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10 Beautiful Films That Will Make You Nostalgic for Your Childhood

As Kenneth Branagh’s personal 'Belfast' hits screens, see how these famous directors looked back at youth via their movies

spinner image Ellar Coltrane lies on the grass in a scene from the film Boyhood
Ellar Coltrane in "Boyhood."
Matt Lankes/IFC Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

On Nov. 12, Kenneth Branagh, 60, releases his highly personal new film Belfast, about a working-class Northern Irish family living in the titular city during The Troubles. The movie stars newcomer Jude Hill as the young Branagh, with Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as his mother, Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan as his father, and Ciarán Hinds (68) and Judi Dench (86) as his grandparents. Already considered an Oscar frontrunner, the film picked up the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, a prize that in recent years has predicted eventual best picture winners NomadlandGreen Book and 12 Years a SlaveBelfast is far from the first time a director has mined their own childhood for inspiration. From Fanny and Alexander to Lady Bird, these 10 films offer a window into their creator’s pasts — and they just may inspire a twinge of nostalgia in the viewer as well. Give them a watch and see if they don’t spark fond memories of your own childhood.​​

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Minari (2020)

The plot: Oscar-nominated director Lee Isaac Chung moved as a child to rural Arkansas with his Korean immigrant family, and he details the struggles and the triumphs of their search for the American dream in this poignant semi-autobiographical drama. It’s hard not to fall in love with Alan Kim, who was 7 years old when he played the Mountain Dew-chugging, cowboy-boot-wearing David Yi. Youn Yuh-jung, 74, who has been called the “Meryl Streep of South Korea,” steals scenes as grandmother Soon-ja, and she became the first Korean actress to win an Oscar, a BAFTA, a SAG Award or an Independent Spirit Award. ​

Most nostalgic moment: Soon-ja and David plant minari (or water celery) seeds down by a creek, and the vegetable’s hardiness and resilience becomes a beautiful metaphor for the Yi family as a whole.

Watch it: Minari, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube

Boyhood (2014)

The plot: Director Richard Linklater, 61, invented an entirely new form of cinema with this decade-spanning, coming-of-age film. Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is an ordinary Texan boy with two divorced parents (Ethan Hawke, 51, and Patricia Arquette, 53, who won an Oscar for the role) and a sister (played by Linklater’s daughter Lorelei), and the story covers his life from age 6 through 18. But Linklater didn’t fall back on the usual tricks to show time passing, like hiring actors of different ages or using makeup. Instead, he took things very slowly, reconvening his cast every few years from 2002 through 2013 to show the true passage of time. The effect is surprisingly profound, adding emotional heft to the seeming mundanities of growing up, from waiting in line for the new Harry Potter book to moving into a college dorm. ​

Most nostalgic moment: You might feel a lump in your throat every time a new chapter begins and Mason has grown a bit older.

Watch it: Boyhood, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube

Almost Famous (2000)

The plot: Cameron Crowe, 64, mined his own youth as a teenage Rolling Stone writer for this blockbuster film about a 15-year-old aspiring rock journalist (Patrick Fugit) who goes out on tour with the band Stillwater and is taken under the wing of a groupie named Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Stillwater may be fictional, but you can think of them as a composite of some of the bands the young Crowe toured with, including the Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Eagles.

Most nostalgic moment: The scene of the band singing along to “Tiny Dancer” in their tour bus might remind you of road-trip sing-alongs from days gone by. ​

Watch it: Almost Famous, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Paramount+, Pluto TV, YouTube

​​Lady Bird (2017)

The plot: Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) shares quite a bit with her creator, the writer-director Greta Gerwig: They both lived in Sacramento, came of age in the early 2000s, attended Catholic school, loved theater and were desperate to escape to New York City for college. While the indie darling was clearly inspired by the mood of Gerwig’s teenage years, she told NPR that she was “actually sort of the opposite of Lady Bird. … I always say [the movie is] not true, but it rhymes with the truth.” ​

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Most nostalgic moment: The Dave Matthews Band song “Crash Into Me” plays during a few pivotal scenes. Gerwig revealed on Late Night With Seth Meyers that to get permission to use the tune, she sent Matthews, 54, a letter in which she called it “the most romantic song ever.” ​

Watch it: Lady Bird, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Netflix

Don’t Miss This: 13 Female Directors You Should Discover Right Now

​​Fanny and Alexander (1982)

