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
English Patient, The (1996)

A fatally burned patient in a makeshift Allied hospital may have betrayed the city to the Nazis…but why? An exploration of the cost of personal tragedy during wartime.

Drama F
Enter the Dragon (1973)

The epitome of kung fu movies. Bruce Lee infiltrates a martial arts order to uncover a plot about…oh, who cares? It’s all about the fight sequences.

Action/Adventure F
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Not for viewers who need linear exposition, this inventive romance tracks Jim Carrey’s attempt to save his fragile relationship with Kate Winslet.

Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy F
Exorcist, The (1973)

Genuinely spooky movie about demonic posession; thought the effects are slightly dated today, the atmosphere is chilling. Watch it in a dark house.

Horror F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Fantasia (1940)
Phantasmagorical animation set to classical music. Not everyone’s cup of tea but entrancing if you’re in the right mood.
Children A
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Play hooky with Ferris (Matthew Broderick) and friends as they celebrate their impending high school graduation.
Comedy A
Few Good Men, A (1992)

As usual, Rob Reiner—ably abetted by Jack Nicholson, Kiefer Sutherland, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and Kevin Bacon—elevates his material. Adapted by Aaron Sorkin from his play.

Drama M
Fish Called Wanda, A (1988)

Monty Python alums John Cleese and Michael Palin join psychotic ex-CIA agent Kevin Kline and lover Jamie Lee Curtis in this jewel-robbery caper.

Comedy A
Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Ace reporter Joel McCrea is sent to pre-WW II Europe and is immediately embroiled in a murder and kidnapping conspiracy to sabotage peace talks. Classic Hitchcock.

Mystery/Suspense F
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell keep meeting at weddings…will they ever have one of their own?

Comedy F
From Russia with Love (1963)

The best Bond movie, made before the series went over the top. (And of course the younger Sean Connery is the best Bond.)

Action/Adventure F AFI 400
Front, The (1976)

Bittersweet story of nebbish Woody Allen’s agreement to front for a blacklisted friend in the 1950s.

Comedy, Drama M
Gay Divorcee, The (1934)

The second Astaire-Rogers outing features memorable numbers The Continental and Night and Day.

Musical F
General, The (1927)

One of the two or three all-time best silent comedies. Buster Keaton is superb as the man who has to take a train on a daring mission behind enemy lines during the Civil War. The film shows off his superb athletic/acrobatic skills, deadpan humor, and ability to construct sight-gags with wonderful timing and grace.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Genevieve (1953)

Charming English film about a race from Brighton to London in antique 1904 automobiles.

Comedy M
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
Interesting early attempt to deal with anti-Semitism in America. Gregory Peck is commissioned to write a series of articles on the subject but can’t really grasp the problem until he pretends to be Jewish. Girlfriend Dorothy McGuire is supportive but finds it difficult to accept his new situation…does she have deep-seated prejudices herself? A bit earnest and contrived, but its heart is in the right place.
Drama M
Ghostbusters (1984)

Ectoplasmic silliness abounds as Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis face an epidemic of ghostly disturbances in the Big Apple.

Comedy M
Gigi (1958)

Another musical in which sparkling songs (Lerner & Loewe) and performances (Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold) rescue a mediocre plot.

Musical M
Godfather, The/The Godfather: Part II (1972)

The quintessential story of the American mafia, from the rise of Godfather Don Corleone to the trials of his son Michael.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Gods Must Be Crazy, The (1980)

When an empty Coke bottle lands in the Kalahari, a Bushman travels into “civilization” to return it. A small film that’s big on humor.

Comedy F
Gold Rush, The (1925)

One of Chaplin’s two or three best, and one of the top silent comedies. Classic scenes include the lonely dinner when his date stands him up and the shoe-eating routine.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Goldfinger (1964)

Together with From Russia with Love, this film marks the high point of the James Bond series. Although you can see the beginnings of the campiness and gadgetry that mar most later entries, Goldfinger still packs a punch. The showdown with Oddjob in Fort Knox is classic.

Action/Adventure F AFI 400
Gone with the Wind (1939)

Another definitive film, this time of the antebellum and Reconstruction Era South. Not actually my cup of tea, but a must-see for anyone seeking cinema literacy.

Drama M AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Graduate, The (1967)

Dustin Hoffman personifies the 1960s’ generation breaking away from their parents.

Comedy, Drama F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Elliot's 50
Great Escape, The (1963)

True story of WW II POW escape artists who are confined to a maximum-security camp only to plan the biggest breakout ever.

Action/Adventure 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.