Four films UT professors recommend

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Astronomy professor Mike Boylan-Kolchin recommends watching “The Big Lebowski,” a comedy staring Jeff Bridges. The movie was re- leased in 1998.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures

Students don’t think twice about asking professors for academic advice, but they rarely approach professors when they’re looking for book, movie or music recommendations. This week, The Daily Texan asked professors to share their favorite films.

Don Graham
English professor
Film: Giant (1956)

The last of James Dean’s film performances before his untimely death, “Giant” tells the story of a Texas family affected by the coming of big oil. The film also explores themes of race, gender inequality and Texas life after World War II.
“‘Giant’ is a pictorial representation of what Texas used to be,” Graham said. “The visual power of the film is significant, and I think the themes are very important. The treatment of race in the film, the way Rock Hudson’s character grows from a total racist to having a grandchild who is half-Hispanic, half-Anglo and his realization as the film goes on is particularly impactful. It’s always important to know the history of the place where you live your life. [The film] defined Texas for a long, long time. It’s a historical artifact.”

Shannon O’Brien
Government professor
Film: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

“The Philadelphia Story” follows an outgoing woman (Katharine Hepburn) whose plans for a second marriage are challenged when her first husband returns to win her back. The film was revolutionary at the time for exploring the taboo subject of remarriage.
“I have multiple favorite films depending on the genre you ask, but ‘The Philadelphia Story’ is probably the one that keeps me entertained the most,” O’Brien said. “The film stars James Stewart, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. It’s a really well made film, and I’ve seen it time and time again.”

John Batterton
Biology professor
Film: To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Based off of Harper Lee’s beloved novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird” tells the story of an embattled lawyer and his young daughter.
The film offers a look at moral corruption and racism in a 1930s Alabama town.
“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was one of the best [movies] I’ve ever seen,” Batterton said. “The film was an unusual, fresh perspective from a child’s point of view of some really complicated social issues. In that aspect, it’s a very powerful film. That doesn’t really relate to my field of study — biology — but it’s one of the most impactful films I have seen.”

Mike Boylan-Kolchin
Astronomy professor
Film: The Big Lebowski (1998)

Jeff Bridges plays “The Dude” in “The Big Lebowski,” an oddball comedy that follows three slacker friends in their quest to grant the release of a millionaire’s wife. The film never settles for cliches or shallow character development.
“My favorite film to watch and re-watch is ‘The Big Lebowski,’” Boylan-Kolchin said. “That movie has it all: comedy, drama, fights, love, loss, bowling, nihilism, mixology, even interpretive dance. Even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, I always pick up on something new each time I watch it. No matter what mood I’m in when I start watching, I always feel better by the end. I don’t think ‘The Big Lebowski’ has shaped my understanding of physics or astronomy in any fundamental way, but that isn’t a bad thing — sometimes, the key to making progress on a tough problem is really clearing my head and coming back with a fresh perspective.”