Alternative cinema for big kids

Now and then, we're ready for a little variety for our movie nights at home. Luckily, there are a lot of treasures out there if you're willing to go a little further off the beaten path. Here are a couple of movies that were hits for both grown-ups and big kids/teens at our house: 

Children of Heaven (1997)


A nine-year-old Iranian boy accidentally loses his sister's only pair of shoes on the way home from the shoe repair shop. In order to avoid getting in trouble (or cause more expense for their poor family), Ali and his sister, Zohre, decide to keep it a secret and come up with a solution of their own. They share his sneakers: she wears them to school in the morning, he wears them to school in the afternoon. When a race is announced, Ali decides to enter in order to win one of the prizes, a pair of sneakers.


Set aside any reservations you might have about your kids reading subtitles or being able to identify with a brother and sister in Iran. The director Majid Majidi manages to create a magical, engaging, simple story that is universal. Love between brother and sister. Joy in daily life. Wanting something really badly. Seeing needs beyond your own. Plus, in his review of Children of Heaven, Roger Ebert said, "My guess is that the race and its outcome will be as exciting for many kids as anything they've seen at the movies."

One of my favorite things about this movie is that it is about childhood. Not about kids doing adult things or about animals talking or about's about children navigating their childhoods. This is a great springboard to discussions in your family about comparing your own life with another culture (both similarities and differences), responsibility, family relationships, compassion, and caring for others.

(Watch it on instant queue via Netflix.)

Good for:
about seven and up (or younger, if you don't mind reading the subtitles out loud for non-readers)

Not for:
I honestly can't think of anyone this isn't for.

Questions to get you started talking:
What do the shoes symbolize? What do you think happened after the end? What would you have done if you lost the shoes?

-Though filmed in the 90s, the cinematography has the feel of a 1960s or 1970s film.
-It was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film in 1998 but lost to Life is Beautiful.
-The movie had a budget of less than $200,000. Amazing!

For kids a bit older:
Charade (1963)


Sometimes at our house it's hard to find a movie that will please everyone--one that is complex and emotional and visually pleasing enough (and not too scary, please) for Maddy, 17,  and that is also exciting and funny and suspenseful enough for Sam, 14. (How's that for being gender stereotypical--but what can you do? That's really what they each look for in a movie.) Charade definitely fit the bill for both.

Starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, it's a Hitchcock-style (though not actually directed by Hitchcock) suspense thriller with lots of plot twists. The story centers around the murder of Hepburn's husband, a large amount of money, and trying to figure out if Cary Grant is trustworthy or not.  By the way, I challenge you not to hum the theme song for several days afterwards.

(Look! Hulu shows it for free.)

Good for:
everyone around 12 and up who likes a bit of suspense and intrigue.

Not for:
younger kids (those murders and all, you know). You might want to watch the trailer (or preview the movie) if you're wondering whether it's right for your house.

Questions to get you started talking:
How do you know who to trust? Topics: loyalty and trust, greed, integrity.

-goofs: during the Seine cruise, the boat passes the same building twice. Ha!
-nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. 

Have you and your family enjoyed any off-the-beaten-path movies lately?