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
Kid, The (1921)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

For those into wry gallows humor. Slighted by his aristocratic relatives, Henry realizes that only eight people—all played by Alec Guinness—stand between him and the dukedom.

Comedy A Elliot's 50
King and I, The (1956)

A top musical, albeit suffused with a colonial mindset that modern viewers may find disturbing. Yul Brynner is superb in his signature role as the King of Siam, and Deborah Kerr is very good indeed as the British governess/tutor for his many children. Beautiful Rodgers and Hammerstein score.

Musical M Steve's 100
King of Hearts (1966)

A lone British soldier tries to save a French town from being dynamited. Since the normal residents have fled, the slightly off-balance patients of the local asylum have taken over. (subtitled)

Comedy M
Kiss Me Kate (1953)

Cole Porter songs are the real star; Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson are ex-spouses headlining a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew.

Musical M
Lady Eve, The (1941)

One comedy writer-director of the 1940s stands out from all the rest. With a unique take on almost everything conventional, Preston Sturges brilliantly and almost singlehandedly continued the screwball comedy tradition of the 1930s, producing some of the funniest films ever made in a nearly unparalleled burst of creative energy—then just as quickly faded away. In his masterpiece, Henry Fonda is a millionaire herpetologist, and Barbara Stanwyck is the card-sharping bombshell who sets her snares for him.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Lady Vanishes, The (1938)

Classic Hitchcock stars Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave as sparring travelers seeking a fellow passenger who may have disappeared.

Mystery/Suspense F Steve's 100
Ladyhawke (1985)

Fun fantasy of doomed lovers Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer and their attempt to escape an evil bishop’s curse with the help of thief Gaston the Mouse (Matthew Broderick).

Sci-Fi/Fantasy M
Ladykillers, The (1955)

Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, and other inept crooks decide they must murder their landlady to keep her silent. Is one little old lady a match for five hardened criminals?

Comedy F
Laura (1944)

Dana Andrews begins to fall in love with the woman whose death he’s investigating. Clifton Webb is a terrifically snobbish critic, and Vincent Price adds to the noir.

Mystery/Suspense F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)

Another winning Alec Guinness/Ealing Studios combination. This time Guinness is a bank clerk with a seemingly foolfproof plan to rob a fortune in gold. (Audrey Hepburn’s film debut, as Chiquita.)

Comedy F
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

See the director’s cut in widescreen for the full effect of stupendous cinematography. Peter O’Toole’s breakthrough role as the British agent who becomes an Arab to muster support in WW I.

Drama F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Letter to Three Wives, A (1949)

The letter announces that their friend and sometime rival has run off with one of their husbands… but doesn’t say which. Stranded on a daylong boat ride, the wives replay their marriages and wonder who has been abandoned.

Drama F
Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Roberto Benigni’s masterpiece of a Jewish-Italian waiter who deftly employs his wit and humor to court a Catholic schoolteacher and protect his family during WWII.

Comedy A
Lilies of the Field (1963)

Sidney Poitier stars in this film about the strength of human vision and faith. Poitier’s Best Actor win was the first top Oscar for an African-American.

Drama F Steve's 100
Little Big Man (1970)

Arthur Penn Warren’s revisionist look at nearly a century of American history, through the eyes of a white man/Indian raised in and moving between two very different cultures. A western only in part, it’s also a lengthy political statement cum diatribe against the scourge of modern times—the white man, species americanus predatorus. Made at the height of the counterculture 1960s, the film reflects much of the antiwar, anti-U.S.-imperialism, antigovernment sentiments of its day. Dustin Hoffman excels in the lead, and Faye Dunaway et al. are equally good—especially Chief Dan George’s portrayal of a wise old chief. His thoughtful pondering of the Native American predicament still resonates: There are many white men but very few human beings [the Indian name for themselves]. And who knew there were well-adjusted Native American homosexuals in the old west?

Drama, Western M AFI 400
Steve's 100
Living in Oblivion (1995)

Hysterical account of the tribulations facing an independent film crew during one day of shooting.

Comedy F
Local Hero (1983)

Another offbeat charmer from Bill Forsyth; oil magnet Burt Lancaster sends Peter Riegert to buy a sleepy Scottish fishing town.

Comedy M AFI 400
Lord of the Rings, The (2001)

Splendid screen treatment of the J.R.R. Tolkien saga. All fans of the books will have criticisms, but on the whole the films are a rousing success. Includes The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003).

Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy F
Lost Horizon (1937)

Ronald Colman crashes in Tibet and discovers Shangri-La, an earthly paradise.

Drama A AFI 400
M (1931)

When a police crackdown fails to nab a serial childkiller, the criminal element begins its own search. Years ahead of its time, M raises questions of responsibility and justice that remain unanswered today. (subtitled)

Mystery/Suspense A Elliot's 50
Magnificent Seven, The (1960)

Western version of The Seven Samurai is a strong entry in its own right.

Western F Steve's 100
Maltese Falcon, The (1941)

The preeminent film noir. Bogart is hard-boiled sleuth Sam Spade, on the trail of a gem-encrusted statuette.

Mystery/Suspense A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1934)

The real mystery is why Hitch decided to refilm this tale of a vactioning family dragged into an international assassination attempt. Stick with this version over the 1956 Jimmy Stewart/Doris Day remake.

Mystery/Suspense M
Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)

Viciously cynical and paranoid conspiracy film about a brainwashed assassin. Angela Lansbury is outstanding in an against-type-casting role.

Mystery/Suspense A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Elliot's 50


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.