1. Follow the story of Film
In preparation for Film Studies at the University of Birmingham, we would first recommend this thoroughly amazing documentary series about the history of cinema:
2. Watch the greatest films ever made
Then, if you want to dive in to film history yourself, these three lists give you plenty of amazing films to seek out:
3. Our own selection
In addition, here are some of the most brilliant and exciting films that pop up a lot on those lists and, for many different reasons, throughout your studies. Essential viewing all:
- Citizen Kane - Orson Welles takes to filmmaking as if it were the greatest train set a kid ever had to play with!
- Rear Window - Alfred Hitchcock makes a thrilling film that teaches you how a thrilling film is made!
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - Frame for frame, one of the most innovative and imaginative films about films ever made!
- City of God - Brazilian cinema blows Hollywood away in one of the greatest films of World Cinema!
- Before Sunrise - American cinema and philosophy meets European cinema and philosophy, they walk and talk, fall in love.
- The Piano - Romantic, gothic musings on fate, feminism and fortitude in Jane Campion’s masterpiece.
- Shaun of the Dead - Make film. Deconstruct genres. Reinvent British cinema. Go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.
- Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age tale is timeless and exactly of its time.
- Moonlight - A foreign film in American cinema, blessed with music and cinematography that puts the art into arthouse.
Parasite - Bong Joon-ho’s dazzlingly witty, adept and profound examination of class is the film of now.
- Avengers: Endgame - Big, brash and beautiful, the blockbuster was never so bold.
- Portrait of a Lady on Fire - Nothing less than the exquisite and deeply moving reinvention of cinema.
4. Don’t forget TV series!
In addition, innovative and ground-breaking television and streaming series that often feature throughout your degree include:
- Sense8 - Musical, passionate, thrilling, feel what a world full of diverse and equal people could actually be like.
- The Thick of It - Political satire at its most pungent, vicious and pointed.
- The West Wing - American network television at its absolute peak. Aaron Sorkin goes electric.
- Fleabag - Phoebe Waller Bridge erases all borders between television, film and theatre as well as between her characters and the audience.
- The Wire - Dickensian, Twainesque, the greatest modern American novel is a television series.
- Girls - Mumblecore makes it to HBO as the Indie vibe turns the tables on tired television tropes.
- Giri/Haji - More fascinating textures than a textile museum, mixing genres, formats and performance systems to dazzling effect.
- Community - Not just hilarious, but so meta it hurts. So savvy about film and tv it could be its own degree scheme. Yes, it will be on the test.
- Steven Universe - The Crystal Gems are a team of magical beings who are the self-appointed guardians of the universe and Steven tags along too. To see it is to love it.
5. Be an active spectator
That's plenty to be getting on with. But keep in mind that a large part of your degree is based on the interest that you bring to it, so if it's anime or art-house, soap operas or true-crime documentaries, Oscar-winners or obscure experimental films and all points in between, the important thing is that you must be an active spectator, asking yourself why what you’re watching is good, how is it making you feel a certain way, and what is it actually saying. In other words, keep asking yourself this vital question, why does what I'm watching matter?
Keep scrolling for recommendations from our English and Film students
The biggest recommendation I can give to prospective film students is to watch as many films as you can. Don’t just stick to the mainstream: look for films you may not have heard before, explore a genre or period you haven’t previously seen much of, maybe even see if your city has some independent cinemas that are showing anything different or interesting.
Looking ahead to studying any film course, you’ll definitely be watching a lot of classic films and foreign cinema, so I’d recommend preparing by exploring the cinema of other countries and get used to the subtitles. The world has so many great films outside of the English language, so it’s a big plus to get to experience them! As a starting point, I’d recommend the films of Akira Kurosawa. He took a lot of inspiration from American cinema, so he's a lot more accessible than other international filmmakers you might come across.
If you’re thinking of applying with hopes of having a career in filmmaking, the film I have to urge is 12 Angry Men. A tense legal drama set in a single room, it’s an absolute masterclass in cinematic storytelling, from the dialogue to the camerawork all to build the tension to a boiling point. The direction really brings a basic premise to cinematic greatness, so I urge anyone to look into it.
Firstly, having viewed at least two Hitchcock films would be heavily recommended by me. In first year, we studied some of his techniques and relationships between films, so giving the likes of Vertigo and Rear Window a watch would be a good choice. Secondly, reaching out of your comfort zone to watch a range of genres and cultural films would be smart, because of the ranging films we study. For example, I would recommend Okja, which is on Netflix and Metropolis, if possible. Finally, TV shows are particularly covered in second year, but watching the likes of The Office and Brooklyn Nine-Nine would be useful due to aesthetic choices both implement.
BoJack Horseman - Now you might think this is a bit of a strange one, but BoJack Horseman is SO GOOD! Set in Hollywood, it depicts many different issues in the industry including Me Too as well as exploring addiction in actors through a tasteful comedic tone. Oh, and it’s an animation, what’s not to love about that?
Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away - Often branded as a children’s film, Spirited Away is both aesthetically and narratively pleasing as well as providing many more adult themes to think about and analyse. Also it’s a great entry point into ‘foreign’ films because the visuals are so amazing that if you’re not used to/the biggest fan of subtitles, the animation captivates you so much you get to a point of forgetting you’re reading the subtitles!