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A feature-length odyssey through teen cinema, 1995–2004.
A dizzying journey into the mind, body and soul of the teen movie.
A dizzying journey into the mind, body and soul of the teen movie.
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The Top Ten Teen Movies of 2012

Hello again, and forgive me for shouting, but 200 BACKERS! And, to boot, we're just £15 away from hitting 50% of our target. Anyone fancy making it happen?

To celebrate, I'm pleased to unveil my Top Ten Teen Movies of 2012. And what a year it's been — almost certainly the best for teen films since the genre's untimely demise in 2005. Here's hoping that this banner year marks the beginning of a resurgence...

10. American Reunion

After nearly a decade in Hollywood's wilderness, you can forgive the thirtysomething alumni of East Great Falls High School for looking a little rusty as they ease back into the masturbation mishaps and raucous party antics we've all come to expect from the American Pie franchise. This fourth and final entry in the series was at its best when acknowledging what had changed for the gang (Stifler's lacrosse buddies were now hard at work planning their civil union) and at its worst when protesting that everything was still the same (now a fully-fledged grown-up, Jim still can't have a wank in peace). Nonetheless, it was as good a conclusion to the series as we could possibly have hoped for — bearing in mind that Tara Reid had to be involved in some way.

9. The Amazing Spider-man

There was a good 45 minutes at the beginning of Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-man where it seemed like he might finally have created the ultimate teenage superhero — at least until Rhys Ifans's mad lizard man showed up and ruined things for everyone. Up until then, Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker felt like a proper, authentic teenager, with inconsistencies and bad habits and a barely concealed dark side. Where a newly-empowered Tobey Maguire had to be provoked into humiliating the school bully in Sam Raimi's Spider-man, Garfield did it just for kicks. Where Maguire coquettishly gazed at Kirsten Dunst from afar, Garfield made Emma Stone’s yearbook photo his PC desktop background and devised an elaborate door-looking device to keep his aunt and uncle from spying on his 'leisure activities'.

8. Martha Marcy May Marlene

Some people are all too quick to assume that any film that wins festival prizes and gets a good review in The New Yorker can't possibly be a teen movie, but Martha Marcy May Marlene fit the bill in every possible way when it was finally released in the UK earlier this year. Despite its super-serious subject matter and complete lack of school dances and graduation days, this portrait of one girl's absorption into a separatist cult was a coming-of-age story every bit as over-emotional and heart-rending as its more mainstream cousins.

7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

If you were able to look past a few particularly cringe-worthy moments and the occasional unsuccessful attempt to tackle a Big Issue (interfamilial child abuse, anyone?) in a small film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower had the unshakable sincerity of a classic emotional teen movie — a 10 Things I Hate About You, or a Pretty in Pink. The film's irony-free approach to adolescence did occasionally backfire — most notably in a scene in which the film's three music-literate leads hear a beautiful, transcendent song on the radio and spend the next six months trying to identify it, only to discover that it's 'Heroes' by David Bowie — but for the most part, it succeeded in convincing you that you NEEDED to be friends with these guys ASAP.

6. Project X

Two years ago, music video director Nima Nourizadeh shot one of the most radical teen movies ever conceived: a frenetic, multiple-viewpoint, non-narrative explosion of sex, violence and general amorality made on a budget of just $12 million and starring a cast of unknowns. Together with cinematographer Ken Seng he documented some of the most dynamic, expertly choreographed party footage of all time, most of which was gleefully disconnected from any sense of plot development or character motivation. Sadly, along the way he also decided it would be a good idea to insert three lifeless protagonists, a paper-thin love interest and a load of expository bollocks about a drug dealer named T-Rick. His nihilist masterpiece quickly became a kind of low-rent version of Bachelor Party, hellbent on interrupting its own brilliance with jokes about midgets and a subplot involving an irate neighbour. In short, Project X was its own worst enemy. Nonetheless, there was plenty to admire in this bold, uncompromising party movie.

