Sunday, November 8, 2009

Best Movies & Books for my Classes

A lot of my classroom references come from the big screen. Here’s a list of movies which have had the most influence on my teaching style, for various reasons. These are not necessarily my all-time favorites, just those which affected me in some way or another.

(in no particular order)

The Verdict with Paul Newman – slow movie, but a killer closing argument. I play about 20 minutes of this movie in my Intro to Law class
Reservoir Dogs – directed by Quentin Taurentino. Great movie. To me, a good classroom prof needs to master the art of storytelling. This movie has several good scenes with the undercover cop learning how to tell a story, details and all.
Goodfellas – One of my all-time favorites from the early 1990’s. Martin Scorsese is a master storyteller, and knows how to mix music with theme better than any director.
My Cousin Vinny – I can’t resist playing the “Yutes” scene, largely because of my heavy New York accent.
The Insider – based on a true story, a tobacco executive (Russell Crowe) blows the whistle on unethical company practices to a 60 Minutes producer (Al Pacino). I e-mailed the real life executive, Jeffrey Wigand, who had some interesting things to say about legal ethics.
Napoleon Dynamite – Huh? This movie reminds me that a lot of my students are not too many years removed from the awkward high school years. I need to constantly remind myself that they are dealing with issues which are far different from those in my life. Oh yeah, and Vote for Pedro.
Rocky I – Rocky is a survivor. He is a reminder that hard work, determination, and a will to win, are attributes which serve as a good example for my students. Say what you will about Sly Stallone, but consider this: He was a struggling working actor with a baby on the way when he wrote the script. Hollywood loved it and offered him a ton of cash, with Ryan O’Neil in mind to play Rocky. Sly had the vision to know that this character was his dream role, so he wouldn’t sell the script unless he got the part. He accepted much less money and a piece of the movie’s profits to make his dream a reality. Good decision?
Capturing the Friedmans – This documentary is about my high school chemistry teacher, who is mentioned prominently in my book.
Forest Gump – Wow. It takes writing, directing, and acting talent to pull off a movie like this. Forest reminds me that each of us is special in some way, and that we need to appreciate and respect everyone.
The Rainmaker – A movie which exaggerates the lack of ethics in law firms, starring Matt Damon and Danny DeVito. After watching this movie, my mom called me and said she understood why I like teaching and don't practice law. I got a good laugh from that.
Dead Poet’s Society – An incredible portrayal of how passionate someone can be in the classroom. Also highlights that teachers sometimes have so much influence over the direction of young adults. A huge responsibility.
Mr. Holland’s Opus – A must-rent for every aspiring or stale teacher, starring Richard Dreyfuss
Lean on Me – An inspirational high school movie starring Morgan Freeman
Teachers – A wacky and inspirational high school movie starring Nick Nolte

* * *
Here is a collection of books which have had an influence over my teaching and writing styles:

(in no particular order)

The Pre-Historic History of the Far Side by Gary Larsen – funniest book I’ve ever read
Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe- best written book I’ve ever read
People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn – historical perspective written about those who never get to write the history books
Buffalo Creek Disaster by Gerald Stern – best book on corporate negligence and a lawyer’s effort to hold a mining company accountable for the deaths of several miners and family members. I use this book in the Intro to Law class. Before A Civil Action, there was Buffalo Creek Disaster.
Ted Williams by Leigh Monteville & Rod Serling by Joel Engel – I love reading biographies of people who are no longer alive, so you get a perspective of their vibrancy in youth and the fragility of life toward the end.
Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerney- a wild and dizzying book written from the hip
Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960’s – by Milton Viorst – This book discusses a lot of the volatile issues facing America in a turbulent decade.
The Fifties – by David Halberstam – This massive book offers political parallels to today, much like the movie, Good Night and Good Luck
The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne – A short story which reminds me to appreciate what you’ve got, and not obsess over trying to make a good thing perfect.
Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander – The best sports book ever written. I had the opportunity to interview this writer about the book.
On Writing by Stephen King – The word master offers up an honest memoir and a lot of insight into his writing madness.
How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days by Vicky King & Four Screenplays by Syd Field – Any writer can learn a lot about structure from these studies on the screenwriting process.


  1. I think you are forgetting one important book.. Unlocking Your Rubbert Room. :-D

  2. :) Thanks D

    Head to head, not sure if Binder can compete with Nat Hawthorne or S. King. Maybe Bart Simpson

  3. The possible provisions of interest and the values would further help students regarding all those essentials. mba application help


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