Film Recommendations - International English
From an educational point of view the use of films in class may be a good way of combining entertainment with learning. Films may broaden students' perspectives and inspire to further reflection, learning and research. The suggestions listed below are based on recommendations from teachers and students over many years.
Films Released 2009 - 2014
The Hunger Games (2012) is based on a young adult science fiction novel by Suzanne Collins. It is evident that Collins draws upon her experience from writing for television and familiarity with how media works. The Hunger Games takes place in the fictional nation of Panem and is a televised event where young people have to participate. The game is a matter of life and death and it is not over before only one contestant is left. Apart from reflecting the harsh conditions of reality television shows, there are strong allusions to Greek mythology, the Iraq War and governments whose primary goal is to oppress its people. Good guides to the novel can be found on [i]The Hunger Games[/i] on Cliffsnotes and [i]The Hunger Games[/i] on Shmoop. The novel is often compared with Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery". Read the short story and compare with the film.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) is based upon Jonathan Safran Foer's novel by the same name. The novel (2005) was one of the first to appear in the aftermath of 9/11, and we are introduced to the protagonist and narrator Oskar Schell, who lost his father (Tom Hanks) in the Twin Towers. Even if Oskar is only 9 years old, he is nothing like an ordinary child; he is francophile, a big fan of the physicist Stephen Hawkings, an inventor and a pacifist. The story line is not only how he copes with the loss of his dad, but it is also intertwined with the story of his grandparents and their traumas after the bombing of Dresden in World War II. [i]Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close[/i] - Trailer Useful link to the study of the novel September 11th - Through the Eyes of Oskar (9). The film adaptation differs a lot from the novel. It would be a good idea to study how and possibly why the director made this choice.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) Are old people more prejudiced than the younger generation? This star-speckled comedy drama depicts the culture clash experienced by a bunch of British seniors when they decide to spend their retirement in a hotel in Jaipur, India. They all appear to be the first guests on the supposedly newly restored luxury hotel for "the elderly and beautiful". In spite of misconceptions, prejudices, stereotypes and dreams, is there a way to mutual understanding? This film has a humorous approach to serious issues concerning intercultural communication. [i]The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel[/i]
The Help (2011) is a filmatization of Kathryn Stockett's novel by the same name. She has explained that the idea behind the novel was ignited in the aftermath of 9/11. Living in New York, she was unable to reach her family in the South, because of the impaired phone and mail services. Really homesick, she started thinking about the maid she had when she was growing up. In the novel, she gives voice to the African American domestic maids of her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s, when the policy of segregation was merciless. You will find educational resources at [i]The Help[/i] - Educational Resources and a trailer here.
My Name Is Khan (2010) Rizwan Khan, a Muslim immigrant from India moves to San Francisco. Khan suffers from Asperger's disease. Much to the dismay of his parents, he marries Mandira. Then September 11 arrives, and attitudes towards Muslims undergo a dramatic change - for the worse. This creates a strain on his marriage as well, and in order to win his wife back, he wants to convince the president of the USA in person that the surname Khan is not synonymous with the word terrorist. [i]My Name is Khan[/i] - Trailer . You may find resources here
Inside Job (2010) is an award-winning documentary that examines what caused the current financial crisis. Charles Ferguson, the director of the film, blames "the systemic corruption of the United States by the financial service industry and the corruption of that systemic corruption." The documentary which is narrated by Matt Damon, is divided into five parts. It starts out with Iceland and how the country's banks were privatized. By following this link you'll find valuable educational resources about the current economic recession, film trailers and glossary [i]Inside Job[/i] - Resources.
Fire In Babylon (2010) is a documentary about the West Indian cricket team that was unbeaten in a series of test matches in the 1970s and 80s. The legendary team even knocked out their former masters - the British. The supremacy this team attained was symbolic in many respects, and had an impact on black politics and culture. Watch a trailer and read a review at [i]Fire In Babylon[/i] - Review and Trailer.
