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4. "The 400 Blows" (François Truffaut, 1959)
François Truffaut's deceptively ragged first feature – a jaw-dropper of a debut, and yet still not the highest one on this list – is routinely dubbed the daddy (so to speak) of all coming-of-age films. Except it's not really a coming-of-age film at all: Antoine Doinel, its spiky, spiny 12 year-old hero, leaves this thwarted quest for belonging as angry and unstable as he enters it, as laudably unlovable as he is unloved. Staring at the oceanic freedom he has temporarily secured for himself in the film's unimprovable final shot, he can't know the restless cycle of rejection and insecurity that awaits him. Thanks to Truffaut's deliberately spaced sequels, we do, but they don't carry quite the jaggedly broken heart of this one.
Photo Credit: The Criterion Collection