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Must-watch movies for film and media students


Faculty: Arts, Humanities, Education and Social Sciences
School: School of Creative Industries
Course: BA (Hons) Film and Media
Category: All about university

31 March 2023

Neil Henderson

We asked our film and media lecturers for their top recommendations for students to watch before starting a degree. Here are 11 films chosen by Deputy Head of School for Film and Media Neil Henderson.

Shadows (1959), dir. John Cassavetes

‘The film you have been watching was an improvisation’.

The year zero of American Independent Cinema. Two brothers and a sister share an apartment in New York. It’s the late 1950s, jazz is at its peak, rock and roll is emerging. We follow the siblings as they navigate the complexities of their lives.

Find out more about Shadows.

L’Eclisse (1962), dir. Michelangelo Antonioni

A woman leaves one relationship to embark on a new equally unfulfilling one.

A masterpiece of framing and composition, this film is minimal and at times verges on the abstract. It’s the best of all Antonioni’s films.

Find out more about L’Eclisse.

The End of Summer (1961), dir. Yasujirô Ozu

All of Ozu’s late films are essential viewing, but I find this film particularly powerful.

It has all the hallmarks of the director: exquisite framing, visual balance and harmony, and the tone for much of the film is rather gentle and quite funny. By the end, the tone shifts abruptly to quietly devastating.

Find out more about The End of Summer.

Martha (1974), dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

So much Fassbinder to choose from, but this is perhaps my favourite. A woman marries a sadist and spends most of the film being abused and humiliated.

Like many of Fassbinder’s films it’s really about Germany, Martha is a metaphor. The film has one of the best tracking shots you’ll ever see and stars Karlheinz Bohm who is particularly good at playing sadistic characters (see Peeping Tom).

Find out more about Martha.

Rainbow Dance (1936), dir. Len Lye

I’ve shown this film perhaps 40 times now and it has never ceased to amaze me – and students love it too!

It’s an ecstatic celebration of movement and colour. Visually it has more in common with pop art or psychedelia than anything from 1936, a truly visionary piece of art.

Find out more about Rainbow Dance.

Mothlight (1963), dir. Stan Brakhage

A giant of independent/experimental filmmaking, Brakhage's back catalogue is vast and quite intimidating, this is easily the best place to start.

Brakhage attached moth wings, grasses, leaves, and various organic matter to 100ft of clear 16mm film and had it printed for projection. One of the most beautiful films ever made.

Find out more about Mothlight.

La Jetée (1962), dir. Chris Marker

Probably the most mysterious of all the filmmakers to emerge from France in the 1950s, La Jetée remains Market's most well-known film.

We are in post-WW3 France, everything above ground is rotten with radiation. People live in a network of tunnels underground, where we follow the story of a man undergoing a series of experiments in time travel. Essential!

Find out more about La Jetée.

The Last Picture Show (1971), dir. Peter Bogdanovich

One of the best examples of the auteur-driven Hollywood new wave of the 1970s.

Essentially a coming of age drama set in Texas at the start of the 1950s, this film contains breakout performances by Cybil Shepard and Jeff Bridges. Visually beautiful with an unforgettable soundtrack.

Find out more about The Last Picture Show.

Meshes of the Afternoon (1944), dir. Maya Deren

A crucial work of avant-garde cinema. Maya Deren is one of the great visionaries of filmmaking.

We see a woman (played by Deren) repeatedly enter the same apartment. Each time strange things happen. Sometimes the whole house shakes, or she meets different versions of herself, sometimes a mysterious mirror faced figure appears. A dream within a dream within a dream. The film’s structure is disorientating, and time and space are fluid.

A major influence on David Lynch, the final part of Mulholland Drive borrows heavily from it.

Find out more about Meshes of the Afternoon.

Barry Lyndon (1975), dir. Stanley Kubrick

Of Kubrick's 1970s films, Barry Lyndon can sometimes seem the most overlooked. It’s a period drama about a chancer/opportunist who manages to marry into money. The film is revered by cinematographers.

Kubrick re-purposed a camera lens engineered for the Apollo moon landings, allowing him to film in very low levels of light. Those candlelit scenes are extraordinary feats of technical ingenuity. Anyone with an interest in cinematography, lighting and composition should study this.

Find out more about Barry Lyndon.

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987), dir. Todd Haynes

Superstar is a re-enactment of the life of the American singer.

The film is a kind of hybrid text; it mixes ‘vox-pop’ video with the educational film and the biopic. The film uses Barbie dolls and crude sets to tell her life story, from the first moments of fame to her death from anorexia aged just 33.

Find out more about Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.

By Neil Henderson

Neil is Deputy Head of School for Film and Media at ARU. Find out about our Creative Industries degrees, and other courses, at one of our Open Days.



The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.