The difficult transition from childhood to adulthood can sometimes take a lot out of a person. I say person because I don’t think there’s a specific age when someone finally grows up. For some, it might be the early teen years, and then for some, it might come later in their lives. Hence, like many other subgenres of films, the coming-of-age entity has also taken up a completely different perspective altogether. The best coming of age films of 2020 aren’t necessarily about children. They are about individuals who finally leave a part of their existence on their way to a newer version of themselves. In the following list, I look back at 2020 to list down those stories that chart a complete transition of their central characters. Stories that mature their outlook of life in general.
15. I’m No Longer Here
Mexico’s entry for the 2020 International Feature Film category at the Oscars, Fernando Frias’s “I’m No Longer Here” is about its 17-year-old protagonist Ulises (Juan García). For him, life should be about his clan – a group of rebellious teenagers who just like to hang out to the rhythm of their subcultural music and dance that holds them together. However, things don’t turn up that simple for Ulises as he is forced to leave his home and travel all the way to New York in order to escape the clutches of the violence-ridden homeland.
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While the immigrant story at the center of the film feels familiar, the director doesn’t hold his punches when it comes to showing just how difficult the communication gap and a life without a passion could be for a young man. Juan García plays Ulises with simplistic conventions – his gangster-like act is compositely balanced with a tender portrayal of a boy with empathy; improving the overall impact of the film to great measures.
Watch/Stream I’m No Longer Here on Netflix
14. Ham on Rye
Not to be confused with the semi-autobiographical work of the renowned German-American author Charles Bukowski, Tyler Taormina’s “Ham on Rye” starts off as a familiar high school film about a bunch of teenagers. What’s puzzling and delirious is just how weird and genre-defying it eventually becomes. If the phrase ‘you haven’t seen anything like it’ was not thrown out quite so often, it would be perfect to define what this film has in store for you.
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Seamlessly weaving a satire on intergenerational high school comedies and suburban rules, Taormina’s film is about one fateful day in the life of teenagers in a small community. They have to go meet in a local eatery where they forcefully choose partners for themselves. In the guise of this odd premise, the film explores alineation and conformity at its most extreme.
Watch/Stream Ham on Rye on MUBI
What’s instantly believable about Sarah Gavron’s “Rocks” is how authentically it portrays British teenagers. While she literally uses gloss and social media as concealers, she lays bare the weight of responsibilities that rests on the shoulders of its young protagonist once her mother walks out on her two children.
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Following the life of Shola a.k.a Rocks – a 15-year-old Nigerian British girl who is always wary of her situation and more mature than her classmates, Gavron’s film moves through a series of genuine moments to more gritty stuff with absolute ease. Gavron’s direction is assured as she keeps her focus on Shola and how friendship and adulthood both serve as triggers for tragedy and successors for growing up.
Rocks is streaming on Netflix USA
12. Straight Up
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Straight Up! is streaming on Netflix USA
You either get used to Miranda July’s weirdly peculiar ways of life or you don’t. There’s no middle ground. 9 years after her sophomore film, July is back with an eccentric, introverted tale about a family of con artists. Focusing her weird energy on Old Dolio (played by a never-better Evan Rachel Wood) – a 26-year-old who has never lived her life according to her terms, this cute little film traces a catharsis that is both incredibly personal and relatable.
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Devised as a heist film and a dysfunctional family drama within a coming-of-age arc, “Kajillionaire” is a film about empathy and the need for love in one’s life. Beautifully filmed and put together, this is one of the most engaging and constantly fun outings from 2020.
With “Wolfwalkers” filmmakers, Moore and Stewart harken to medieval times and develop a tale with Ireland and Mythology as the backdrop. Cleverly weaving a folktale around urgent and contemporary themes, the film becomes a wise coming-of-age tale about a girl breaking off the restriction imposed upon her to truly embrace her wild mysticism.
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The film is drenched in cultural history. It takes its mystical and imaginative worldbuilding to a deeper, more personal level by just reveling in the folktales it is surrounded by. Moreover, the themes of love and loss have both a personal edge and a poignant foreground that ably handles its character’s traits and their motifs. It’s only a huge plus that the animation is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous and the voice acting is superior to anything else you might have seen all year.
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9. Shiva Baby
Set at the Shiva (a Jewish funeral) of a recently deceased relative, Emma Seligman’s Danielle (played by a superb Rachel Sennott) is anything but a traditional Jewish girl. As many of the characters gleefully point out, she has a reputation for being wild. However, since her life is particularly aimless, her presence at this service mounts one sorry tension after another.
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Filmed like a ticking bomb or anxiety that can explode at any moment, Seligman’s debut feature is a smart, whip-splash-paced comedy that puts its protagonist in one awkward conversation after other. In doing so, she examines Danielle’s descending and rise from the trappings that she had dug for herself. It’s only a big plus that Rachel Sennott knocks it out of the park with a riveting performance as a young girl in absolute shambles.
8. Take Me Somewhere Nice
Ena Sendijarević’s stylish debut feature “Take Me Somewhere Nice”, follows Alma and her aimless journey from the Netherlands to Bosnia in the lure of meeting her once estranged father for one last time. The best way to describe this Jim Jarmusch homage is to call it an unexcited, aimless symphony of escapism and rebellion.
