, and deeply convicting as we realize that their story is one still being lived by countless orphans today.

Harold and Maude (1971): There are plenty of movies that deal with teens and death (The Virgin Suicides, Dead Poets Society, Heathers, Restless) but none quiet as strange and unique as cult-classic Harold and Maude. Wealthy teen Harold is obsessed with death, and spends much of his free time attending funerals or faking suicides in order to freak out his mother. When he meets Maude, a free-living septuagenarian, he falls in love, and the two try to squeeze as much out of life as possible. I'll be blunt: Harold and Maude is a very weird movie. Yet Harold's obsession with death is only the outer behavior connected to the internal desire to find meaning and autonomy in his life. Wealth isn't enough; the "normal" path he's "supposed" to take isn't the direction he wants to take. I think all young people have felt the desire to make their life count for something.

The Kid with a Bike (2012): Minimalist and raw, this Belgian film about an orphan, his bicycle, and the adults in his life is an exercise in catharsis. Ordinary moments build to powerful emotional climaxes as the broken boy navigates a dark world with glimmers of hope. With redemptive riffs on filmic masterpieces Bicycle Thieves and The 400 Blows, the Dardennes' brothers latest film is a beautiful meditation on relentless grace. Young orphan Cyril has been abandoned by his father and adopted by both a kind hairdresser, Samantha, and a manipulative thug, Wes. As he rides around his world in a bright red blur--he is always wearing a red jacket or T-shirt--he struggles with his own sinful nature as it collides with Samantha's grace. The Kid with a Bike nearly wrecked me because I have known dozens of Cyrils. I am Samantha.

Monsieur Lazhar (2012): When a beloved Montreal elementary school teacher commits suicide in her classroom, it sends shockwaves throughout the school community. An Algerian immigrant is hired to replace the teacher, and his involvement in the students' lives helps him overcome his own grief and loss. I loved the depiction of the children in this film, showing their conversations and emotions at a very raw level as they dealt with the tragedy. Young people are far more observant and mature than we often give them credit; one girl finally notes that her parents are probably more freaked out then she is. You can tell she means it. Monsieur Lazhar addresses the themes of grief, healing, cultural differences, and finding hope in the midst of tragedy.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012): Moonrise Kingdom is fantastic in the proper sense of that word--at its heart, it is a fantasy film. Whimsical and childlike, it has an overt tone of wonder and innocence as a coming-of-age masterpiece and an unorthodox meditation on the kingdom of God. During the opening shot, the camera smoothly glides through the Bishop house like it were a vintage dollhouse, silently scanning rooms with Anderson's keen eye for symmetry. This is a child's world, a world of imagination and naivete. Yet there is also a maturity behind this innocence. Paradoxically, the characters of New Penzance feel both unreal and bizarre while remaining completely authentic and relatable. They are dryly peculiar, but with such sincerity that one never questions their validity. Moonrise Kingdom is about our human longing for a place to belong and person to belong to.

The Muppets (2011): The Muppets are a band of bizarre misfits who come together to laugh, sing, dance, and foster joy in those around them, shining like lights in a hard and cynical world. Sounds like a great definition of the church community to me. At one point, in a rallying speech, Kermit points out that even if they fail, they fail together. They're a family, especially for Walter, a young Muppet who finds his first sense of belonging as he travels and performs with the Muppets. They have a strong work ethic, a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality as they strive to save the studio. They're also pretty weird, and when I'm being honest with myself, I know that I'm pretty weird too. The Muppets seem to think that's okay.

Never Let Me Go (2010): Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are young people who form a small love triangle at an idyllic English boarding school. At first, this feels like a period piece in the vein of An Education or Pride and Prejudice. But this story throws a remarkable twist on the coming-of-age film, where fate, love, and darker realities are at work. I don't want to give away the twist, suffice to say that this is more of a sci-fi film than any of the others listed here. Never Let Me Go is based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and deals with some deep moral questions and possibilities about what makes us human.

True Grit (2010): A 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), hires the toughest U.S. Marshall she can find to track down her father's killer. She ends up hiring Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), and together with a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon), they set out on a dangerous journey to bring justice to a murderer. True Grit is a fantastic western film that wrestles with the dangerous line between justice and revenge, and its effects on a young woman's fate as she is forced to grow up and take responsibility for her family. The relationship between Mattie and Rooster is fascinating, as one takes on the role of responsible adult when the other falls into childish ways.

Win Win (2011): A struggling lawyer and high school wrestling coach, Mike (Paul Giamatti), takes a young man under his wing after some questionable business dealings with a client. When the teen turns out to be a wrestling phenomenon, Mike finds a renewed sense of hope in his dreary life, but it's all built on false pretenses. Win Win is a wonderful example of how a mentor/mentee relationship can transform both parties in ways neither expected. It's also one of the only films I've seen that portray a great marriage, where husband and wife must struggle through the trial of adopting a troubled young man while dealing with their own flaws and mistakes, yet with a sense of fidelity and togetherness that is rare in films these days.

What other films would you include as a youth ministry movie? Have you seen any of the films on this list? Share in the comments?

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