This is the list of films that I show to my high school students every year. The list is arranged in order by which they are screened. This list spans two school years. The first twenty-six films are shown to my introduction course. During their first year, we discuss mise en scene, cinematography, editing, sound, narrative storytelling, documentary films and animation. The remaining films are shown to my honors course. During the second year we discuss film history, analysis, the film industry and genre. The textbook that I use is The Film Experience (Third Edition) by Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White.
My list is constantly evolving, so please let me know if there are any essential films that I missed.
All students are required to have signed permission slips in order to watch any R-rated film. Parents/Guardians are provided with permission slips clearly identifying which films are rated-R, along with a brief explanation detailing the mature content depicted in each film and a link to the IMDb "Parent's Guide". In the case of "Mulholland Dr.", I have personally edited out much of the mature content.
1.Back to the Future(1985)
PG|116 min| Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Marty McFly, a 17-year-old high school student, is accidentally sent thirty years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his close friend, the maverick scientist Doc Brown.
Director: Robert Zemeckis| Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover
'Back to the Future' opens our unit on narrative storytelling and I use the film to introduce students to the 'heroes journey'.
2.Strangers on a Train(1951)
PG|101 min| Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
A psychotic socialite confronts a pro tennis star with a theory on how two complete strangers can get away with murder - a theory that he plans to implement.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock| Stars: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll
Before showing 'Strangers on a Train', I show my students an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone describing story structure to a group of college students. In the interview, they say that all plot points should be connected with either the words "but then" or "therefore", and never with the words "and then". 'Strangers on a Train' does not contain a single "and then". Every scene drives the plot forward.
PG-13|107 min| Action, Adventure, History
A defense officer, Nameless, was summoned by the King of Qin regarding his success of terminating three warriors.
Director: Yimou Zhang| Stars: Jet Li, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang
I used to end our narrative unit with 'Rashomon', but my students had a difficult time watching that film. Now, I show my students 'Hero' as a way teach them about point of view and the the 'Rashomon' effect.
PG|119 min| Drama, Mystery
Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance.
Director: Orson Welles| Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead
'Citizen Kane' could be used for any unit, but I use it for teaching students about non-narrative structure. I will know I am an accomplished film teacher once I can convince my students that 'Citizen Kane' is worth their time. I'm not there yet.
PG|102 min| Drama, Romance, War
A cynical nightclub owner protects an old flame and her husband from Nazis in Morocco.
Director: Michael Curtiz| Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains
'Casablanca' opens our unit on mise en scene. Despite it's age, the students generally enjoy this film. It is a prime example of "classical era" Hollywood, and embodies all of the characteristics that we discuss within the mise en scene.
Short Writing Assignments
Journal Entries, Ruminations, Quickwrites, Single Paragraphs
- Topics for short writing assignments can include the contribution to the film's story made by one of the following: (1) a cinematic element, such as music; (2) a theatrical element, such as lighting; or (3) a literary element of the film's story, such as expository phase, theme, plot, conflict, symbol, or characterization. Topics for short writing assignments can also include:
Journal Entries: Students can be assigned to write a journal entry, either in class or as homework, responding to the events or episodes in the movie as it progresses. The journal may or may not be focused on one topic; topics can change each day.1. What was the strongest emotion that you felt when watching the film?
2. What did you learn from this movie?
3. Which character did you [admire, hate, love, pity] the most?
Sample Assignment: We are going to be watching the movie, "Remember the Titans," for part of the class period each day this week. As homework, every day after a class in which we watch the film, I'd like you to write a short journal entry about your reactions to the movie so far. [Describe the length of the entry desired or the amount of time students should spend writing the entry.]Ruminations: Students can be required to write ruminations in which they respond to the motivations, values, or attributes of characters in the film.
Sample assignment: We are going to be watching the movie "Cyrano de Bergerac." After you have seen the movie, please write a page or two of your thoughts about whether Cyranno was a bully. Include a comparison of his actions in the play to those of a bully you know or have heard about.Single Paragraphs: Students can be asked to write a single paragraph about an element of a film and how that element contributes to the story or to the artistic presentation.
Sample Assignment: Write a paragraph about the use of camera angle in the scene in which Dorothy first meets the Wizard of Oz. The topic of your paragraph is: "What does the camera angle add to the scene?" The paragraph should have a topic sentence, citations to evidence to support the point being made, and a conclusion.Quickwrites: Students can be asked to write without preparation and in a set period of time, their thoughts or observations on a topic selected by the teacher. Quickwrites often become a ritual at the beginning of each class.
Sample Assignment: "To Kill a Mockingbird" ends with two ironic twists. Name one of them, describe why it is ironic and what theme of the story is highlighted by the ironic events.
Essays - Formal and Persuasive
Topics for Formal or Persuasive Essays with Research Outside the Confines of the StoryHistorical Accuracy: Students can research and evaluate the historical accuracy of the film or of a scene in the film and, where inaccuracies are found, students can theorize about the filmmakers' reasons for making the change from the facts.Topics for Essays Based on an Analysis of the Film
Historical, Cultural, or Literary Allusions: In many films, historical, cultural, or literary allusions are important in conveying ideas. Students can be assigned to investigate one or more of these references.
Differences Between the Book and the Movie: When a movie is based on a book, students can be asked to describe those differences, ascertain whether the movie is true to the story told by the book, and make a judgment about whether the changes made by the movie improved the story.
