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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Stop studying and put in a good movie before finals

So as finals dawn on us once again, many of you will be looking for ways to less productively divert your time and eradicate stress (while preserving brain cells). And while, as a film student, watching films “technically” counts as studying for me, it remains the absolute perfect way to kill a couple of hours. So without further ado, I humbly present a list of films, from old favorites to new friends, with which to amuse, thrill, reflect on and altogether distract yourself this, or any, exam’s eve (and for bonus points, most of them are on Netflix).

“Labyrinth” is a fantasy musical, directed by Frank Oz (voice of both Yoda and Miss Piggy), starring David Bowie as a bulge crotched Goblin King. What more could you need? How about the wonderful Jim Henson, practical special effects (actual costumes! Actual puppets! Actual sets!) and a drinking game revolving around David Bowie’s aforementioned package. In all seriousness, setting aside the nostalgia factor it stands as a campy, over-the-top time capsule of ’80s manic energy, with a pretty genuinely heartwarming fairytale to be discovered underneath.

Ana Lily Amirpour’s stellar debut “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” from last year blends vampire mythos, Spaghetti Western stylistics, comic book visuals and a seriously punk attitude into one of the coolest films, and most touching love stories, in recent memory. The girl stalks the night in Badtown, a fabricated and desolate imagining of an Iranian town surrounded by oil wells and inhabited by pimps, addicts and of course, our vampire heroine, who doles out justice in the only way she knows how. A super droll sense of humor, mesmerizing visuals and a fantastic soundtrack complete what is straight up a sexy, sexy movie. 

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn were in a ’60s spy comedy caper called “Charade,” and it’s incredible. Aside from starring two beautiful people, in a beautiful location, doing fun and interesting things, it has a biting sense of humor and that classic ’60s sort of mutedly colorful, almost unbearably stylish look that gives it a really distinct sense of time and place; it could only exist as itself, which is sort of the definition of cool. And it is just tons of fun.

“The Brothers Bloom,” the second film by “Looper” (and soon to be “Star Wars - The Force Awakens”) director Rian Johnson, tells the story of two conmen brothers (played by Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) as they attempt “one last job.” One tries to get out of the game, gets sucked back in, falls in love (with the very talented Rachel Weisz) and so on. Fake (or maybe not fake) Danish antique dealers, a one-eyed Russian gangster called Diamond Dog and the unspeaking Japanese explosives expert Bang Bang (brilliantly played Rinko Kikuchi) round out the excellent cast of characters. But not satisfied with just making a completely engrossing film that earns its somewhat convoluted story by being relentlessly well-plotted and entertaining throughout, it also reflects on the nature of storytelling, the lies we tell ourselves and others in order to get what we (think) we want or need and throws in a healthy dose of literary reference and a handful of truly poetic moments to boot.

The film “We Are the Best!” was screened all of one time in Madison while it was making the rounds, which is a crying shame because it was one of the sweetest, most energetic films I saw in recent years. Basically it’s about a handful of Swedish preteen girls who are bored at school and start a punk band to entertain themselves. And write a song about their gym class called “Hate the Sport.” And become best friends. And start a small riot at a talent show. And flirt with their rival boy punk band. And one of their dads plays a clarinet in his underwear because he wants to jam with them. You guys, this movie has so much heart and so defies everything we think movies are supposed to be in regards to women, girls and growing up. It eschews all that bullshit in favor of a really honest, sincere and electric view of the world that is the essence of youth and innocence and the fight to preserve them. And it delivers it all through 13-year-old Swedish punkettes. That’s awesome.

Finally, let’s talk about “Amadeus.” OK. So maybe a three-hour film about the life and times of 18th century composers doesn’t initially seem like the most obvious “take a study break” recommendation. And yes, maybe I’m just indulging myself by recommending a film that I happen to have a lot of personal love for. But I honestly think it’s one of the most engaging, easy to watch three-hour films ever. I’ve watched the full director’s cut a few times, and never once thought about how long it was. Instead, I’ve thought about the slightly surreal quality of having all the actors play in their natural accents (including the principal from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” as the emperor of Austria), the terrific performances, the jaw-dropping period sets and costumes, the very human sense of humor and compassion that it brings to its characters and the thoughtful treatment it gives to them and its message. Or if you’re not in the mood you could always just watch “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” 

Any other movies you’d recommend? Let Austin know at

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