Best Pictures at UT Austin
Welcome to the official course website of Best Pictures, the inaugural “Crucible Course” for the Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin. The course is taught and was developed by Dr. Donna Kornhaber, Associate Professor of English at UT. For her role in this course, Dr. Kornhaber was named a Fellow of the Eleanor Butt Crook Professorship. The Plan II Crucible Course initiative was made possible by generous donations from outside funders.
Best Pictures is designed to be a unique film studies experience where students study cinema in the present tense. Instead of reaching back into film history, Best Pictures will take as its core material the most acclaimed movies of the previous year only: the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, the winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the Grand Jury Prize Winner at Sundance, the Golden Bear awardee at the Berlinale, and other similarly feted pictures. The course will thrust students into the midst of the film world of today, with visits from film professionals and accomplished film scholars speaking about their own personal “best pictures” of the previous year. Students will also receive badges to the myriad events of the Austin Film Festival.
A key product of the students’ work in the Crucible Course is this website, The Best Pictures Project, which features their reports from the festivals they attend, and highlight the films that they feel are most worthy of attention from those festivals. Connecting today’s award-winning films to the cinema classics that form their genealogy will be a central part of the classroom experience. At the same time, the course aims to recognize and celebrate the new and diverse voices emerging in today’s cinematic landscape.
The goal of the course is to introduce students to the study of film as a living medium. Students will gain the same in-depth understanding of the language and methodologies of film studies as the students in any traditional film studies course, but they will do so in the context of experiencing the creative energy of filmmaking today. Best Pictures will be offered in the Fall semesters of 2019, 2020, and 2021.
About the Instructor
Donna Kornhaber is the author of four monographs: Charlie Chaplin, Director (Northwestern University Press, 2014; recipient of a 2015 Robert W. Hamilton Book Award from the University of Texas at Austin Co-Operative Society), Wes Anderson: A Collector’s Cinema (Contemporary Film Directors Series, University of Illinois Press, 2017), Nightmares in the Dream Sanctuary: War and the Animated Film (University of Chicago Press, 2019), and Silent Film: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions Series, Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2020). Her articles have appeared in Cinema Journal, Film History, and Camera Obscura, among other journals and edited collections.
In 2016, Dr. Kornhaber was named an Academy Film Scholar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and she is researching a new book project titled Aristotle’s Daughters: Women and the Poetics of Screenwriting in the Silent Era with the Academy’s support.
She is also the series editor of the 21st Century Film Essentials book series, currently in development with The University of Texas Press.
Her work has been reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker, and her research has been profiled in The Hollywood Reporter, Texas Monthly, and Austin Woman Magazine. She has appeared as a contributor on the BBC and NPR and has served as a guest film programmer at the Austin Film Society and the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
Dr. Kornhaber is the recipient of numerous teaching awards at the college, university, and UT-system levels, including the college-wide Raymond Dickson Centennial Endowed Teaching Fellowship and the Josefina Paredes Endowed Teaching Award from the College of Liberal Arts, the university-wide President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award, and the state-wide University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, the highest teaching honor within the University of Texas system.
In 2019, Dr. Kornhaber was named a Fellow of the Eleanor Butt Crook Professorship in UT’s Plan II Honors Program and selected to design and teach the program’s inaugural “Crucible Course,” a specially-funded category of honors seminars focused on experiential learning.
Dr. Kornhaber is an affiliated faculty member with the Department of American Studies and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. She holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University and an M.F.A. and B.F.A. from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.