The Social Network (2010) is the story behind the foundation of Facebook. It all started at Harvard University back in 2003 when the two students and friends Martin Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg) and Eduardo Severing (Andrew Garfield) came up with the idea that sparked Facebook. Work with resources here
The King's Speech (2010) When King George V died in 1936, his son Albert, Duke of York, was quite unprepared mentally and physically to take over the throne after his father. He was second in line, and no one had expected his elder brother to abdicate. As a king, you have to talk to your people in public, something Albert dreaded more than anything due to an unfortunate stammer. Albert (as King George VI) is played by Colin Firth. If you want to work with the film, follow this link [i]The King's Speech[/i] or work with assignments here. If you want to watch the entire film, you may watch it here
Sarah's Key (2010) is a dramatic story revolving around the Vel' d' Hiv Roundup of Jews in German occupied Paris in 1942. It is based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay. The film alternates between two stories, one about Sarah Starzynski, a 10 year-old French Jew, and her experiences in 1942 and the second about a journalist researching the Vel' d' Hiv Roundup in 2009. You can search for a trailer on the web or watch the whole film, Sarah's Key. A summary and discussion questions are available here.
Armadillo (2010) was awarded a prestigious critics' prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.The jury described the Danish film as: "a journey into the soldiers' minds and a unique film on the mythological story of man and war staged in its contemporary version in Afghanistan". We follow a troop of Danish soldiers from a few days before departure to their base (Armadillo) in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In the film we meet the soldiers in their leisure time and on patrol, we see them handing out candies to the children and dealing with the civilians, and in fierce encounters with the Taliban. A lot of issues are raised in the film, but the statement by one of the soldiers who said that they:...." liquidated wounded people and piled up the dead to take pictures of ourselves as heroes" raised public anger. Many saw a parallel to soldier attitudes demonstrated in Abu Graib prison and demanded that the Danish troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan altogether. Watch [i]Armadillo[/i] - Trailer
Avatar (2009) James Cameron's science fiction epic about the Na'vi people on the planet Pandora was filmatized with the latest 3D technology available in 2009. The aboriginals on Pandora are exposed to human greed, as they have got something that people on Planet Earth really crave - a precious metal. The themes in this film are linked to curricular issues in our International English course; intercultural communication, the conditions of indigenous peoples, environmentalism and sustainability to mention a few. Follow the link to find educational resources Avatar - Unique Box Office Success. More resources here.
Desert Flower (2009) is a film based on the Somali top model and human rights activist Waris Dierie's autobiography. The film debates culture clashes and female circumcision as it portrays her life as a nomadic child in the desert of Somalia, her life as an illegal teenage immigrant on the streets of London and her way to the prestigous catwalks in Paris and New York. She has dedicated the last twelve years to fighting against female genital mutilation as a UN Ambassador and as a founder of The Desert Flower Foundation. The organization's website offers substantial information about female circumcision. Watch a trailer here, The Desert Flower - Trailer.
Films Released 2008 - 2000
Skin (2008) is a biographical film narrating the story of Sandra Laing, a South African girl growing up under apartheid in the 1960s. Her parents are of white Afrikaan descent. Sandra, however, has a coloured appearance, and thus classified as coloured in the highly segregated South Africa. You may find resources here
The Secret Life of Bees Sue Monk Kidd's novel with the same name was filmatized in 2008. The setting is South Carolina in the American South, and the year is 1964, when civil rights for African Americans were being put into effect. We are introduced to the 14-year-old, motherless Lily and the black maid Rosaleen, who acts as her surrogate mother. As part of the application of the Civil Rights Act, African Americans were called to register in order to vote, and Lily accompanies Rosaleen to town. There she gets first-hand experience of the injustice of racism. The story also entails Lily's need to find out about her mother's destiny and from there - define herself as an individual and a young woman. Study guides to the novel are found on such sites as sparknotes.com, enotes.com and cliffsnotes, and us.penguingroup.com has a good teacher's guide with some references to the film. A good way to work with the novel/film is exemplified here [i]Secret Life of Bees[/i] - Wikispaces where Grade 10 students in Melbourne have created a wiki about their work with the novel.
The Hurt Locker (2008) builds on the accounts of the war reporter, photographer and director Mark Boal. In 2004, he joined up with an American bomb sqad that served in the Iraq War. His experiences are mirrored in the screenplay he wrote. On the release of the film, that he co-directed with Katryn Bigelow, he explained that they wanted it to be the first film about the Iraq War from the point of view of the soldiers. They wanted to expose things about a soldier's life "that you can't see on CNN." The film focuses on what makes certain personality types more ready to volunteer for certain conflicts than others, and how the bomb squad soldiers are motivated to attack, when everyone else wants to flee. It was awarded 6 Oscars. Watch [i]The Hurt Locker[/i] - Trailer. A study guide is available here.
Gran Torino (2008) In this film we meet Clint Eastwood both as a director and actor. He portrays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran, who is a resident in a Detroit neighborhood that is dominated by criminal gangs. Kowalski does not like changes very much and insists on keeping his prejudices alive, escpecially when it concerns his Asian neighbours. Find educational resources here [i]Gran Torino[/i] - Educational Resources.
