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  • Writer's pictureMatt Craig

'Eighth Grade' is the Coming-of-Age Masterpiece of Our Generation

Before we get into a review of Eighth Grade, which for the record is really good, let's look at the year in movies so far. It's no secret that for the last several years, the movie calendar has been constructed in a very specific way. The early months are for horror and thrillers, the summer is for superheroes and action block busters, the fall is for comedies, and winter is for Oscar bait. Personally, I've never been more excited for a fall/winter slate of movies in my life. A Star is Born, First Man, and Bohemian Rhapsody are just the tip of the awards slate iceberg. I say all that to say my "best movies of the year" list is very incomplete at this moment in late July. Nonetheless, because you all have asked, here are the best five movies of 2018 so far: 1. Eighth Grade 2. Game Night 3. A Quiet Place 4. Isle of Dogs 5. Unsane Who could've predicted that the best movie of the year would belong to a 27-year-old stand up comedian? First-time director Bo Burnham has branded himself as somewhat of a millennial whisperer, tapping into the culture of young people better than anyone else, and this movie is his master class. (Don't think the irony is lost on me that a movie accurately depicting eighth grade life and presumably targeting eighth graders is rated R and therefore unable to be seen by eighth graders without parental permission) On its face, the movie is pretty straightforward. It's just a week in protagonist Kayla's life. And quite honestly nothing spectacular really happens during that week. Well, at least by adult standards. To Kayla, every single day is a rollercoaster coaster up to cloud nine and then back down to the end of the world. Her entire life plays out on Instagram, exposed for all to see yet cloaked in filters and fake smiles. The device Burnham uses to propel the story forward, Kayla's YouTube advice videos saying all the things she can't say in person, might be a little too on-the-nose, but it fits the movie well. What truly sets Eighth Grade apart is the relatability. While there are dozens of excellent movies about high school, few films have attempted to capture the horrors of middle school life. And it's done brilliantly. Even though my experience of middle school a decade ago didn't include the same level of technology, this movie captures the awkward moments and the uncertainty of personal identity so powerfully that there wasn't a dry eye in the theater during the screening I went to. Somehow all of the feelings that we all felt but never shared with anyone have been captured and thrown up on the screen. Even as a viewer you really feel vulnerable and exposed just sitting in the theater chair. And the humor. Oh the humor. I laughed harder in this movie than in any studio comedy in several years. To be clear, there are no jokes and there are no punchlines. But the confidence in the filmmaking shines through in every moment of unintentional comedy, every dad joke, and every awkward interaction. Burnham is somehow able to allow his characters to play a moment straight, while signaling to the audience how ridiculous it is. As much as this movie is definitely told from the point of view of a 13 year old, with eighth graders being the subject, I almost think I would've appreciated the movie more if I were a parent. The portrayal of Kayla's father by Josh Hamilton is simply incredible, one of those performances that probably isn't flashy enough for Oscar recognition but will always be remembered. Overall, this is one of those movies that is going to stick with you long after you leave the theater. You'll be thinking about it, laughing about it, and referencing time and again. If nothing else, it will make you appreciate a little more everyone who has ever loved you and supported you while you were still figuring out who the heck you were. It's a special movie.


Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

When I was picking a young adult classic, it was really difficult to decide against the work of John Hughes (Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off), the foremost chronicler of American youth in the 1980's. But there are more parallels between the authenticity of Eighth Grade and the high school-based 1982 cult classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Both have the same intentionally unrefined nature, the sense that you're just hanging out with these characters as they go about their unspectacular lives. The appeal of this movie is all about the vibe (another strong honorable mention: Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused). Come for quite possibly the most famous moment of brief nudity in cinematic history (either this or the leg cross in Basic Instinct), stay for the extremely young versions of Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker and Nicolas Cage. Fun fact--This movie is based on a mostly-true book written by a 22-year-old author who went undercover as a high school student for a year to capture what life was really like at a Southern California high school in the early 1980's. Seriously, who would willingly go back to high school?


Almost Famous (200)

(Ok I'm Cheating With this One)

I tell you that fun fact only to lead into my favorite movie of all time. Because that 22-year-old author's name was Cameron Crowe, who would go on to direct Almost Famous. And yes, I know it was recently removed from Netflix so you can no longer stream it, but since this week's theme is young adult and my favorite movie of all time happens to be a coming-of-age story, and because I am giving this newsletter to you for absolutely no charge, you're going to have to give me a break on this one. The story is semi-autobiographical, as Crowe began writing for rock n' roll magazines at age 15 by pretending to be older, the exact set-up of the protagonist in this film. The movie is enjoyable and fun, and at the same time profound and emotional. It features stellar performances from Frances McDormand (my favorite actress), Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup and Kate Hudson. It's got an unbelievable soundtrack of 1970's rock favorites. And quite honestly it's among the biggest reasons I chose the career path I'm currently on. I cannot endorse it highly enough. WATCH. THIS. MOVIE.

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