"Notes on a Scandal" (2006)
In "Notes on a Scandal," Cate Blanchett manages quite the feat by making her lusty-for-minors high school teacher more sympathetic than the old grouch (Judie Dench) who uncovers her naughty and illegal ways. In this school-bound pot boiler, Dench plays Barbara Covett, a lonely, unmarried teacher in London who blackmails sexy, new art teacher Sheba Hart (Blanchett), after discovering that Sheba's been having an ongoing affair with a student. With wacky morals and one hell of a chip on her shoulder, Covett is one teacher you don't want to cross. Sucks for Sheba. Both Blanchett and Dench were deservedly Oscar-nominated for their feisty turns. [Nigel M. Smith]

"Half Nelson" (2006)  and "The Class" (2008)
Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or-winning portrait of a cultured teacher attempting to reign in a group of lower class Parisian students and Ryan Gosling's seminal performance as a drug-addled public school instructor in "Half Nelson" both generate tremendous energy from the naturalistic ways they depict classroom turmoil. It's an old-fashioned, cliché-oriented story: Good-natured, but openly flawed educator tries to get students to do good. But Cantet and "Half Nelson" directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck skillfully turn formula on its ear by using the classroom as a representative stage for society itself. [Eric Kohn]

"A Single Man" (2010)
Tom Ford's directorial debut would be a joy to watch even if it was on mute. But what adds to that rich control of color and camera is a fascinating central character, originally conceived in Christopher Isherwood's novel of the same name. George Falconer (Colin Firth), struggling with the loss of his partner, has laid the groundwork for ending his own life after living one last day. Although his final lecture to his class (on the perils of submitting to fear) is a valuable, memorable moment, George's spontaneous relationship with one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), is one of the film's masterful exercises in subtlety. Through non-physical means, they end up connecting in a way that evens out their hierarchy. Their interaction makes the film's resolution all the more affecting. [Steve Greene]