10 Autobiographical Films Rated According to Rotten Tomatoes

Steven Spielberg’s name will be back on everyone’s tongue this awards season with his new movie the Fabelmans slated to be released on November 23. Spielberg’s upcoming film is unique from the rest of his masterpieces in that it serves as a semi-autobiographical story of his own life, with a fictional character embodying a young aspiring director dealing with his parents’ failed marriage.

the Fabelmans has received rave reviews since its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, but Spielberg is far from the first filmmaker to illustrate his own life for the material. Semi-autobiographical films are surprisingly common, whether it’s a filmmaker recovering a youthful memory or the hardships he faced during a cultural shift.

10/10 Amarcord (1974) – 87%

A lady in Amarcord

Federico Fellini was one of Italy’s great authors, and Amarcord is one of his most acclaimed films, having won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, alongside two nominations Fellini received for Best Director and Original Screenplay. The story is a series of vignettes about the eccentric inhabitants of a small town in fascist Italy, told from the point of view of Titta, a young teenager.

Fellini himself grew up in similar circumstances in the city of Rimini (near the film’s set) and based Titta in part on a childhood friend, Luigi “Titta” Benzi (via The New York Times newspaper). Perhaps the teenage perspective explains why so many characters are childishly obsessed with sex, like young Titta and Uncle Teo.

9/10 Almost Famous (2000) – 89%

William and Penny in Almost Famous

almost famous is the story of young music journalist William Miller, who ventures out with the band Stillwater. Whereas Cameron Crowe had written to Rolling Stone as a teenager, he created the leads based on his own life, which makes his comedy-drama his most personal film (via Indiewire). Although Stillwater is a fictional band, they are likely heavily based on real bands like The Eagles or Led Zeppelin.

It’s not only almost famous is an engaging coming-of-age story and a beautiful tribute to the rock bands of the 70s, it’s one of the best “plotless” movies. The viewer knows the band as William, and seeing guitarist Russell Hammond betray him is genuinely heartbreaking after so much fun.

8/10 The Great Red (1980) – 90%

A group of American soldiers are together in The Big Red One

The Great Red is a highly underrated WWII film about five soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division of the same name. The film has some impressive battle sequences and great performances from actors like Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill, but what makes it stand out is that director Samuel Fuller used his own wartime experiences as the basis for the story.

Like the sergeant and his squad, Fuller served in the “Big Red One” and even participated in the liberation of the Falkenau concentration camp (via RogerEbert.com). The release sequence is the most moving in the film, as it is almost dialogue-free and shows Sarge powerless to save a suffering child, illustrating the graphic tragedies of war.

7/10 Lost In Translation (2003) – 95%

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen in Lost in Translation

lost in translation it was a critical darling and a surprise hit with audiences, grossing over $118 million worldwide against a budget of $4 (via the Mojo Box Office). The film showcased Sofia Coppola’s directing talents, Scarlett Johansson as a rising star, and Bill Murray’s dramatic chops, as some fans still want a sequel to go along with this infamous cliffhanger.

The film also has some autobiographical elements, with Coppola having spent a lot of time in Japan (via Departures), presumably leading to the same kind of culture shock that Bob experiences. Furthermore, Coppola wrote lost in translation before her divorce from Spike Jonze, which may have formed the basis for Charlotte’s husband John.

06/10 American Graphite (1973) – 96%

A guy and a girl in a car in American Graffiti

Before cementing his legacy as a pop culture icon with Star WarsGeorge Lucas’ masterpiece was american graffiti, a beloved teen comedy that left a huge impact on many of the coming-of-age films that followed. In one of his best-directed films, Lucas was innovative in creating the film’s structure and authentic teen narrative, as he created the film’s premise based on his own adolescence.

american graffiti is set in Lucas’ hometown of Modesto, California, and John Milner’s love of drag racing is the only thing the director shared growing up, which also nearly ended up killing him (via SlashFilm). The fact that much of the film is inspired by real life also gives it an air of melancholy, especially as the epilogue shows that two protagonists are doomed to premature deaths.

5/10 Persepolis (2007) – 96%

Marji being treated by two women in Persepolis

Based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, persepolis is a coming-of-age film based on the life of young “Marji” after the Iranian Revolution. Satrapi co-wrote and directed the film, along with fellow French graphic novelist Vincent Paronnaud.

The film adaptation was critically acclaimed and was nominated for several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. From youthful rebellion to growing up under an oppressive regime, Marji’s story is told with a powerful voice, telling firsthand the struggles that erupted during a cultural shift.

4/10 Au Revoir Les Enfants (1988) – 97%

Two children looking behind a tree at Au Revoir Les Enfants

Since so many great filmmakers lived through World War II, it makes sense that they would integrate the deadliest conflict in human history into their work. by Louis Malle Au revoir les infants is the French filmmaker’s take on the matter, following a boy who discovers that the principal of his school is sheltering Jewish children.

Au revoir les infants it was inspired by the actions of the real-life Catholic priest Père Jacques, who happened to be the director of Malle’s own boarding school (via Rejected Film Schools). Knowing this makes his film counterpart, Père Jean, immensely sympathetic, and the film’s ending, in which he is unable to save the titular childrenit becomes even more exciting.

3/10 The 400 Blows (1959) – 99%

Scene with Antoine in the classroom in The 400 Heists.

the 400 hits It may have been François Truffaut’s debut in the feature, but viewers can already see a filmmaker on the way to becoming one of the key figures in the French Nouvelle Vague. The film is a look at the life of Antoine Doinel, a rebellious boy who is misunderstood and mistreated by every adult in his life.

Truffaut put a lot of himself into Antoine, having been a troubled kid who never knew his biological father and a rocky relationship with his adoptive father (via The Criteria Collection). This makes Antoine’s arguments with Julien and his subsequent abandonment seem more realistic than a typical coming-of-age film.

2/10 Lady Bird (2017) – 99%

Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird Featured Image

Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, lady bird follows Christine “Lady Bird” MacPherson, a nonconformist teenager who doesn’t fit in with her peers and has to deal with welfare but an authoritarian mother. The film was critically acclaimed, with high praise for Saoirse Ronan’s acting as well as Gerwig’s direction.

lady bird it was a labor of love for Gerwig, who spent many years writing the screenplay and was inspired by her own adolescence growing up in Sacramento. At the New York Film Festival, she stated, “Nothing in the film has literally happened in my life, but it has a core of truth that resonates with what I know” (via IndieWire).

1/10 Fanny and Alexander (1983) – 100%

Two brothers looking out of a door at Fanny and Alexander

The story of a brother and sister whose lives are turned upside down when their mother marries an abusive tyrant of a bishop, but Fany and Alexandre it was Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic swan song. The film’s three-hour runtime and slow pace mean it’s not for everyone, but admirers like Sam Mendes consider it one of their favorite movies.

For inspiration, Bergman drew on his experiences with his own father, a member of the clergy who has been described as having a “volatile” personality (via The Independent). The scene in which the ghost of Bishop Vergerus insults Alexander by saying he will never be free has a very different reading of this context, as Bergman’s own acknowledgment that he could never totally free himself from his father’s influence.

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