Six movies that got me through college

Florence Pugh and the cast participate in the May Queen Dance in the film “Midsommar."
Florence Pugh and the cast participate in the May Queen Dance in the film “Midsommar.”
(Gabor Kotschy/A24)

With high school seniors around the country getting news about college admissions, San Diego native and recent Otterbein University graduate, Cameron Chang, weighs in on the films that helped him get through the college experience.

As fun and fulfilling as the college experience can be, it’s also a real pain in the ass.

With the stress of social life and schoolwork constantly cluttering our headspace, we often turn to film or television as a means of escape, or, as the easiest and most accessible way to procrastinate.

Here are six films I love dearly that helped make college just a wee bit easier to bear.

“Goodfellas” (1990): Simultaneously a blast and completely soul sucking, “Goodfellas” is the gangster genre in it’s slickest, most entertaining form, and a daring contemplation on the spoils, and setbacks, of wealth, power and excess. The performances are the stuff of acting legends (Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci have never been better). The carefully curated soundtrack is propulsive and essential to the film’s storytelling. Scorsese’s direction here is so innovative that it has inspired thousands of film fans to pick up a camera and make their own films. “Goodfellas” sits comfortably in my top 10 favorite films of all time because it is one of the defining movies in my evolution as a film-goer, as it’s sneaky and creative narrative structure constantly inspires me on the possibilities of artistic expression.
Watch it: Available with an HBO Max subscription, or rent it on various streaming platforms.

“Bambi” (1942): Surprisingly enough, I never grew up with “Bambi.” The first time I watched it was on a cold, lonely Thanksgiving night in 2019, where I was stuck in my college dorm room and looking for something to watch. “Bambi” is now my favorite Disney animation of all time.
As crazy as it sounds, “Bambi” is a fiercely personal and deeply spiritual meditation on coming of age in a beautiful and brutal world, where a young deer prince must lose his innocence and come to the terms with the fact that nature and man doesn’t give a flying “beep” about you. It’s pretty emotional material for a kids film, but the gutsiness of the themes are what has made “Bambi” stand the test of time.
Featuring stunning hand-drawn animation and sweeping musical melodies, “Bambi” is most effective in its dialogue free stretches of astounding visual poetry. I think what I love most about the movie is that nature represents both protection and danger in the film. I’m also a big fan of it’s exploration of mankind as a disruptor of harmony in a peaceful world.
Watch it: Available on Disney+

Ryan Gosling in “Blade Runner 2049
(Stephen Vaughan / Warner Bros.)

“Blade Runner 2049” (2017): “2049” is that rare sequel that actually surpasses the 1982 classic in terms of quality. Director Denis Villeneuve creates an immersive and intoxicating dystopian landscape, with the help of groundbreaking visual effects, haunting production design and jaw dropping cinematography from the great Roger Deakins. Ryan Gosling gives a career-best performance as K, perfectly toeing the line between human and machine in a nuanced, heartbreaking manner. What keeps me coming back to this film again and again is Villeneuve’s mastery behind the camera, the cosmic and dreamlike quality of his images, and a gripping narrative that contemplates humanity and it’s imperfections. This is sci-fi in its purest, most poetic form.
Watch it: Available with an HBO Max subscription, or rent it on various streaming platforms.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014): The most charming, hilarious and emotionally resonant movie of his entire filmography, Wes Anderson’s scrumptious confectionery of a film is a tribute to the power of devoted friendship, executed beautifully through the chemistry shared between Tony Revolori and Ralph Fiennes. This has to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing movies ever made; each symmetrical, perfectly framed image is so full of color and life that they practically leap off the screen. It is also Anderson’s most challenging and deeply touching film, which subtly explores the beginnings of early fascism in Europe and its effects on a star-crossed partnership between a hotel concierge and his newest lobby boy.
Watch it: Available on Prime Video, or to rent on other streaming platforms.

Phantom Thread (2017): A truly screwed up but kind of deeply moving love story, “Phantom Thread” follows a 20th century British fashion designer (Daniel Day Lewis) and his relationship with a waitress turned model (Vicky Krieps). Day Lewis has actually never been better, which is crazy because the guy has three Oscars. His work here is so precise and carefully calibrated, each nuance pulsating through every frame. We feel the pain of this tormented genius, and we simultaneously loath the cruel and elitist nature with which he treats those he believes are below him. Krieps matches him brilliantly as his partner, bringing life and sinister wit to her role. Director Paul Thomas Anderson (one of my faves) captures the world of 20th century dress design with reverence and grace, his cinematography as dazzling as the central character’s creations. The movie feels like an exploration of beauty in all its forms; inner beauty, outer beauty, the ugliness of beauty, etc. Every facet of the production contributes to this theme, particularly the gorgeous music by Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead). Greenwood’s swooning, melodramatic score elevates the material, big time.
Watch it: Available with an HBO Max subscription, or rent it on various streaming platforms.

“Midsommar” (2019): If you like the idea of “The Wizard of Oz” told through the lens of a dysfunctional couple getting involved with a mysterious cult, then may I introduce you to the much-discussed “Midsommar.”
While I would absolutely classify it in the horror genre, “Midsommar” feels like a very disturbing breakup movie, a harrowing dissection of a woman freeing herself from a toxic man bear (literally), and finding “love” and freedom in the most unexpected (and horrifying) of places. This is NOT a movie for everyone, but those who like their horror unconventional will be astonished by the film’s cinematic gifts; stunning photography, gorgeous, chilling music and a raw performance from Florence Pugh. This is the kind of crazy trip that filmgoers can get lost in, and it will inspire conversation and analysis for decades to come. The film’s ending left me speechless for five minutes upon first viewing, and it’s the definition of cinematic anarchy.
Watch it: Available on Prime Video, or to rent on other streaming platforms.