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It is a film in which director Sendijarević revels in Alma’s blooming sexuality. She uses deadpan expressionism to investigate a girl trying to find a sense of oneness in a life that has been made out for her up until now. In doing this balancing act, the director finds a cohesive semblance between a borrowed tone and a tone that is mighty original.
7. Sound of Metal
Riz Ahmed is the voice, eyes, and soul of “Sound of Metal.” Words simply can’t convey what his vacant looks can. In a fully lived-in character study of a drummer who is slowly losing his hearing, Darius Marder follows Ruben’s life. Though not an original premise by any measure (check out It’s All Gone Pete Tong (2004) & subsequent Hindi remake Soundtrack (2011)), Darius Marder’s film superimposes incredible sound design with a complex look at passion and addiction.
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With a more focused look at the character, Darius’s film tries to understand Ruben’s present state while presenting a supremely universal theme about accepting the stillness of life. It is a story about starting anew. And while this makes the film one of the most important and well-articulated representations of the deaf community, it also becomes one of those films that is patient and wise enough to tell us that not everything can be fixed in this life.
Watch/Stream Sound of Metal on Amazon Prime
6. Summer White
In Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson’s debut feature film “Summer White,” a young boy is so attached to her mother that it fumes him to see her trying to grow away from him. In this searing, visually rich, and complex portrayal of a young mind trying to make sense of the changes in his life, Patterson showcases an unearthly look at volatile teenage behavior.
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The film investigates the toxicity in a mother-son relationship when the mother has never made her offspring understand that letting go is sometimes more important than being together. Summer White shows maternal affection and the bounds through a visibly new lens.
5. I’m Your Woman
Julia Hart’s “I’m Your Woman” constantly surprised me. It is a smart, sharply written subversion of the gangster-on-the-run trope. In Hart’s story, Rachel Brosnahan stars as Jean – a clueless, trophy wife who finds herself in the midst of a run when her gangster husband becomes prey to a dangerous cross-fire on the work front.
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Hart only makes us aware of Jean’s motivations as much as required because she is constantly understanding herself and how her world has just turned upside down. In the mishap, her character transformation is being chartered in a muted, believable way. It is a transformation that relies entirely on Brosnahan’s charm and Hart’s writing and thankfully both the women excel – making this an effort that is worth sitting up and noticing.
Watch/Stream I’m Your Woman on Amazon Prime
There are a few things that make Cooper Raiff’s DIY debut feature stand out from the typical and traditional coming-of-age college comedies. Firstly, it oozes with a charming rhythm that can only be compared to the genuine, heartfelt conversations of the Before Series. Secondly, it doesn’t shy away from putting a gentle, tender, and wholly believable man as the protagonist. Raiff who plays Alex warmly defies the hyper-masculine male type that has plagued these films for so long.
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Thirdly, it balances its comic troupes with a very real counterbalance between a lack of love and an abundance of it to really understand what growing up feels like in the real space. Above all, “Shithouse” is just the kind of film that I resonate with and I am thankful that it exists.
Watch/Stream Shithouse on Showtime
3. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Featuring a powerhouse debut performance by Sidney Flanigan, Eliza Hittman’s abortion drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” feels like a chapter out of a teenage girl’s notebook. It is not only realistic to a fault but also heartfelt and deeply moving.
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Motioning through Autumn’s life as she soaks in the horrors of having to withstand unplanned pregnancy, Hittman’s drama seeks refuge in a slight investigating of the advent of a totalitarian and overtly sexist society. One that judges you with each passing second and where having control of your own body becomes an experience that changes you. Hittman uses minimalistic dialogues and small conflicts to offer us one of the best coming-of-age portrayals of 2020.
Watch/Stream Never Rarely Sometimes Always on HBOMax
2. The Assistant
Kitty Green’s claustrophobic drama is set within the tightly packed spaces of a film production office. Jane – our titular character is a junior assistant to a big shot producer (references to Harvey Weinstein are obvious) who is harassing multiple young women right behind the walls aligned to Jane’s work desk.
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“The Assistant” is a bone-chilling experience to sit through. Unfolding in real-time, the film doesn’t even show the face of the said proprietor and yet you see the shadow of his repressive, awful, and perversive nature and like clockwork worry for Jane’s day to get over. This is definitely one of the strongest and most powerful debut films of the year and it is only an added bonus that Julia Garner is so good in it.
Watch/Stream The Assitant on HULU
Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ brilliant first feature is a genre film that well-abound its confinements somehow becomes a haunting parable of a woman trying to regain control of her life and her body. Skimming through multiple themes such as loneliness, trauma, patriarchy with extreme elegance, the resounding power of this breathtakingly shot film lies in a unified credit sequence that somehow magnifies the shared tragedy of womanhood.
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Following the life of Hunter (played by a superb Haley Bennett) – a trophy wife forced with a languorous lifestyle of playing keep-up with her overbearingly fake husband, the film uses a medical condition to unravel a life that is housed in on her. Touching upon mental health and the dire need for empathy, Mirabella-Davis’ “Swallow” takes the darker route to having to learn how to live on one’s own.