2005 June 30

Recommended Movies


The Hollywood sign

Sure, there are lots of movie review sites. And if you’re looking up something particular, they’re a great help. But if you don’t know what to watch, you need trustworthy advice to heighten the signal/noise ratio. Welcome to etg Design’s database of worthwhile movies.

The few hundred films included focus mostly on classic movies, which today probably need a little extra help getting the attention of younger viewers. These recommendations are brought to you by Elliot and Steve Grant, longtime movie buffs who are relatively open-minded about what constitutes a good movie.

To get second opinions, you can choose to display only movies that made the AFI’s 400 nominations for Top 100 movies (62K PDF) or FilmSite.org’s 200 Greatest Films. NB: Both these lists exclude foreign films; the AFI 400 was finalized in 1996.

Steve’s list includes roughly 100 movies and also excludes foreign films. To continue the pattern of 50% greater exclusivity, Elliot’s list attempts to capture the approximately 50 most important films. Within those 50, I’ve tried to cover as many genres, cultures, eras, and themes as possible. Don’t write to me complaining about the choices—it’s subjective, it’s an impossible task, and it’ll probably change over time. Finally, the intersection of all four lists is approximately 30 movies.

(If you want a larger list, take a look at the New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.)

To display films, simply select the appropriate search criteria below. You can filter the search by genre, rating, or inclusion on the various lists mentioned above.

Recommended Movies
Movie Genre Rating Lists
12 Angry Men (1957)

Searing examination of the real meaning of innocent until proven guilty. Henry Fonda battles 11 other jurors in a search for truth and justice.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

See it on the big screen if at all possible. Then go beyond the obvious plot of a computer-controlled mutiny in space to explore the questions of human origin and our destiny in the cosmos.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
3 Days of the Condor (1975)

Robert Redford accidentally survives the execution of his entire office—an obscure government branch paid to read books. Now he must stay alive long enough to figure out what information is worth killing for.

Mystery/Suspense F
39 Steps, The (1935)

Robert Donat’s life is turned upside-down when a mysterious spy is murdered in his apartment. On the run from both the police and enemy agents, he must uncover the secret of the 39 steps to survive…

Mystery/Suspense A FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938)

Errol Flynn only! Simply the best costume epic ever: stars, direction, script, and music all come together perfectly in glorious Technicolor.

Action/Adventure A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
African Queen, The (1951)

Bogart and Hepburn as unlikely lovers who travel up the Congo in wild hopes of torpedoing a German gunner during WW I.

Action/Adventure, Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Airplane! (1980)

One of the funniest movies ever for its barrage of sight gags, bad puns, and sick humor.

Comedy A
Alien and Aliens (1979)

I might just give Aliens (1986) an A for an excellent job raising the stakes while injecting some tension-breaking humor. Both deliver nail-biting human vs. monster battles. I didn’t like Alien3 and skipped Alien Resurrection entirely.

Horror, Sci-Fi/Fantasy F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
All About Eve (1950)

THE film about the American theater. Great performances all around, esp. by George Sanders, with Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter, and a very young Marilyn Monroe. Has Davis’s classic line: Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy evening.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
All of Me (1984)

Dying millionairess Lily Tomlin tries to transfer her soul into her young secretary’s body, but ends up coinhabiting her lawyer (Steve Martin). Silly but fun.

Comedy M
All the King’s Men (1949)
Wonderfully realized political drama, with Broderick Crawford at the top of his game. Based on poet Robert Penn Warren’s novel, itself a barely disguised portrait of Louisiana senator Huey Kingfish Long.
Drama M
Amadeus (1984)

Fascinating study of talent coming to grips with the immensity of genius. Feeling betrayed by his god, Court Composer Salieri vows to destroy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Drama F AFI 400
American Graffiti (1973)

George Lucas captures the summer of 1962 in California with this tale of graduating high schoolers.

Comedy, Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Elliot's 50
Angel Heart (1987)

Spooky (if somewhat over-the-top) account of PI Mickey Rourke’s attempt to locate a missing singer.

Mystery/Suspense M
Apartment, The (1960)

Another one where comedy, drama, and romance interact with wit and heart. Jack Lemmon is the schmoe trying to be a mensch and win Shirley Maclaine.

Comedy, Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Cary Grant’s two sweet aunts relieve old and sad gentlemen by adding arsenic to their elderberry wine; one brother thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, the other is an internationally wanted murderer. Just the place to bring the new wife.

Comedy A
Auntie Mame (1958)

Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death. Mame may be a kook, but she’s an inspiring, lovable kook who opens doors for everyone around her. Don’t miss out.

Comedy F
Awful Truth, The (1937)

Wonderful Leo McCary comedy about a couple who discover after splitting up that they still love each other. Sophisticated humor and slapstick meld nicely in this romp. Ralph Bellamy plays the role he owned in the 1940s—the sincere rube and nominal romantic rival who is way, way over his head.

Comedy F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Back to the Future Trilogy (1985)

The first installment may even deserve an A for its inventiveness and humor. As usual, additional installments were progressively less appealing.

Comedy F
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Spencer Tracy is the only man to get off the train in Black Rock in years. His questions about a local Japanese farmer light a hidden keg of resentment, guilt, and fear.

Mystery/Suspense F FilmSite 200
Ball of Fire (1941)

Barbara Stanwyck is a gangster’s moll who hides out with seven bachelor scholars writing an encyclopedia.

Comedy A Steve's 100
Band Wagon, The (1953)

One of the last great MGM musicals, with the singing and dancing of Fred Astaire, the legs of Cyd Charisse, and the comedy relief of Jack Buchanan and Oscar Levant. The extended gangster-style dance routine is one of Fred’s best.

Musical M Steve's 100
Batman (1989)

Michael Keaton pulls off a surprisingly good take on the Bruce Wayne/Batman split personality, and the tone as a whole is welcomely dark, not campy. A pity the obligatory romance falls so flat.

Action/Adventure M AFI 400
Batman Returns (1992)

A movie with decent moments that could have been much better by cutting out the Penguin (Danny De Vito). Michelle Pfeiffer steals the show.

Action/Adventure M
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Engagingly theatrical feature has some wonderful characters and sparkling tunes.
Children, Musical F AFI 400


Movie Ratings

Movies are rated on a system devised by my movie-watching cabal based on the simple question: How much worth your time and/or money is seeing this film?

There are six levels of ratings. They're easy to remember, and they even proceed in alphabetical order:

  1. A (Advance Showing): Some films are such must-sees that they're worth paying extra and going out of your way to catch—as you might do for an advance (a.k.a. special sneak preview) showing.

  2. F (Full Price): A film rated Full is worth seeing on its intital run in the theaters, even though you'll have to pay the full ticket price. It'll be worth it.

  3. M (Matinee): Matinee movies are worth seeing in the theaters, but only if you can get a discount on the ticket price. They're good—usually a lot of fun—but probably not worth seeing more than once.

  4. R (Rental): Rental flicks have redeeming qualities, but they're ones you definitely won't mind catching on video. The screen may be small, but you don't want to pay even a matinee ticket price for this kind of film.

  5. TV: A movie that gets a TV rating isn't worth spending any money on. If it comes on TV, you probably wouldn't mind spending a few hours to catch it, but otherwise you can avoid it with a clear conscience.

  6. W (Worthless): This bottom category is exactly what it says. A Worthless film is one that you should skip even if it comes on TV and you have nothing better to do.