The five best movies my students made me watch

It’s been a year since I moved to Sioux City and started teaching film… well, “teaching” is a strong word, let’s just say that I go to work every day and talk about movies to a group of mostly-interested-but-somehow-underwhelmed college students. Which is basically what I’ve been doing for the last eight years of my life, only now I get paid for it.

When I first met my students, I told them that I’d be assigning them a lot of movies to watch, and I invited them to assign me movies in return. I haven’t been as good about watching those movies as I’d hoped, but I’ve been doing some movie-watching, and here are the five best films my students have foisted on me, in ascending order of greatness:

5. The Artist

The Artist

I was intrigued with the idea of a modern silent film when this first came out, but I passed on seeing it in the theater and never thought about it after that. Good thing Nick made me watch it, because it’s really a beautiful, artful film…although rather oddly similar to Singin’ in the Rain. I mean, Jean Dujardin even looks exactly like Gene Kelly—what’s up with that?

4. Cabin in the Woods

Cabin in the Woods

To be fair, this had been on my to-watch list for a long time, but it was ultimately Chris who lent me the movie and so I’m giving him the credit for this. Such a perfect skewering of the horror genre. Beautifully self-aware, if perhaps a little predictable. Still, any movie that takes the piss out of deeply-ingrained writing clichés and fascist genreism and also features Bradley Whitford, that’s a net gain for the world of cinema.

3. Funny People

Funny People

I don’t know why, but I always think that I don’t like Judd Apatow, and then I watch one of his movies and it’s like OH WOW. What can I say? Dude’s got a mind for character-driven dialog and plot. Funny People is probably his best work, at least of what I’ve seen—and made even better by the fact that it wasn’t at all the movie I was expecting it to be. Despite having the word “Funny” in the title (or because of it?) this really isn’t a comedy in the conventional sense. More like a great, well-observed drama with some jokes thrown in. And totally not depressing, which is I think sort of the reputation it got when it first came out. This and Punch-Drunk Love make up for all that other nonsense that Adam Sandler does. Thanks to Jason for this one, but OH NO JASON HAS MORE MOVIES FOR ME TO WATCH AAAAAAAA!

2. Rubber


Another one from my long-term “I must watch this” list, but after I mentioned that I had seen Quentin Dupieux’s latest film Wrong and still hadn’t seen Rubber, Nate and Jason tied me to a chair and propped my eyelids open with toothpicks and made me watch it. Joyful, exuberant, utterly ridiculous, and way smarter than you’d expect a movie about a murderous car tire to be. This is what Salvador Dalí would be doing if he was alive today.

1. Yojimbo


My secret shame that becomes not-so-secret whenever I walk into my classroom is all the movies I haven’t seen. I was teaching a FILM HISTORY CLASS, of all things, when Nate asked me if I had ever seen Yojimbo. When I confessed that I hadn’t, he shook his head in disgust and I could tell I had dropped at least three notches in his estimation. So I actually bought the durn thing and watched it one day while I was suffering from some sort of evil 24-hour virus, and, well, it’s Kurosawa. Of course it’s like jaw-droppingly good and mathematically precise, because what the hell else is Kurosawa going to do, particularly when he’s got Toshiro Mifune to work with. Also, I think this is the first black-and-white film I’ve watched in HD. OH MY GORGEOUS. In the same sitting I watched the sequel, Sanjuro, and I think I liked that one better. Not sure. I’ll have to go back and watch them again to decide. So there, now I’ve seen Yojimbo. Now as long as I don’t let it slip that I’ve never seen Throne of Blood, I’m golden.

My resolution for the coming semester is to put myself on some sort of a movie-watching schedule, and to really get serious about seeing the films my students ask me to. Here’s to another year of good movies that I either missed or was too much of a snob to watch on my own!

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