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
Conversation, The (1974)

Chilling account of surveillance expert Gene Hackman’s unhealthy obsession with the conversation he’s just taped.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Country Girl, The (1954)

Fine drama for which Grace Kelly won the best-actress Oscar; William Holden is good, and Bing Crosby offers a star turn with true pathos as an alcoholic singer-actor.

Drama M Steve's 100
Court Jester, The (1956)
Danny Kaye at his best. Tongue-twisting songs, mistaken identity, and a hysterical parody of every Robin Hood movie ever made. Remember: The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.
Comedy, Musical A Steve's 100
Crimson Pirate, The (1952)

Good-natured fun with Burt Lancaster showing off his circus skills as the eponymous buccaneer.

Action/Adventure M
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Epic retelling of the Chinese fantasy saga, with heroic would-be lovers battling an old enemy and a blazing young talent to recover a mystical sword.

Action/Adventure, Drama A
Crying Game, The (1992)

A truly original film that ventures in unexpected directions; Stephen Rea gives a touching performance as an IRA terrorist seeking to make amends for the accidental death of a hostage (Forest Whitaker).

Drama A
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)

Gerard Depardieu handles the role with aplomb; exquisite sets and costumes complement an intelligent Roxane and sympathetic Christian. (subtitled)

Drama F
Das Boot (1981)

A harrowing film about a German U-boat during WW II.

Drama A Elliot's 50
Day at the Races, A (1937)

Another great Marx Bros. film that would rate an A except for some tedious musical interludes. The Tutti-Frutti ice cream sequence stands out among the string of classic bits.

Comedy F
Day of the Jackal, The (1973)

Tense cat-and-mouse game of hired assassin gunning for Charles De Gaulle and the police officer who must stop him.

Mystery/Suspense A
Day the Earth Stood Still, The (1951)

This classic touches both great themes of sci-fi movies in the 1950s: aliens/monsters from space and the horrors of the nuclear bomb. Unlike in most, the alien here is benign—backed up by the power of awesome robot Gort. Excellent performances from Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal, but Gort steals the show.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy F AFI 400
Steve's 100
Desk Set (1957)

Spencer Tracy is a computer technician out to modernize company librarian Katharine Hepburn’s office.

Comedy M
Destry Rides Again (1939)

First-rate comedy/western about a soft-spoken lawman who doesn’t want to use his guns, even though he’s the son of a famous gun-wielding lawman. Jimmy Stewart is at his aw-shucks peak, and Marlene Dietrich has never been better—especially when she sings the show-stopper See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have.

Comedy, Western M AFI 400
Steve's 100
Dial M for Murder (1954)

Overly stagy Hitchcock still has enough classic moments to keep viewers entertained.

Mystery/Suspense M
Diner (1982)

Barry Levinson’s pæan to 1950s Baltimore features a human script and a nice ensemble of young actors.

Comedy, Drama F
Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

Illegal immigrants—one with a mysterious past—navigate the hazards of London’s unseen underbelly. People come to hotels at night to do dirty things. It is our job to make them look pretty.

Drama F
Diva (1981)

A young mail courier with a crush on an opera diva becomes a pawn in the police’s war against an international drug and prostitution ring.

Mystery/Suspense F
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Relentless, true story of a botched bank robbery in Brooklyn.

Mystery/Suspense F AFI 400
Elliot's 50
Double Indemnity (1944)

The film that defines noir. Barbara Stanwyck is outstanding as an amoral wife who wants out of her marriage and will use anyone to help her. Fred MacMurray at first refused to play her lover and accomplice, fearing it was too great a departure from his romantic comedy roles and would hurt his career; instead, it revealed a new side to his personality and made him an even bigger star. Edward G. Robinson is the perfect counterweight to the two plotters. Flashback narration has never worked better.

Mystery/Suspense A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Terrific parody of Fail Safe features a lunatic assortment of paranoid generals, cowboy fighter pilots, ex-Nazi scientists, and a triple performance from Peter Sellers. You can’t fight in here—this is the War Room!

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Duck Soup (1933)

The tops in intelligent anarchy. Groucho is the leader of Freedonia, while Chico and Harpo are. . . . Does it matter? Simply a terrifically funny film.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Duel (1971)

As Dennis Weaver drives along a near-deserted California highway to get to work, an 18-wheeler inexplicably tries to kill him. Early Spielberg TV movie has all the suspense of his big-budget thrillers.

Action/Adventure F
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

It’s nearly impossible to resist the charms of this story of intergalactic friendship. Just enjoy.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Educating Rita (1983)

Julie Walters is a cockney hairdresser who wants to better herself; Michael Caine is the alcoholic professor who’s given up on his students and himself.

Comedy M
Emma (1996)

Solid adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a would-be matchmaker with all the wrong instincts.

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.