50 Informative Movies for Teachers and Students

50 Informative Movies for Teachers and Students

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Whether you’re a teacher trying to switch things up in your lesson plan or a student looking for a fun way to get into a research topic, you have to admit that movies can be useful tools for class, too. And while many filmmakers set out to entertain us or express themselves through cinema, just as many also seek to educate or bring a little-known subject to light—be it through documentaries or through stories inspired by real situations. So we at agoodmovietowatch have compiled a varied selection of little-known but highly-rated movies that we think could teach you something new and keep you engaged in the process.

40. Waltz with Bashir (2008)

7.5

Country

France, Germany, Israel

Director

Ari Folman

Actors

Ari Folman, Mickey Leon, Yehezkel Lazarov

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Depressing

In Waltz with Bashir, director Ari Folman grapples with the trauma and dehumanization of war by examining the role he played in the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon. But his memories are fractured, so in an attempt to piece them back together, he visits his comrades and has them recall the events for him. The result is both poignant and painful, a horrific tell-all of what happens on both sides of the battleground. The film is a documentary, chillingly honest and straightforward, but it’s also an animation gem that continues the legacy that Persepolis started and Flee continues. By combining the harshness of war with the lightness of animation, all three films effectively deliver their anti-war message with a much-needed human and personal touch. 

39. The Kingmaker (2019)

7.5

Country

Denmark, Philippines, United States of America

Director

Female director, Lauren Greenfield

Actors

Andres D. Bautista, Benigno Aquino III, Bongbong Marcos, Etta Rosales

Moods

Discussion-sparking, True-story-based

There is no shortage of resources—be it books, films, articles, or interviews—about the atrocities Ferdinand Marcos unleashed on the Philippines. And yet, in the years since his exile and eventual death, his family has returned to power in the country, winning the hearts and (manipulated) minds of the masses.

In The Kingmaker, director Lauren Greenfield (who earlier directed the equally revealing The Queen of Versailles) exposes how this came to be, with a focus on the titular kingmaker herself, Imelda Marcos. It’s chilling how much of Imelda’s stated goals in this documentary, which spans five years, have come true. History repeats itself, and Greenfield skillfully and delicately captures the delusion, irony, and blatant corruption of a family dead set on owning a country, as if it were another luxury to purchase (or in the case of the Marcoses, pocket). 

38. Doubt (2008)

7.5

Country

United States of America

Director

John Patrick Shanley

Actors

Alannah Iacovano, Alice Drummond, Amy Adams, Audrie Neenan

Moods

Depressing, Dramatic, Thought-provoking

The 2008 film Doubt offers a haunting peek into the crisis of pedophilia within the Catholic church. Featuring an all-star cast of Amy Adams,  Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Viola Davis, it is more than just a fictional tale. With performances that will make you question your intuition and cast a shadow of doubt on your own instincts, Doubt is a difficult film to grapple with. 

I fell in love with this film very early on into the duration of it because it was so honest and it allowed the characters to navigate the nature of their suspicions. With Doubt, however, comes denial, and Viola Davis’s eight-minute monologue is simply smeared with it. Doubt is a fantastic story that has left me stunned for over a decade. 

37. Polytechnique (2009)

7.5

Country

Canada

Director

Denis Villeneuve

Actors

Adam Kosh, Cynthia Wu-Maheux, Dawn Ford, Eugénie Beaudry

Moods

Intense, True-story-based

Polytechnique directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a dramatization of the 1989 Montreal massacre of multiple female engineering students. This film focuses on a male student navigating the massacre for the majority of the film’s run time. The performances and minimal dialogue in this film certainly make this an unnerving film to watch. Littered with the screams of the actors portraying the engineering students, this could be mistaken as a gaudy horror film. However, this is far from a fictionalized horror.

This Villeneuve classic is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally brutal films of the 2000s, yet I appreciate the honesty of the storytelling. Polytechnique encourages its audience to ask itself if it truly understands the truth of misogyny. 

36. After Innocence (2005)

7.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Jessica Sanders

Moods

Instructive, Thought-provoking

This documentary follows eight men whose convictions were recently overturned based on exonerating evidence. Proven innocent after many years in the US prison system, they are suddenly free to return to the communities they had been expelled from, without any of the usual obligations (or resources) associated with parole or probation.