Slumdog Millionaire(2008) is the filmatization of the Indian diplomat and author Wikam Swarup's novel, Q and A. In the film version we meet the young waiter Jamal Malik from the Mumbai slum. No question about it; Jamal, poorly educated and a former street child, is the definite underdog as a contestant in the fictionial quiz game Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Against all odds, he answers all the questions correctly. When one question remains, though, he is interrogated by the police and accused of cheating. How can a "slumdog" know all the right answers? The film revolves around the explanation Jamal gives his lawyer. By revealing facts about his life in the slum, WE get to know all the answers, and above all, the message comes through: You should fight prejudice! Watch a trailer [i]Slumdog Millionaire[/i] - Trailer or watch the entire film here You will find resources here
The Kite Runner (2007) is based upon Khaled Hosseini's debut novel from 2003 about the troubled friendship between two Afghan boys, Amir and Hassan. There are major dividing lines between the two boys; as a Pashtun, Amir is the master and belongs to the ruling class while Hassan, with his Hazara ancestry, is the servant. The story is set against one of the world's most dramatic historical events ranging from the fall of the Afghan kingdom, through the Soviet invasion leading to a mass flight of refugees, to the rise of the Taliban. [i]The Kite Runner[/i] You will find resouces here
Persepolis (2007) is an animated film based on Iranian born Marjane Satrapi's comic book from 2000. It depicts her memoirs from her birth in Tehran in 1969 through the early 1980s, when she experienced the first years of the fierce war between Iran and Iraq. To escape the war and the regime imposed by Khomeini, her parents sent her away in her early teens to what they hoped would be a brighter future in Austria. After futile efforts to adapt as a refugee in her new location, she chose to return to Iran. Even if she was able to reunite with her beloved family, she had to endure a regime that allowed her few rights as an individual. Look here for resources [i]Persepolis[/i]
There Will Be Blood (2007) is the adaptation of Sinclair Upton's novel Oil! (1927). Like the novel, the film also focuses on the new era when oil was first found and extracted from the American soil. The former silver miner, Daniel Plainview, is turned into an oil man when he in 1898 accidentally stumbles across oil in the desert. Since the film debates greed and business as opposed to religion and family values, and gives a rare portrait of the driving forces in the early shaping of American identity, it highlights curricular issues in our course. Watch [i]There Will Be Blood[/i] - Trailer
Sicko is a Michael Moore documentary (2007) where he scrutinizes the US health care and insurance system along with the pharmaceutical industry. He compares the domestic health policy to that of other countries, e.g. Norway. In comparison, Norway's health care system appears "too good to be true". This documentary may enlighten ethical issues in this course. Watch [i]Sicko[/i] - Trailer.
Into the Wild (2007) is a film drama based on John Krakauer's biographical book about the adventurer Christopher McCandless who abandoned everything and everyone and set off on a solitary trip to the Alaskan wilderness. By making this journey he highlighted essential existential questions: How does living in a civilized world restrict us? Is it possible to live without these restrictions? Why is the wilderness considered attractive? Do we need other people to give our lives meaning? And do we really need modern technology? Watch [i]Into the Wild[/i] - Trailer. You will find educational material on this blog: [i]Into the Wild[/i] - Educational Resources.