Themes and Messages: Students can be asked to identify and evaluate, using research from sources other than the film, the wisdom of any theme or message which the filmmakters are trying to convey.
Issues of Interest Relating to the Subject Matter of the Story: All films present issues of interest to the audience aside from the story itself. For example, the concept of attachment disorder is important in the film "Good Will Hunting" even though the film can be appreciated without knowing much about the disorder. However, the film may motivate students to research and write an essay about attachment disorder. The movie "October Sky" refers to the early U.S. and Russian space programs. Students who have seen this movie can be assigned to write an essay about what has occurred in space exploration in the last twenty years and how it differs from what occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.Literary Elements and Devices in the Story Presented by the Film: These include plot, subplot, theme, irony, foreshadowing, flash-forward, flashback, characterization, and symbol. Students should be required to describe the use of one element or device and its contribution to the overall message of the film. TWM offers a Film Study Worksheet to assist students in organizing their thoughts for this assignment.
Cinematic Elements in the Film: Cinematic elements include: shot (framing, angle, and camera movement), sound (including music), lighting, and editing. Students can be asked to identify and discuss the cinematic elements in an entire film or to focus their analysis on a particular scene. The analysis can be limited to the use of one cinematic element or it can include several. Students should be required to describe the use of the cinematic element as well as its contribution to the overall message and artistic presentation of the movie or the scene. See the TWM student handout: Introducing Cinematic and Theatrical Elements in Film. TWM also offers a worksheet to help students identify theatrical elements in a film. See TWM's worksheet entitled Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
Theatrical Elements in the Film: Theatrical elements found in movies include: costumes, props, set design, and acting choice. Students can be asked to identify and discuss the theatrical elements in an entire film or to focus their analysis on a particular scene. The analysis can be limited to the use of one theatrical element or it can include several. Students should be required to describe the use of the theatrical element as well as its contribution to the overall message and artistic presentation of the movie or the scene. See the TWM student handout: Introducing Cinematic and Theatrical Elements in Film. TWM also offers a worksheet to help students ""identify theatrical elements in a film. See TWM's worksheet entitled Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
Creative Writing Assingments and Film Critiques
Creative Writing Assignments: Tasks which will stimulate students' creativity include: (1) write a new ending to the story; (2) add new characters or new events to an existing scene and show how the story changes as a result; (3) write an additional scene or incident, with its own setting, action, and dialogue; (4) expand the back-story of one of the characters and make it into a separate story; (5) write a letter from a character in the story to the student, or from a character in the story to the class, or from one character in the story to another character in the story, or from the student to a character in the story; (6) outline, story board, or write a sequel.
Sample Assignment: Imagine that Jean Valjean is still mayor of his adopted town of Montreuil-sur-mer. You are Bishiop Myriel, the man who had faith in Jean even though Jean stole his candle sticks and other silver. Jean has requested that you write a letter to Javert asking Javert to leave Jean Valjean alone. What would you say in that letter? Think about the nature of the man the Bishop is trying to convince, the tone he would take, and the arguments he would present. [Describe the length of the letter.]Film Critiques: Some students will enjoy writing a review of the movie, possibly for publication in the student newspaper. Students should be instructed to make sure that they cite evidence to support their views.
Sample Assignment: Imagine that you are a film critic for a major newspaper. Write a critique of the film, "The Outsiders." Be sure to support your conclusions with evidence and logical arguments. [Describe the length of the critique.]
Other Assignments, Projects and Activities
- Mock Interviews: Students can work together in groups of two to write and perform a mock interview in which one plays a character in the film and the other takes on the role of the interviewer. The answers should reveal the values of the character.
Debates: Many films offer controversial social or political ideas which can easily become the topic of vigorous debate. Students can be divided into teams to support or oppose an idea presented by the film.
The Great Divide Separate the class into two groups representing sides taken on a particular issue. Students in support of the point should sit together facing those opposed to the point. Students should use the rules of Accountable Talk to argue their positions. Accountable Talk requires that students listen carefully and adhere to a code for responses to one another's words. Each respondent must begin his or her point with phrases such as:
Students may not resort to name calling or any other insults and must back up their points with reference to the work being discussed. When students hear points that cause them to change their minds, they must get up and take a seat on the other side. Often, an entire class will become convinced of one position and all seats will be moved to one side of the room. Pro-con T-Chart organizers or any other form of note taking can be beneficial so that students can refer to points they felt were important when it comes time to write their essays.
I hear what you are saying, but . . .
Your point is good; however I want to say . . .
I'm unclear about what you mean . . .
Granted, your point has validity; however, consider . . .
I understand what you are saying; however, the facts are . . .
Socratic Chairs: Place a number of chairs at the front of the room and select appropriate students to fill them. These students will serve as a panel to discuss the issue that must be resolved or at least clarified so that the students can write their essays. Students remaining in their desks should take notes using a graphic organizer, such as a pro-con T-Chart, and can ask questions either during or at the end of the panel's discussion. Sometimes students may want to relinquish a chair to a member of the audience in order to further the point he or she is making. Vary the rules to fit the goals of the discussion but keep to the rules of Accountable Talk.
Creative Projects: Students can be given the opportunity to compose poetry, music, song, or dance relating to an idea in a film. They can also produce a film or create a painting or a poster.