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
Ben-Hur (1959)

It’s long, but it’s also a stirring saga of honor, betrayal, and redemption in ancient Jerusalem and Rome. And that chariot race. . . .

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Elliot's 50
Best Years of Our Lives, The (1946)

One-of-a-kind drama of returning GIs who have to adapt to a fast-changing post-WW II world. Harold Russell’s poignant performance won the best supporting actor Oscar. The scene when Frederick March comes home to wife Myrna Loy is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes. Dana Andrews is also excellent, as are Teresa Wright and Virginia Mayo.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Big Chill, The (1983)

The apotheosis of college-reunion movies, this Lawrence Kasdan film offers a terrific ensemble cast and a classy soundtrack.

Comedy, Drama F AFI 400
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Two California senior dudes are given a time machine so they can pass their history course, graduate high school, form a rock band, and bring peace and enlightenment to all mankind. Enormously goofy but good-natured fun.
Comedy M
Birds, The (1963)

Very good Hitchcock, based on Daphne du Maurier’s fable of avian terrorism. So-so performance by Tippi Hedren mars an otherwise classy film with fine performances from Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jessica Tandy.

Mystery/Suspense F AFI 400
Steve's 100
Bite the Bullet (1975)

An unusual epic Western with strong performances by Gene Hackman, Candace Bergen, and James Coburn. With echos of 1960’s sensitivities blended in.

Western F
Blade Runner (1982)

Harrison Ford as a cop trained to kill replicant humans. But how can you tell the artificial from the real?

Sci-Fi/Fantasy F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Blazing Saddles (1974)

Silly—even stupid? Yup. Tasteless? Absolutely. Funny? Indubitably!

Comedy, Western F AFI 400
Body Heat (1981)

William Hurt and Kathleen Turner plot her husband’s murder for love and money.

Mystery/Suspense M
Born Yesterday (1950)

Judy Holliday’s tour de force as the dumb blonde who blossoms when her gangster boyfriend hires a reporter to improve her social grace.

Comedy F
Brazil (1985)

Darkly comic dystopian variation on 1984 pits Jonathan Pryce against the powers that be.

Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Breaking Away (1979)

Right-on-target story of bike racer Dennis Christopher and his friends dealing with approaching adulthood.

Comedy F AFI 400
Bridge on the River Kwai, The (1957)

Alec Guinness plays a POW officer whose severe sense of duty goads him into building an engineering marvel that will benefit his captors; William Holden is the American soldier sent to destroy the bridge.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Brigadoon (1954)

Gene Kelly and Van Johnson stumble into a Scottish village that appears for only one day every 100 years. Some nice Lerner & Loewe tunes.

Musical F
Bringing Up Baby (1938)

A rollercoaster screwball with Cary Grant as the meek paleontologist in search of a missing bone and Katharine Hepburn as the dizzy heiress looking after Baby—a pet leopard.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Americans love rebels. These two may have been scum in real life, but Newman and Redford are charmers in one of the best buddy movies on celluloid.

Western F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Captain Blood (1935)

Errol Flynn in fine swashbuckling form as wrongly imprisoned Dr. Peter Blood, who commands his fellow convicts when they take over their galley ship.

Action/Adventure M
Carefree (1938)

Though not the best Astaire-Rogers effort, Carefree offers enough fun moments to make the film worthwhile.

Musical M
Casablanca (1942)

Yes, it’s a melodramatic potboiler…but the eminently quotable dialogue and sparkling performances elevate this B film.

Drama F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Charade (1963)

Exquisite blend of suspense, romance, and comedy as Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, et al. seek her dead husband’s stolen fortune.

Comedy, Mystery/Suspense A
Cinema Paradiso (1992)
A beautiful movie about movies, and growing up, in a small Italian village. The original 1989 film is wonderful, but the main character’s romance lacks closure—nearly an hour was chopped out for American distribution. Watch the extended Director’s Cut if at all possible. (subtitled)
Drama A
Citizen Kane (1941)

Can one word sum up an entire life, particularly one as complex as that of William Randolph Hearst—uh, Charles Foster Kane? More than 70 years later, the cinematography, direction, and script are still ground-breaking.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
City Lights (1931)

First-rate Chaplin opus typically combines great comic bits with overly sentimental (maudlin?) ones; one of The Tramp’s three best films (with The Gold Rush and Modern Times).

Comedy, Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

After UFO flybys, Richard Dreyfus and other witnesses become obsessed with a mountainous shape and a five-note musical theme.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Commitments, The (1991)

Rollicking story of one band’s aspirations to bring soul music to the hard-working Northsiders of Dublin. Knockout performances (both dramatically and vocally) infuse this toe-tapping treat.

Comedy F


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.