15 Great Films for Homeschoolers to Study
While "summer reading" is the push for school kids around this time of year, we do much more reading in the winter when the days are shorter and we don't spend as much time out in the Minnesota cold. Summer afternoons are when we often take a siesta from biking, gardening, building, painting, exploring nature, or playing with friends, and watch a movie while drinking ice cold homemade beverages.
As a homeschooler, I see watching movies as another great opportunity for learning and discussion. As a story lover/buff/snob, I see film as a dynamic art form and powerful teacher.
With the help of my friend Rebekah V., here are fifteen of our favorite films to enjoy and discuss as a family* (these are not necessarily the top 15; there are many more for future posts), along with the elements that we think make each film great. [Some of these films are more appropriate for a mature audience, and there are scenes we skip--read parental guides and preview before showing your children.]
Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) pictured above--Ranked "Best documentary of all time" on several lists, and deservedly so. Lots of original Super 8 film footage, funny and emotional interviews with the "coup", moving music. Who would have thought that a documentary about the man who walked a high wire between the Twin Towers illegally could be so inspiring? Because this is really a story of living a passionate, intentional life, and how the impossible dream can be accomplished.--AS
Helvetica (Gary Hustwit, 2007)—The story of a type font. One of my favorite docs of all time.--RV
Icarus (Brian Fogel, 2017)--A cyclist (the film's director) tries doping to see how easy it is for athletes to beat anti-doping tests...and finds himself in the middle of the Russian state-sponsored Olympic doping scandal. Uses George Orwell's 1984 as a conceptual framework to make this film an award-winning artistic masterpiece. New themes emerge for discussion each time we watch this. --AS
Happy People (Werner Herzog & Dmitry Vasyukov, 2010)--How the people of a remote Siberian village on the Taiga River live rich lives. What makes it so lovable and genuine is that it is not didactic--neither the people nor the directors spell out principles of happiness for the viewer, but allow the viewer to discover them for herself. --AS
Many parents require their children to read the book or play before watching the movie. While this is often the direction we go in, there are many cases in which my children's interest in a book is piqued by the movie. There are other cases in which they only understood the book (e.g.--Pride & Prejudice) because they watched the movie first.
Emma (Douglas McGrath, 1996)--Period adaptation of the Jane Austen novel by the same name. One successful match makes Emma think she can meddle in other's love lives. Sparks conversations on love, compatibility, social status, and agency. We love the editing, where a conversation in one scene is cut off and flows smoothly into the conversation of the next scene. --AS
Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)--Clueless—This movie fits into two of my favorite genres, Lit Adaptations and Teen Movies. Jane Austen’s universe is hierarchical with strict norms and how better to make these salient to a modern audience than to set the story in a high school. In Jane Austen’s class-structured world, where the fine distinctions of standing occur even within class. This translates perfectly to high school popularity and cliques. Also Emma, Austen’s only spoiled, bemused and unlikeable protagonist translates perfectly to a pampered Beverly Hills teen. I love realizing who corresponds to the characters in the novel. --RV
MacBeth (Justin Kurzel, 2015)--One of my favorite stories and film adaptations of Shakespeare. Please consider watching this on VidAngel if you want to skip the few scenes that make it rated R. Genius acting, cinematography, music. Ponder and discuss what Macbeth's character and choices mean to you, then explore different interpretations in the bonus features and online. Also--can we talk about why Lord and Lady Macbeth seem to have one of the strongest marriages in Shakespeare?--AS
Romeo+Juliet (Baz Luhrmann, 1996)—I think that Baz Luhrman’s modern take on Romeo and Juliet heightens the stakes of the young lovers’ situation better than any other film version. Trade swords for guns and an urban gang environment on Verona Beach for Verona and you have a city at war. The soundtrack and the frenetic film editing enhance the sense of urgency. I love Baz Lurhman and two of his other movies make my list. --RV
Romeo + Juliet is also one of our family's favorites; we quote R+J all the time, and actually understand it thanks to this movie adaptation. We watch scenes over and over again and study the meaning of each line. Fantastic acting (Mercutio is my favorite!) I also love the themes of youth, the blurred boundaries between love and hate, the juxtaposition of purity and worldliness, the potential for good and evil inside of each one of us. And I'm a sucker for Shakespearean language (and young Leo.) --AS
I don’t actually like suspenseful or scary movies so they have to be really good and stand the test of time for me to love them. --RV
My 16-year-old and I LOVE suspense and a good scare! But only when the story has depth --AS
North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock,1959)—This was one of my father’s favorites. He was a storyboard artist and often said that this movie could teach you everything you needed to know about visual storytelling. Cary Grant and one of Hitchcock’s famous cold blondes (I can’t remember which one. Just looked it up: Eva Marie Saint) star in this tense spy plot instigated by mistaken identity. Tons of famous scenes. --RV
Rear Window, Vertigo and The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954))—Why not take a tour of all Hitchcock movies and see how he builds the sense of suspense, danger and horror. Then you can watch Mel Brooks’ spoof on all of this in the movie High Anxiety.
Dial "M" For Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)--I actually like this Hitchcock film better than the others. You know who the murderer is from the beginning, but the suspense is in watching the other characters figure it out. Also a good example of an evil protagonist --AS
Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963)—Cary Grant again, but this time with a different Hepburn. Another spy plot that plays around with identity but this one is a bit more light hearted and fun. --RV
Wait Until Dark (Terrence Young, 1967)—Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman who must protect herself from an intruder. A simple premise that results in a suspenseful revelation of human resourcefulness and ingenuity. --RV
LOVE!!! Also sparks discussion on stereotypes of women (and/or disabled people) in the 1960's. --AS
By far my favorite genre. There is nothing more inspiring--a more powerful motivator to make changes in your life and find the strength to do the impossible--than a good survival story. And film has the ability to pair music and images with the story that will magnify those feelings. --AS
127 hours (Danny Boyle, 2010)
Man vs. Rock or Man vs. Himself? Spoiler alert: He cuts off his own arm. The true story of Aaron Ralston, which this film is closely based on, is high stakes and inspiring. But it needed a brilliant visionary to pull off a movie version of it—of one person stuck in one spot for 5 days—to do it justice; to make it interesting and evoke empathy from the audience. Danny Boyle pulls it off with a great actor (James Franco) great music, novel cinematography and editing techniques that are visually exciting and capture the spirit of the story and reality of his situation. Again, we learn and "see" more each time we watch this. Great use of comic relief and alternating hopeful attitudes and music with despair; both hope and despair escalate until the final scene. --AS