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
Great Train Robbery, The (1979)

A caper that might seem tame by today’s standards comes to life in this [fictionalized] gripping step-by-step account of the first train robbery.

Action/Adventure F
Gregory’s Girl (1981)
Deftly underplayed story of Scottish footballer Gregory out to win the heart of the new goalkeeper.
Comedy A
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Those with a dark sense of humor will appreciate this story of hitman John Cusack’s return home for his 10-year high school reunion.

Comedy F
Groundhog Day (1993)

What would you do if you lived the same day over for eternity? Bill Murray gives a fine performance as the cynical weatherman trapped in Punxatawney, PA, for a neverending Groundhog Day.

Comedy A Steve's 100
Gunfighter, The (1950)

One of the great unknown films. A thoughtful, brooding western about a gunman/outlaw who is hounded everywhere by young fast guns wanting to prove they’re faster on the draw than the great Jimmie Ringo. Ringo himself (Gregory Peck) just wants to reunite with his wife and son and settle down.

Western F AFI 400
Steve's 100
Gunga Din (1938)

Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Victor McLaglen take on a Thuggee assassin cult to protect a British outpost and plunder some treasure. The original buddy adventure movie.

Action/Adventure A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Elliot's 50
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
Harold and Maude (1972)

Harold (Bud Cort) is a death-obsessed teen; Maude (Ruth Gordon) is a 79-year-old free spirit. Offbeat classic with Cat Stevens soundtrack.

Comedy F
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

An over-eager angel takes boxer Robert Young too soon, so Young is offered a choice of recently deceased bodies to inhabit.

Comedy M
High Noon (1952)

Gary Cooper stands alone when the townspeople he has protected refuse to help him face down a killer bent on revenge.

Western A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Highlander (1986)

Yes, it’s cheezy. Yes, Christopher Lambert is ridiculous as a Scot. But for mindless sci-fi/action, it has moments. Plus some interesting scene transitions and a Queen soundtrack.

Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy R
His Girl Friday (1940)

Cary Grant as a scheming editor and Rosalind Russell as the ex-wife and stellar reporter he’s trying to woo back. The nonstop pace and lightning repartee mean you’ll want to see this more than once.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Holiday (1938)

Fun-loving Cary Grant is engaged to a business-minded heiress, but begins to suspect that black-sheep-sister Katharine Hepburn might be the better catch.

Comedy M Steve's 100
Holiday Inn (1942)

It’s singing vs. dancing as Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire compete for the leading lady. It’s also the film that introduced White Christmas.

Musical F
How to Steal a Million (1966)

Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn team up to steal a statue her father has forged.

Comedy M
Hustler, The (1961)

Paul Newman’s tortuous journey from pool shark to pool player is an engrossing look at life on the down side.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Ideal Husband, An (1999)

Engaging adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic examines the perils of idealizing your spouse.

Comedy M
In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Searing examination of racism and how cooperation can break down that boundary. Sidney Poitier is arrested on suspicion of murder as a black man passing through a small Southern town; Rod Steiger won an Oscar for his protrayal of the sheriff.

Drama A AFI 400
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Inspector General, The (1949)

Danny Kaye is a yokel mistaken by corrupt town officials for the Inspector General. Based on the play by Nikolai Gogol.

Comedy, Musical R
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Spooky tale of alien pods from outer space growing replicant yet soulless humans. May leave you scared to go to sleep.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
It Happened One Night (1934)

The first film to win all top five Oscars; Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert initiate the screwball romantic comedy in this gem.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Try and watch it with fresh eyes; this film speaks to our need both for dreams and the ability to live without them.
Drama A
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Spooky account of a Vietnam veteran’s attempts to understand his mysterious hallucinations.
Drama M
Jaws (1975)

Near-perfect concoction of brutal beast vs. macho buddies, masterfully paced by Spielberg. Maximum tension with surprisingly little gore.

Mystery/Suspense A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring (1986)

Two landowners scheme to ruin an idealistic, hunchbacked lawyer-turned-farmer whose land contains a vital water source. (subtitled)

Drama 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.