With a year teaching in the East under my belt I feel like I have a certain level of authority when it comes to choosing the best movies that focus on what is a very difficult vocation.
Although the great South-Korean-Teaching-Epic is yet to be released, there are a lot of movies that cultivate the frustrating, rewarding, entertaining and unpredictable life of a teacher. Be it narratively or emotionally, below are some of the best movies that have a teacher at its heart.
Mr. Dunne, ‘Half Nelson’
Before the world entered the age of Ryan Gosling adoration ruled by memes, tumblr pages and Twitter trends there was a small, independent movie called ‘Half Nelson’. A movie with a modest budget of just $700,000 managed to depict the fragility of both sides of the teacher’s desk. Gosling’s middle school history teacher with a penchant for dialectics and drugs garnered him an Academy Award nomination.
There’s a candid solemnity to ‘Half Nelson’ as the film’s moral centre repeatedly flips between teacher and student. Teachers are humans too and this particular teacher is exactly that, flawed and all.
Dr. Sean Maguire, ‘Good Will Hunting’
Probably the best film to chronicle the relationship between a student and a teacher. Matt Damon’s precocious and truculent youth and Robin William’s mournful tweed combine and help one another to be the “good” presaged in the title. Full of erudite bar fights and the construction sites of South Boston, Williams’ and Damon’s literal and figurative battle of will is unrivalled.
Winning two Academy awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, the movie is cemented as a classic and marks the greatest performance of the late Robin Williams.
Mr Finn, ‘School of Rock’
Jack Black’s maverick-impulsive-rule-book-out-of-the-window archetype has been seen many times in his career. Nevertheless, if it was possible for Jack Black to reach his chef d'oeuvre then ‘School of Rock’ is it. The plot is simple: win the Battle of the Bands; it probably took 20 minutes to write but for some reason it works. An unapologetically fun movie with a great soundtrack, it is too charming not to like.
M. Marin, ‘Entre les Murs’ / ‘The Class’
When translated into English, ‘Entre les Murs’ becomes ‘Between the Walls’ and that is exactly what this long, claustrophobic movie illustrates. Originally a semi-fictional novel, the author François Bégaudeau also takes on the role as the main character and teacher Monsieur Marin. Much like Gosling’s Mr. Dunne, M. Marin works with troubled kids from differing ethnic backgrounds in the city’s suburbs. M. Marin seeks to control, inspire and integrate a class of children who exhibit the crisis of French identity.
The film gradually focuses on M. Marin’s ability to control a young, talented but insolent Malian boy named Souleymane. A relationship that reaches its apex when Souleymane himself is forced to translate all of his academic tribulations to his mother in a school meeting, as she cannot speak French.
Professor Falconer, ‘A Single Man’
Perhaps not an obvious choice, but Colin Firth’s portrayal of George Falconer – an Englishman working at a University in Los Angeles– is a devastatingly beautiful movie.
The movie follows a day in the life of the grieving George Falconer after the death of his boyfriend and, subsequently, the death of a life that was both unknown and unpermitted. ‘A Single Man’ needs the University and its unblemished youth to emphasise the private sadness that subsumes Firth. A fact that is embellished through Firth’s tender relationship with Nichols Hoult’s character, Kenny, who is strangely fascinated by his reticent and charismatic lecturer.
Cinematically ‘A Single Man’ looks as if it has been dipped in 1960s sepia and is soundtracked by evocative strings. Elegantly miserable and hugely watchable.
Ms. Cross, ‘Rushmore’
Wes Anderson’s movies are full of eccentric and curious characters with their own neurotic sensibilities. Adults act like children and children act like sages and ‘Rushmore’, his greatest movie, is no different. At the emotional centre of Anderson’s movie about Jason Schwartzman’s precious and romantic student is Ms. Cross. Ms. Cross’s gentle, English accented character personifies Rushmore and elicits a sensational fight to the death for her heart between Schwartzman’s Max Fischer and Bill Murray’s avuncular Blume.
Fischer’s and Blume’s unrequited love create hilarious scenes that endure. Like Gatsby and his glamorous parties to impress Daisy, Fischer directs cinematic plays, holds lofty ambitions to build an aquarium and, most importantly, saves Latin. Equidistant from Fischer’s youthful naivety and Blume’s aged weariness, Ms. Cross represents an idyll that the entire film chases towards.
Ms. Norbury, ‘Mean Girls’
‘Mean Girls’ was released ten years ago and has had girls quoting it like gospel ever since. With a title and cast that misleadingly points it towards the type of movie that Matthew Mcconaughey used to live in, it hit upon a tone that people have been attracted to ever since.
Away from Lindsey Lohan and the other socially erudite teenagers is Tina Fey’s Ms. Norbury. Ms. Norbury represents the cruel fact that high school problems don’t necessarily end at graduation. From her coffee drenched opening to her “push” speech to Cady, Ms. Norbury shows an earnest and optimistic way to stop hundreds of bitchy girls from bitching against one another: “you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores”. Arguably still salient today.