Outsourced (2006) Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) suddenly finds out that his job is outsourced to a call center in India. The film gives a humorous account of what happens when Todd goes to India to train his replacements. The film raises a lot issues revolving around intercultural communication.Check [i]Outsourced[/i] - Working with the Film
This is England (2006) takes us back to 1983 and is based on director Shane Meadow's own childhood experiences. He lost his father in the Falklands War and is looking for male role models. He finds them in a skinhead gang that harasses the ethnic minorities in the local community. [i]This is England[/i] - Trailer Look for resources here
Babel (2006) Babel is a multi-plot film by the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu set in Morocco, Japan, the USA and Mexico. Above all, this is a narration of how difficult it is to communicate across borders, no matter if they are physical, geographical, cultural or psychological. A main plot revolves around Mexican Amelia (played by Adriana Barazza), who works illegally as a maid and nanny for the Jones family (starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) in the USA. Amelia is in charge of their two children, when the couple sets off on a vacation trip to Morocco to save their faltering marriage. The Morocco vacation turns into a nightmare, and the couple are unable to return to the USA. This puts Amelia in a critical situation; she has to bring the children with her to her son’s wedding in Mexico. The encounter with the US border police when crossing La Linea becomes devastating. [i]Babel[/i] - Film Analysis, Babel - Trailer, Babel - Assignment
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) Thomas Jefferson who penned the 1776 Declaration of Independence stated that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" were human ialienable rights. These rights, and in particular the last phrase, is thoroughly examined in this movie, which is based on a homeless, young father's autobiography from the 1980s when a financial crisis made life extremely difficult for many people. Outside his son, Christopher's (Jaden Smith) day care center, Chris Gardner (Will Smith) sees a sign that refers to these ialienable rights, only, much to the dismay of Chris, the word "happiness" is misspelt. This slip turns out to be the twist in the story, and makes this not only an entertaining, but also an educational film. [i]The Pursuit of Happyness[/i] - Working with the Film
Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) This is Steven Speilberg's adaptation of Arthur Golden's novel about a nine year old Japanese girl that, after her mother's death, is sold as a geisha in the early 1930s. The novel, as well as the film, follows Chiyo Sakamoto, who even if she is a fictional character, gives voice to an old tradition in Japanese culture and by this raises many issues about female destinies. Read an excerpt from the novel, [i]Memoirs of a Geisha[/i] - Excerpt and find out how this is adapted in the movie.
Million Dollar Baby (2004) Is the American Dream attainable for everyone? What if you are a girl? Throughout history women have been regarded as second class citizens. To make it even more complicated; what if you are a white trash girl from Missouri who wants to excel in an all male sport? In Million Dollar Baby the waitress Margaret Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), has to fight every imaginable prejudice in order to fulfil her dream. One of the toughest obstacles turns out to be her very own boxing trainer Frankie (Clint Eastwood). The film is based upon a short story by a former boxing trainer. A good way of working with Million Dollar Baby, is to study the way the short story is adapted to film. Watch the enitre film here .
Hotel Rwanda (2004) is based on Hotel Manager Paul Rusesabagina's account of what happened during the bloody conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi people, in Rwanda in the early 1990s. Estimates confirm that 77% of the Tutsi people were massacred (Human Rights Watch). The film also describes how the world decided to turn a blind eye to the genocide. You will find resources here
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) in this documentary Michael Moore gives a merciless report about how he perceives American politics after President George W. Bush took office. You will find resources here
Lost In Translation (2003) To translate a text may be very difficult, and to translate the cultural context may be even tricker. What happens when Western culture clashes with the Japanese? In this film directed by Sophia Coppola, we meet two Americans,who are not only trying to come to terms with the alien Japanese culture, but also with their own personal crises. Bob Harris's (Bill Murray) fame as an actor is declining, and he accepts a job in a Japanese advertisement film for Santory whisky, while the young Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) finds herself left behind at the hotel by her husband. Watch [i]Lost In Translation[/i] - Trailer, Lost in Translation - Information.
Cold Mountain (2003) A mountain located in North Carolina that rises 6,030 feet above sea level, has given its name to Charles Frazier's novel and the film adaption. Through the eyes of the Confederate soldier, J.P. Inman (Jude Law), we see how the horrors of the American Civil War affect three different characters. In the film's opening scenes we are thrown right into a battle in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864, when Inman is seriously injured. Abhorrence of the cruelty of the war and a longing for his sweetheart, Ada (Nicole Kidman), makes him decide to desert and start a long and perilous journey back to Cold Mountain. Watch [i]Cold Mountain[/i] - Trailer. If you watch the entire movie, it is a good idea to compare how this novel excerpt is incorporated: [i]Cold Mountain[/i] - Excerpt.
Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) is a film based on a true story. It depicts how three Aboriginal girls walked a distance of 1,500 miles and spent nine weeks in the Australian outback to get back to their native village and their families. In 1931, they were, as part of the official Australian policy aimed at forcing the Aborigines to adapt to the majority culture, kidnapped from their homes. The three small representatives of what is later known by the name "The Stolen Generation" were relocated and trained as domestic servants. Their story along with numerous other victims of this policy, made the Australian government make an official apology to the Aborigines in 2007. Watch the trailer, [i]Rabbit-Proof Fence[/i] - Trailer. If you want to work with the film, check [i]Rabbit-Proof Fence[/i] – Study Guide .
