Sick of scrolling through Netflix on Saturday nights for hours on end just to end up rewatching your favorite sitcom for the seventeenth time? Maybe you don’t even have a go-to TV show now that “The Office” has moved to Peacock (let’s be real, no one’s paying for that). Either way, look no further. Here’s a list of films your professors think you should watch—as if they don’t give you enough homework already…
Dr. Karie Cross Riddle – Political Science, Global Development Studies, Gender Studies
Recommendation: “The Lives of Others”
This German film is a period drama showing life in East Germany in the 1980s from the perspectives of both citizens under surveillance and the Stasi officer surveilling them.
Dr. Riddle explained, “I think I particularly connected with this film because I saw it soon after visiting remnants of the Berlin Wall and the Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin. The remnants of that wall, and films like this, remind us that even though humans divide ourselves, we can also choose to tear down whatever walls we build.”
You can rent “The Lives of Others” online for $3 from anywhere you rent movies or check out the DVD from Hekman Library.
Dr. Ryan Bebej – Biology
Recommendation: “Donnie Darko”
This psychological sci-fi thriller starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal came out during Dr. Bebej’s freshman year at Calvin. The film plays with time as it follows a high schooler who is told by a man in a bunny costume that the world will end in twenty eight days.
Bebej has a love for film and even worked at a video store during his college years. Though he admits “Donnie Darko” is not one of the greatest films of all time, it is one of his favorites.
“When you finish watching it for the first time, you have a bunch of questions about what you’ve just seen. My friends and I watched the DVD multiple times, combed through all the special features, and spent hours discussing it. The filmmakers even had a website for the film at the time, which was basically an interactive puzzle that provided you with bits of information and clues to help you interpret what happened in the film. It’s got worm holes, alternate universes, time travel, and an interesting interplay between fate and free will running throughout. … What’s not to like?”
If you have a library card, “Donnie Darko” is available to stream on Kanopy.
Dr. James K.A. Smith – Philosophy
Recommendation: “Wendy and Lucy”
Directed by Kelly Reichardt, who Dr. Smith describes as “an American master,” this drama follows a woman and her dog who get stranded in Oregon en route to Alaska.
“The movie is a study of human fragility,” said Dr. Smith, “What’s so harrowing about the story is its focus on the tenuous thread that barely holds us above the hungry maw of tragedy and heartbreak. As we follow Wendy and her dog, Lucy, the thread frays and frays. But the proverbial kindness of strangers keeps showing up as a kind of grace, even if it sometimes looks futile. Reichardt also does an amazing job of portraying both intimacy and grandeur. We follow this tiny story of a young woman on the margins with her dog; but by setting it in the Pacific northwest, Reichardt locates their story in a bigger universe. A remarkable work of visual storytelling.”
“Wendy and Lucy” is available to stream now on Amazon Prime.
Dr. Micah J Watson – Political Science
Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 sci-fi drama follows Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguist who is tasked with interpreting an alien language in order to prevent intergalactic war.
Explaining why he picked the film, Dr. Watson said, “‘Arrival’ is about many things, it has elements of sci fi, the mechanics of language, the metaphysics of time, the uncertainty of communication, the importance of security in an inherently insecure world. But what I think is most profound about the film is the treatment of love. Love is a choice, love is a risk, and would we choose to take that risk even if we knew how stomach-churningly difficult the chosen path might turn out to be? The genius of ‘Arrival’ is it poses that question to us in rather fantastic fashion, though after some reflection we realize that the hard choice faced by the main character … is the same choice we all face in our regular lives.”
“Arrival” is available to rent online for $3 from anywhere you rent movies, or you can check out the DVD from Hekman Library!
Dr. Carl Plantinga – Communication
Recommendation: “The Birds”
A Hitchcock classic, “The Birds” is a horror film wherein residents of Bodega Bay, California are terrorized by sudden and bizarre series of bird attacks.
Dr. Plantinga explained that the film is a personal favorite of his, having seen the film at a drive-in theater with his parents when he was six years old.
“When the film was released,” Dr. Plantiga said, “it must have been one of the most frightening films ever made. Today the dated special effects might reduce its impact. … By the film’s chilling end, it is not clear if the [main characters] will survive, as they pile into a car and leave their damaged house, thousands of birds watching from the tree branches above them.” Since watching the film, Dr. Plantinga has become an avid birdwatcher, and is looking forward to peak migration in the coming weeks.
“The Birds” is available to rent online for $4 and also available on DVD at Hekman Library.
Dr. Jolene Vos-Camy – French
Recommendations: “Hope” and “My Internship in Canada”
“Two of my favorite films are Hope (France, 2014), written and directed by Boris Lojkine, and Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (Quebec, 2015) written and directed by Philippe Falardeau (English title is My Internship in Canada). Hope tells the story of two illegal migrants making their way across the Sahara Desert. “It’s stark, scary and moving, very realistic and artistic at the same time.” For a lighter film, Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre is a lot of fun. It tells the story of young Haitian man, Guibord, who goes to Quebec to do a political internship. “The audience sees all the peculiarities of Canadian politics through Guibord’s eyes, and it makes for excellent political and social humor.”
“My Internship in Canada” is available on DVD at Hekman Library. “Hope” is currently unavailable to watch online.
Dr. David Urban – English
Recommendation: “It’s a Wonderful Life”
An American holiday classic, Frank Capra’s “A Christmas Carrol” inspired drama tells the story of a man contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. The man’s guardian angel steps in and shows him what life in his community would be like had he not been born, highlighting the positive impact he has had in people’s lives.
“It’s a great movie to watch with family and friends,” explained Dr. Urban, “and it reminds us of the worth of every human being. It used to be a public domain movie, so while I was growing up it was on free TV literally dozens of times between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The result of such overexposure was that I wound up memorizing most of the movie, so I can act out scenes at will while imitating Jimmy Stewart’s voice, much to my wife’s chagrin.”
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Dr. Kaori D Schau – Japanese, Asian Studies departments
This Oscar-winning Japanese film follows a young man as he finds work as a mortician in his home town after his failed career as a cellist.
“I watched this film in my DCM courses.” said Dr. Schau, explaining that the film tackles relevant subject matter like vocation and reconciliation. The film also explores many aspects of Japanese culture such as “how Japanese people deal with loved one’s death, … the importance of Public Bath in a community in Japan,” and what life is like in a small town in Yamagata Prefecture.