The School of Rock (2003) Dir Richard Linklater (Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Joey Gaydos Jr)
The curriculum: Academia be darned, let’s grind! Jack Black’s failed rocker/useless slob Dewey Finn inveigles himself into a well-to-do prep school and proceeds to coach the kids in the art of maximum riffage. Cue an opportunity for Black to reprise his manic, devilish character from Tenacious D and deliver his most engaging, tailor-made performance to date.
Head boy/girl: Zak (Joey Gaydos Jr) the polite, reserved classical guitarist who embraces the dark side and swaps his nylon string acoustic guitar for a rip-snortin’ Gibson Flying V. Kerrrrang!
Life lessons? Don’t take it so seriously, man. Lighten up a little and learn your licks!
Elephant (2003) Dir Gus Van Sant (Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson)
The curriculum: Bullied losers Alex and Eric (Alex Frost and Eric Deulen) never got round to attending their college course on Social Etiquette and Upstanding Moral Fortitude and decided instead to just blow everyone away. And then themselves. Gus Van Sant’s naturalistic take on the Columbine school shootings is a hard-hitting, ultimately harrowing account of the worst kind of social indiscretion that cuts straight through to the bone.
Head boy/girl: Would you want either of these two morally defunct, murderous fiends wandering around wearing ‘prefect’ badges? Think not.
Life lessons? Turn the other cheek.
The Class (2008) Dir Laurent Cantet (François Bégaudeau, Agame Malembo-Emene, Angélica Sancio)
The curriculum: Les trois Rs, although this is a film where the kids teach the teachers as much as vice versa. François is the charming, confident French high school teacher whose students come from a variety of social, ethnic and economic backgrounds. And while ideas and concepts fly around the classroom, it’s the discussion around the casual use of a certain swearword that really brings those lessons home.
Head boy/girl: Agame Malembo-Emene, as head of the teacher-pupil committee who, as François learns the hard way, don’t take no bull.
Life lessons? Think before you speak. Or, think before becoming a teacher, ’cos it isn’t just polishing apples and waving a stick at a blackboard.
Let the Right One In (2008) Dir Thomas Alfredson (Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Ika Nord)
The curriculum: In a word, love. The love between a boy and a foul, centuries-old blood-sucking vampire who’s taken on the form of a cowering little girl. They meet on his snow-swept Swedish housing project and she gives him a few (ethically questionable) lessons in how to stand up to the school bullies.
Head boy/girl: Initially it’s hateful Conny (Patrik Rydmark), but when our hero Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) clobbers him round the face with a plastic flagpole, the tables are very much turned.
Life lessons? If you’re finding life at school (and in general) tough, instigate some love liaisons with a supernatural killing machine.
The curriculum: Kids may do the darnedest things, but their teachers can get pretty crazy too. So when she discovers that two of her pupils are guilty of murdering her beloved only child, mild-mannered mistress Takako Matsu gets her revenge by driving those responsible to the very edge of sanity. That she begins by spiking their classroom milk with disease-infected blood gives some idea as to the kind of psychological torture she’s doling out.
Head boy/girl: Yukito Nishii’s pocket psychotic Shuya, whose diverse interests include inventing portable electrocution devices, seducing suicidal girls and, ultimately, mass murder.
Life lessons? Kids are amoral monsters, adults are hapless victims, the world is going to hell and the only possible reaction is extreme violence. Yay!