Film professors offer up their top 10 films for self-isolation, Part I

With no end in the foreseeable future to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with medical officials recommending social distancing, there is at this moment a great need for mood-lifting activities–and viewing habits. John Bruns and Colleen Glenn, both professors of Film Studies here at the College of Charleston, offer up some recommended movies. Here are their top-ten lists of films to watch during this extended period of e-learning and self-isolation, beginning first with Dr. Bruns’s list and followed, next week, by Dr. Glenn’s.

John Bruns’s top ten:

1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1977) U.S.
After more than 40 years, Spielberg’s fantasy about alien visitations remains bold, inventive, and touching. And yes, there’s a human quarantine due to a faked nerve gas scare, but it’s meant to keep secret a very real and very special encounter. This is a timeless story about a deep-rooted human need for contact.

Where to watch: Showtime on Amazon, Sony Crackle, Amazon, iTunes

2. The Lady Eve (dir. Preston Sturges, 1941) U.S.
Romantic Comedies from the 1930s and 1940s (often referred to as Screwball Comedies) are known for their winning combination of sophisticated dialogue and broad, physical gags. No one did both better than writer, producer, and director Preston Sturges. The Lady Eve is not only one of Sturges’s best films, it is possibly the smartest film ever made about romantic love…and what it can do to us (it ain’t always pretty, but it’s always funny). And while Henry Fonda is a surprisingly good comic actor, it’s no surprise that Barbara Stanwyck nails it. This is her film.

Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes

3. Tampopo (dir. Juzo Itami, 1985) Japan
Itami’s film about one woman’s quest for the perfect ramen recipe is a comic gem (think Top Chef meets The Seven Samurai). Full of little vignettes about food (and sex), Tampopo is sure to lift even the heaviest of spirits.

Where to watch: Kanopy (College of Charleston Library’s free streaming service)

4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (dir. Frank Capra, 1939) U.S.
No list of feel-good films should omit Capra. And there are so many of his films to choose from. But Mr. Smith Goes to Washington seems timelier than ever–and it’s arguably Capra’s masterpiece (and one of Jimmy Stewart’s most beloved performances). And it also stars the incomparable Jean Arthur.

Where to watch: The Criterion Channel, Sony Crackle, Vudu, Amazon

5. In the Mood for Love (dir. Wong Kar-wai, 2000) China
Wong Kar-wai’s film about a powerful romance that almost happens is one of the most gorgeous films ever made. It’s topped with an exquisite musical score and mesmerizing performances by Maggie Cheung and Tony Chiu-wai Leung.

Where to watch: Kanopy (College of Charleston Library’s free streaming service)

6. A Man Escaped (dir. Robert Bresson, 1956) France
While the title of Bresson’s beloved prison break film may seem like the ultimate spoiler, its true story is full of tension and suspense. A Man Escaped is also an extraordinary example of how to use sound cinematically. Bresson’s camera stays close to its main character, the imprisoned French resistance fighter named Fontaine, which requires that we carefully tune into the film’s rich soundscape.

Where to watch: Kanopy (College of Charleston Library’s free streaming service)

7. The Spirit of the Beehive (dir. Victor Erice, 1973) Spain
Erice’s poetic film is seen from the point of view of a young village girl named Ana who, after an impactful screening of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), has extraordinary visions both real and imagined.

Where to watch: The Criterion Channel

8. Lost in Translation (dir. Sofia Coppola, 2003) U.S.
With expert cinematography by Lance Acord and strong performances by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Coppola’s second feature as a director is the perfect film about coping with being cooped up.

Where to watch: Starz on Amazon, DirecTV, Redbox, Amazon

9. Hoop Dreams (dir. Steve James, 1994) U.S.
Steve James’s acclaimed documentary follows two talented African-American basketball players from economically poor neighborhoods in Chicago who are recruited to a mostly-white, affluent high school known for its strong basketball program. If you’re hungry for some hoops, now that the NBA season has been suspended indefinitely and the NCAA tourneys have been canceled, Hoop Dreams will do the trick.

Where to watch: Kanopy (College of Charleston Library’s free streaming service)

10. Solaris (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972) Russia
Tarkovsky’s films belong to that compelling category of film known as “slow cinema” (and hey, if you want to learn more, take Dr. Glenn’s Fall 2020 class, ENGL 390: Place, Pace, and Perspective: Gender & Identity in Slow Cinema). This one deals with an isolated cosmonaut, hovering near an oceanic planet named Solaris, struggling with loneliness and mourning the loss of his wife–the living memory of whom visits him courtesy of a strange alien presence.

Where to watch: Kanopy (College of Charleston Library’s free streaming service)

Next week, Colleen Glenn’s top ten!


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