Erin Brockovich (2000) is a biographical filmatization of a single mother's struggle in 1993 to defeat a powerful enemy, a US Gas and Electric company, in court. Erin Brokovich, played by Julia Roberts, accidentally finds out that the company is to blame for the contamination of the ground water in Hinkley, California, causing many residents to fall sick with cancer. Check out Erin Brockovich's website, Erin Brockovich Official Website.
Films released before 2000
The Green Mile (1999) is the film version of Stephen King's thriller of a novel. In retrospect, the former warden Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), gives us his gripping account of an incident that happened among the inmates on Death Row in a Louisiana prison during the Great Depression. Even if his tale includes a demonstration of supernatural powers, it raises fundamental questions regarding innocently convicted prisoners and capital punishment, and it dissects the deep-rooted prejudice against the African Americans in the 1930s. Watch [i]The Green Mile[/i] - Trailer.
American History X (1998) is a merciless portrait of two brothers. Due to his strong personality and intellect, Derek Vineyard (Edward Norton), the elder brother, becomes the hero, not only for his younger brother, Danny, but for his family and the neo-Nazi-gang he comes to lead. The two boys are raised in a white family in Venice Beach, L.A., a multicultural community that has faced severe social and racial challenges. When the boys' father, a fireman, is killed by a black drug dealer, while he is trying to extinguish a fire, latent hatred is ignited. Watch [i]American History X[/i] - Trailer. You should keep in mind that this film has traditionally been given as essay assignments and reports. Consequently, a search for this movie will come up with several "hits", but they may not be reliable. Due to its thematic link to racism, you should also check the ethical platform of your sources.
Dead Man Walking (1995) portrays Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), a prisoner on death row, convicted of killing two teenage lovers, in Louisiana in the 1980s. The film depicts the Roman Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean's fight to make an appeal to obtain life imprisonment for Poncelet, but it also demonstrates how the nun is torn between her sympathy for the victims and their families and her urge to forgive. The film is based on Helen Prejean's non-fiction book where she speaks out against capital punishment. Sister Prejean has become one of the most fierce advocates for abolition of the death penalty in the USA. Watch the trailer [i]Dead Man Walking[/i]. Read more about Prejean's work Sister Helen Prejean. It is also a good idea to relate the film to Thomas Hardy's poem, "The Dead Man Walking", and Bruce Springsteen's lyrics.
Once Were Warriors (1994) "If my spirit can survive living with you for eighteen years, then I can survive anything." Beth Heke, a New Zealand woman of Maori descent, throws this merciless message to her abusive husband, Jake. The film revolves around the Maori culture and its clash with the ways and values of the Auckland suburb. Check out his link [i]Once Were Warriors[/i].
In the Name of the Father(1993) The 1970s was a period of conflicts and riots in Northern Ireland - troubles that also spread to England and other parts of the UK. Many people lived in fear, and many innocent people were killed, threatened and imprisoned. Maybe the most shocking and unbelivable story from this period is the story about the Guildford four. Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson were accused of planning and carrying out the bombing of a pub in Guildford outside London. Along with Gerry, the main character in the film, his father Giuseppe was arrested. The same thing happened to Gerry's aunt and other family members. Giuseppe died in prison, and the task of Gerry's life became to prove his father's innocence. Check [i]In the Name of the Father[/i]
The Handmaid's Tale (1990) is a science fiction movie based upon Margaret Atwood's novel written in 1985, but set in the future. It deals with a totalitarian society, the Republic of Gilead (formerly the United States of America), which was founded in response to social threats like increasing pollution and rising infertility rates. In Gilead, state and religion are one, and women are severely oppressed; having lost most of their rights, they are not allowed to work, vote, or even read or write. Even their fertility is regulated by the state. Read an excerpt from the novel here [i]The Handmaid's Tale[/i]. In essential details the film differs from the novel. Students may ponder how and why the screen play has made adaptations to the novel.
To Kill A Mocking Bird is based on one of the most read novels in the USA, Harper Lee's Gothic story from 1960, with the same title. It is based on her childhood experiences in the Deep South and a particular criminal act that occurred in a neighbouring city in 1936. This incident ignited the latent racism and hatred in the local community. Gregory Peck as the narrator's father, the lawyer Atticus Finch, performs one of his most memorable roles. Watch the trailer [i]To Kill a Mockingbird[/i] and to work with the film/novel, you may use this link [i]To Kill a Mocking Bird[/i] - Resources.
Please note that due to the topics listed in the various teaching plans in our English courses, some films will be worthwhile viewing in several courses. This list is in no way complete; it will be updated and revised according to new releases. Tips and recommendations are most welcome.