Maid In Manhattan (2002): On the one hand, I'm glad one of my favorite directors—Wayne Wang—probably got a nice check for this. On the other hand, it's a a rather flat update on the Cinderella myth of female social mobility: work hard, but more importantly, get noticed by someone rich and powerful. Preferably while wearing Dolce Gabanna.
Mostly, it reminded me of Pretty Woman, even down to the avuncular hotel manager/butler figure and slimy partner/political strategist. In all seriousness, in the future, it might be more interesting to screen both films back-to-back and then discuss whether being a prostitute is that much more disempowering a job for working class women compared to being a hotel maid.
The Milagro Beanfield War (1988): Not sure what took me 22 years to finally watch this but I'm glad I finally did. A really smartly nuanced film in many ways, especially in how it looks at conflicts within the same community over the conflict between economic self-sustenance vs. capitalist opportunity. The white fat cat developers were rather stock, though whoever's idea it was to cast Christopher Walken was kind of genius, especially when his opposite is the unflappably chill Ruben Blades. And Sonia Braga was pretty awesome (and swoon-worthy).
I thought the film could have left out the posse-hunt - seemed very incongruous to the rest of the film—but overall, I found the film to be quite useful in talking about race, class and gender. It was also the only film students actually clapped for once the credits hit.
Bamboozled (2000): A potentially brilliant Spike Lee film ruined by the fact that Spike Lee directed it. He's a master at great premises gone awry in the execution (which is why Inside Job was such a refreshing exception) and while I think Bamboozled has some great points to make, it loses much of it by the time you hit the 2/3rds mark and then it all descends from there. I was hoping that it'd help illuminate the history/legacy of minstrelsy—which it certainly tries to—but it gets so convoluted along the way.
Freedom Writers (2007): Some of my students actually attended the Long Beach high school where this is set, albeit in a very different era of the school's history. I actually thought, as a film, this was decently executed though thematically, it follows pretty much every convention ever introduced by "special (White) teachers saving students (of color)." Bulman writes a very good essay on the difference between films set in suburban high schools vs. urban ones and Freedom Writers, alas, conforms to all the standard tropes: lone savior amidst a community of disbelievers, total self-sacrificer, unruly/uncontrollable students taught discipline, etc.
Fight Club (1999): I always think the same thing when watching this: "if this film was set to come out in 2001 instead of 1999, would they have even let it?" It's eerie watching the ending for obvious reasons yet, at the same time, the film also seems rather prescient for the American desire to reclaim its manhood via conflict. There's always been a big debate over whether the film ultimately celebrates violent masculinity or repudiates it and no disrespect to Susan Faludi but I think it definitely celebrates it. Project Mayhem seems so much cooler than the alternative, i.e. the status quo. Just because Ed Norton's character ultimately rejects Tyler Durden doesn't mean the film does. Regardless, it's a pretty great film to use to talk about the construction of masculinity. And who doesn't like seeing Jared Leto taking a beatdown?