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The NY Film Festival Gets Class

by Odie Henderson July 16, 2008 4:26 pm

The New York Film Festival has selected its opening-night film, the Palme D'Or-winning French film, Entre Les Murs (The Class). Reuters reports that the first French film in two decades to win Cannes' top prize tells a classroom story populated by real-life students and teachers making their acting debuts. It's a strange day when a place as snobby as the NY Film Festival selects a movie from the oft-hated inspirational teacher genre. I'm looking forward to seeing it because I'm a sucker for these movies. I've enjoyed so many over the years. To honor the occasion, here are three good teacher movies and two bad ones.

The Good:

Ciao, Professore - My favorite Male Chauvinist Pig director, Lina Wertmueller, makes a strikingly different type of movie, one that, despite all the profanity and posturing, is actually very sweet. Wertmueller gets good work from her cast, especially Paolo Villagio as the teacher and Ciro Esposito as the bad-ass kid he ultimately reaches. This being a Wertmueller movie, it has to have a rambling title, so here's the original name of this film: Io speriamo che me la cavo.

To Sir, With Love - If I have a guiltier pleasure than this movie, I don't know what it is. Shogun novelist James Clavell directs Sidney Poitier in one of the three movies he made in his blockbuster year of 1967. Here, Poitier is in England, trying to get his teenage charges to act like responsible young men and women. Yes, it's saccharine, and some people have been known to shoot themselves once Lulu starts singing that title song to Poitier's Sir, but I can't resist it for the scene where Poitier deals with the resident troublemaker the way you always hoped these teachers would: He beats the kid up.

Class of 1984 - The teacher's not an inspiration to his class in this one, but he's an inspiration to the bloodthirsty audience who came to see this 1982 exploitation quickie featuring Michael J. Fox in a small role. Perry King is the teacher, and his students are a horrible lot who do all manner of horrible things before King snaps and kills them all. Roddy McDowall DOES get through to his class in an inspirational manner in this film, however: He holds them at gunpoint until they learn what he's teaching. Hooray for public school!

The Bad:

187 - The flip side of Class of 1984. This is a drama that dares to tell me that Sam Jackson can't handle a bunch of bad-ass ghetto kids. Michelle Pfeiffer is getting her hoodrats to recite Bob Dylan lyrics in Dangerous Minds ("Bleh-be-bleh-be-bleh-beeeeh!" says the class in unison), but crazy-ass Samuel L. Jackson can't control some gangbangers? Can you say Bizarro Universe? At the end of the film, the screen proudly announces "a teacher wrote this movie." It should have continued "...and received an F for it."

Dead Poets Society - I can't find a film in this genre I hate more than this one. Here's a movie that's supposed to be about being an individual, yet at the end, everybody does the same thing. Robert Sean Leonard deserves every single miserable thing Hugh Laurie does to him on House for appearing in this absurd, Oscar-winning pile of shit. This is to the teacher genre what Beaches is to the chick flick: a movie that unfairly defines it and is used as the primary reason for hating the genre. Oh craptain, my craptain.

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