The end of the school year can feel like a basketball game already won with 5 minutes left to play. Your students might be preparing for finals or finishing up an end-of-the-year project, but their need and desire for instructional time in front of the board have already left for vacation. In the days before everybody else can leave to go outside, movies can be a useful way to pass the time. Still, movies sometimes have a bad reputation among discerning teachers. Choosing a boring, overplayed or dated movie runs the risk of making the last week of school feel like a watched pot that never boils. The best way to avoid turning the classroom into a waiting room is to pick a movie that enriches and surprises students and potentially even opens up one more opportunity to teach. Here are some suggestions to help with finding the right title to screen:
(For High School English) – Fences (2016): Denzel Washington directs and stars in this adaptation of August’s Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning play. Excellent writing and phenomenal performances by Washington and Viola Davis make this a great choice for teachers who want to continue discussing the key themes of American literature even after the textbooks have been turned in.
(For High School English / Spanish) – The Secret of the Beehive (1973): This Spanish drama is a fascinating picture of the ways art manages to change our perception of the world. Many movies adapt the story of Frankenstein, but few depict the inner world of somebody imagining and acting out the story of the lonely monster for themselves.
(For High School Science) – A Brief History of Time (1991): This documentary is remarkable for its ability to do justice to Stephen Hawking’s scientific work and noteworthy life without becoming dry or overstuffed. Director Errol Morris’s stimulating approach to interviews elevates this from the level of a simple television biography.
(For High School English) – Fahrenheit 451 (1966): HBO’s new adaptation with Michael B Jordan will soon be the version schools turn to when covering Bradbury’s classic book, but there is something special about the original attempt to bring the story to the screen. Students will be taken aback at the way this film uses warm colors and simply geometric shapes to depict dystopia.
(For High School Social Studies) – The Interrupters (2011): A documentary useful for showing the impact community activism can and does make. This movie is commendable for its humanizing representation of a city too often dehumanized in the media.
(For Middle School) – The Iron Giant (1999): What makes this animated movie a cut above the rest is its focus on character development. We watch as the two protagonists build trust and teach one another. The ending emphasizes the continuing possibility of changing for the better and choosing to do good.
(For Middle School) – Hugo (2011): The pop-up book visuals and light-hearted tone make this an easy movie to watch, but it does a surprisingly good job of integrating the history of cinema into the story. Students learning to differentiate between illusion and reality on social media will be amused to discover that some of the first filmmakers were magicians.
(For any level, Science) – Encounters at the End of the World (2009): A nice change of pace from nature films with a narrator watching from above, Werner Herzog’s Encounters shows Antarctica as a real place where scientists live and work. Students will enjoy the way this movie makes what is familiar about the icy continent strange and what is strange about it oddly familiar.