The plot: Never much for sentimentality, Ingmar Bergman finally showed a softer side with this semi-autobiographical period drama about a brother and sister (played by Bertil Guve, 51, and Pernilla Allwin, 51) as they grow up in the theatrical Ekdahl family in turn-of-the-20th-century Sweden. Originally released as a five-hour TV miniseries and later as a condensed, three-hour movie, Fanny and Alexander is bursting with warmth, color, opulence and bawdy humor, and it’s often cited as one of the greatest films ever made. ​

Most nostalgic moment: The epic begins with a sumptuous Christmas Eve party, when the whole family dances and sings through the elaborately decorated mansion. You’ll wish you got an invite. ​

Watch it: Fanny and Alexander, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max

Roma (2018)

The plot: Alfonso Cuarón, 59, won his second best director Oscar for this loving ode to his 1970s childhood, as told through the eyes of the family’s Indigenous housekeeper, Cleo (played by first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio). She’s based on his own real-life nanny, Libo, to whom the movie is dedicated. For added authenticity, Cuarón shot in crisp black and white on the very same Mexico City street where he grew up, and he recreated interiors using many of his family’s actual furnishings.

Most nostalgic moment: Roma tackles big ideas (revolution, inequality), but it’s the tiniest details that will make you swoon, like the way Cleo mops the floor or walks through the house at the end of the night carefully switching off lights.

Watch it: Roma, on Netflix

Amarcord (1973)

The plot: The title of this coming-of-age comedy translates to “I remember” in the local Italian dialect, so you know director Federico Fellini is operating in wistful nostalgia mode. Set in the village of Borgo San Giuliano, near Fellini’s hometown of Rimini, the film follows the adolescent Titta (Bruno Zanin, 70) as he grows up in 1930s Fascist Italy, surrounded by memorable eccentrics like a buxom tobacconist and a blind accordion player.

Most nostalgic moment: In one beautiful scene, a peacock lands on the town fountain during a freak blizzard, interrupting a snowball fight. “Such an image is so inexplicable and irreproducible that all the heart can do is ache with gratitude,” wrote Roger Ebert at the time, “and all the young man can know is that he will live forever, love all the women, drink all the wine, make all the movies and become Fellini.”​

Watch it: Amarcord, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, YouTube

Radio Days (1987)

The plot: Seth Green plays the young Joe in this period Woody Allen (85) comedy about a Jewish-American family in Queens during the 1940s Golden Age of Radio. Joe’s orbit includes a sprawling crew of family members (Julie Kavner, 71, and Dianne Wiest, 73) and neighbors (Larry David, 74), plus the folks they listen to on the radio: Biff Baxter (Jeff Daniels, 66), celebrity gossip reporter Sally White (Mia Farrow, 76), the Masked Avenger (Wallace Shawn, 77) and even the Maxwell House jingle singer (Kitty Carlisle Hart).​​

Most nostalgic moment: There’s a particularly poignant moment when Joe’s lovelorn Aunt Bea (Wiest) sits alone on New Year’s Eve listening to a singer on the radio (Diane Keaton, 75) perform a lovely rendition of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.”​

Watch it: Radio Days, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube

Persepolis (2007)

The plot: Marjane Satrapi, 51, co-wrote and co-directed this animated adaptation of her own graphic novel about growing up in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. As the new government becomes more and more oppressive, Marji cultivates a rebellious streak, dressing in Nikes and a denim jacket scrawled with “Punk Is Not Ded," arguing with her teachers and shopping for black market products from the West.

Most nostalgic moment: Marji’s youthful infatuation with popular music — from the Iron Maiden poster that hangs on her bedroom wall to the Michael Jackson button that gets her in trouble with the authorities — will feel familiar whether you grew up in Iran or the U.S.

Watch it: Persepolis, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube

20th Century Women (2016)

The plot: In 2010’s Beginners, director Mike Mills, 55, explored his real father’s coming out at the age of 75, and Christopher Plummer won an Academy Award for the role. For his follow-up, he turned his attention to his mother, who he told Terry Gross, 70, walked and talked “like Amelia Earhart and Humphrey Bogart put together.” It’s 1979 in Santa Barbara, and Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening, 63) is raising a teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), and running a boarding house, where the tenants are a young photographer (Gerwig) and a carpenter (Billy Crudup, 53). With the help of the boarders and his best friend Julie (Elle Fanning), Jamie sets out to become a modern feminist man. ​

Most nostalgic moment: The final montage, which shows what happens to each character after the events of the film, is an emotional powerhouse. ​

Watch it: 20th Century Women, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube

Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.

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