The exonerations featured in the film are largely thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that works to free the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing and criminal justice system reform. While their work is central to the documentary, it’s also clear that these failings of the system represent only the tip of the iceberg. What makes the movie unforgettable, though, is the exonerees’ struggle to make sense of what remains possible in their lives, to embrace hope and reconcile with profound loss. All in all, it is as much a study of the deep costs of injustice as it is one of buoyant resilience.

35. Entre Nos (2009)

7.6

Country

Colombia, United States of America

Director

Gloria La Morte, Paola Mendoza

Actors

Andres Munar, Anthony Chisholm, Clem Cheung, Eddie Martinez

Moods

Depressing, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

A mother and her two children move from Colombia to Queens, New York to join the father. Once there, he abandons them and moves to Miami.

With no family to fall back on, barely speaking English, an inexistent social welfare system and two little kids who require care; the mother quickly runs out of options. At first, she tries to sell empanadas in the street, then tries to become a temporary worker, but a mixture of obstacles keeps getting in the way.

Entre Nos is about the precariousness of the immigrant experience: about how quickly things can go wrong. But it’s also about how survival instincts and motherly love can stand in the face of complete desperation.

34. Sami Blood

7.6

Country

Denmark, Norway, Sweden

Director

Amanda Kernell

Actors

Ánne Biret Somby, Maj-Doris Rimpi, Olle Sarri

Moods

Character-driven, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

This coming-of-age story starts in the present time, where Elle Marja, now a grandmother, reluctantly goes to her sister’s funeral held by her old indigenous Sámi community in Northern Sweden. Understanding her reluctance requires going back to when Elle Marja was 14 and was preparing to go to boarding school with her little sister. These schools were racist establishments meant to integrate the Sámi children into Swedish culture and language, while at the same time limiting their prospects of seeking further education. Elle Marja and her sister chose to respond to this discrimination in two completely different ways that this movie explores without judgment. The central performance of the young girl is incredible.

33. Tomorrow (2015)

7.6

Country

France

Director

Cyril Dion, Female director

Actors

Angela Merkel, Anthony Barnosky, Barack Obama, Cyril Dion

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive

When filmmaker and actress Mélanie Laurent (Breathe, Inglorious Basterds) was pregnant with her son, she learned about a study that predicted that climate change would cause human civilization to crumble by 2050. Like many soon-to-be parents, she worried about what it means to bring a child to a world where that’s a scientific forecast.

Instead of despairing, she chose to make this movie about solutions. She traveled the world with an activist friend documenting how human ingenuity is getting in the way of the situation worsening. The documentary goes to 10 countries to investigate solutions on five levels: agriculture (food), energy, economy, education, and democracy.

32. A Better Life (2011)

7.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Cedric Kahn, Chris Weitz

Actors

Abraham Belaga, Bobby Soto, Brigitte Sy, Carlos Linares

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Dramatic

Demian Bichir was nominated for an Oscar for his role in this movie where he plays an illegal immigrant and father. You might be wondering “who is that?”, but trust me you won’t after watching this movie. The kindness, complexity, and authenticity he brings to this story are unparalleled.

A Better Life is about the illegal immigrant experience, about the line between the fear of being caught and the aspiration for a better future. It’s an excellent and important movie. 

31. Whale Rider (2002)

7.7

Country

Germany, New-Zealand

Director

Female director, Niki Caro

Actors

Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Mana Taumaunu

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Feel-Good, Lovely

The story that Whale Rider tells is a familiar one: that of a young girl challenging the expectations of a patriarchal community in order to claim her rightful place in a position of authority. But this isn’t a superficial girl-power movie; writer/director Niki Caro maintains the utmost reverence for this Māori community, even if its customs might not appear fair to an outsider’s point of view. It’s a film full of realistically flawed people, whose struggles are all borne from a common love for their culture in their little corner of the world. What could have been generic and simplistic is made beautiful—especially thanks to a truly moving performance from Keisha Castle-Hughes, who at the time became the youngest nominee for the Best Actress Oscar.

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