5. Damsels in Distress

If Easy A was Mean Girls‘s copycat little sister, then Damsels in Distress was her impossibly cool older cousin. Whit Stillman’s oddball, semi-musical campus comedy saw next-big-things Greta Gerwig (of Greenberg fame) and Analeigh Tipton (of Crazy, Stupid, Love fame) attempt to rescue their fellow students from the twin predicaments of clinical depression and inadequate personal hygiene, with the careful application of donuts, dancing and lightly-scented soap. 'Acquired taste' doesn't really being to cover how utterly idiosyncratic the film is, but watch half an hour and you'll probably get a sense of whether it's going to be a lifelong favourite, or the worst 90 minutes of your year.

4. Pitch Perfect

It was hardly revolutionary in terms of its story or characters, but Pitch Perfect executed a barrage of well-worn teen movie formulas so perfectly that it had surpassed most of its contemporaries by the end of its ecstatic, thunderous title sequence. Anna Kendrick (finally getting her very own lead role!) led a septet of dysfunctional acapella hopefuls, all of whom were developed far beyond the lazy archetypes the poster made them out to be, and the singing sequences themselves had all the energy of Bring It On's hyperactive cheerleading scenes or Bend It Like Beckham's punky football matches.

3. The Cabin in the Woods

Without ever straying too far from the model laid out by Scream fifteen years earlier, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's anarchic post-modern teen slasher The Cabin in the Woods took the tropes and trends of the contemporary horror scene to task in sharp, hilarious and authentically nerve-wracking fashion. And, despite each of its five teen leads intentionally conforming to a long-standing teen stereotype (the whore, the athlete, the scholar, the whore and the virgin), the film's cast made sure to invest these potentially shallow characters with real, human emotions — which made their eventual grizzly demises all the more harrowing.

2. 21 Jump Street

Though based on a TV series that dates all the way back to 1987, Michael Bacall's big-screen version of 21 Jump Street was one of the few teen movies this year that genuinely felt like it was doing something new with the genre, while still acknowledging its debt to the classics that came before. Plus: its central idea (that clique-oriented 90s teens would be completely lost in today’s less codified high school environment) doubled as a handy reminder of the dangers of making 21st Century teen movies to the model of their obsolete ancestors. If only someone had told Fun Size.

1. Chronicle

And finally... perhaps the sole teen movie this year that was 100%, completely, totally and utterly 'of its time'. With its found footage stylings and disconcertingly amoral leads, Chronicle scared and confounded much of its adult audience but connected with teenagers the world over. And, produced on a relatively small $15 million budget with a script by first-time screenwriter Max Landis, it was further proof that the future of teen cinema will not be found in mega-budgeted Transformers-style blockbusters but intimate, experimental, AWESOME oddities like this one.


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    1. Rachel Lovinger on January 5, 2013

      Thanks for this list! I never would have watched 21 Jump Street otherwise, and I liked it so much better than I could have guessed.

    2. Rachel Lovinger on January 2, 2013

      Oh great! Can't wait to hear what you think of it. I finally watched Chronicle tonight - great stuff. I really love all the other movies on this list that I've seen (Cabin in the Woods, Pitch Perfect, Perks of Being a Wallflower). Will definitely check out the rest as I get time.

    3. Charlie Lyne 2-time creator on January 1, 2013

      Have been desperate to see Detention for yonks. Love Joseph Kahn, but as far as I know the film's only had a single UK screening to date, at the Frightfest festival in 2011. In fact, I tried to organise a screening of the film at a teen movie film festival I organised last year, but Sony (who we knew had the rights to it) denied all knowledge!

      BUT my flatmate's just informed me that it went straight-to-DVD here last November! Will definitely be ordering a copy asap.

    4. Rachel Lovinger on January 1, 2013

      How about Detention ( Although it played at SXSW in 2011, it didn't have any regular theatrical runs until 2012. It pays homage to the teen movies of the '90s, but is also a completely new kind of thing that defies easy categorization.