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
Mark of Zorro, The (1940)

Lots of fun as the masked Curse of Capistrano fights corruption in early California.

Action/Adventure F AFI 400
Marty (1955)

Beautifully acted and scripted, this small-scale gem shines with an Oscar-winning performance by Ernest Borgnine (nearly always a heavy in films) and great support from Betsy Blair. Iconic catch-phrase: “I don’ know—what do you wanna do?” Romantic but realistic and genuinely heartwarming, with no false sentiment; adapted from his TV play by Paddy Chayefsky.

Drama M AFI 400
Steve's 100
Matrix, The (1999)

Only for those with a high tolerance for cinematic violence; but a stylish, thought-provoking thriller of humanity’s escape from a virtual reality.

Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy F
Meet John Doe (1941)

Slightly uneven Capra take on media cynicism and human redemption is nonetheless an entertaining and thought-provoking film.

Drama M
Metropolitan (1990)

This ’90s take on Jane Austen follows a set of NYC debutantes, their escorts, and the lower-class radical socialist who accidentally joins their circle.

Comedy F
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Too-grown-up Maureen O’Hara learns a lesson about faith in magic and the Christmas spirit from a Macy’s Santa claiming to be the real Kris Kringle.

Comedy M AFI 400
Miracle Worker, The (1962)

From William Gibson’s play (originally produced on TV), this powerful film tells the story of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller (Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, in Oscar-winning performances), the deaf-blind girl whom Sullivan rescues. It’s said that while performing this play on Broadway for more than a year and then during the filming, both were black-and-blue from all the physical beatings they inflicted on each other. If you don’t cry when Helen and Annie are at the cistern, have your heart and glands examined for atrophy.

Drama A Steve's 100
Mister Roberts (1955)

Henry Fonda repeats his Broadway turn as a naval officer stuck on a cargo ship at the tail-end of WW II. William Powell and Jack Lemmon keep the proceedings fun.

Comedy, Drama F AFI 400
Modern Times (1936)

The third of Chaplin’s greatest comedies. Minimal use of sound—which had already been around for about a decade—does not alter the fact that this is still essentially a silent film. Charlie satirizes industrialized life that dehumanizes and oppresses the poor, downtrodden American worker during the Depression. Among the classic bits is his travel through the cogs of a giant machine.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Though the Pythons have trouble ending their works, this epic sendup has numerous great moments throughout.

Comedy A
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Brian has the misfortune to be born at the same time and place as a more famous Nazarene. Lots of hysterical bits, plus pungent satire of current Middle East politics.
Comedy F
Moscow on the Hudson (1984)

Nice second-tier movie; a rather sweet romance that will appeal particularly to immigrants—especially those from the former USSR.

Comedy M
Mouse that Roared, The (1959)

Desperate to boost its economy, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick launches a foolproof plan to wage a war with the United States—and lose, so it can receive federal aid. Except they win. Peter Sellers pulls an Alec Guinness with his multiple roles.

Comedy F
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Gary Cooper as the small-town tuba player and poet who inherits a fortune and must deal with slick lawyers, hangers-on, and a media frenzy whipped up by ace reporter Jean Arthur.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

The classic little guy vs. big political machine. Jimmy Stewart finds his apotheosis in Capra’s indictment of corruption in the Capitol.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Albert Finney is a wonderful Hercule Poirot in an all-star treatment of the Christie classic.

Mystery/Suspense F
Music Man, The (1962)

Trouble right here in River City as con man Robert Preston tries to pull off a boys’ band scheme under the watchful eyes of Marian the Librarian (Shirley Jones).

Musical F
My Bodyguard (1980)

When pampered Clifford Peache transfers to a Chicago public school and runs afoul of a protection ring, he decides to enlist the help of a feared school misfit. A moving story of friendship, understanding, and courage.

Comedy A
My Fair Lady (1964)

The terrific Lerner & Loewe melodies more than make up for loss of Pygmalion’s social commentary.

Musical A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
My Favorite Wife (1940)

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne at the top of their form in the second of their classic films about love and marriage. This time, Dunne is shipwrecked long enough to be declared dead and have Grant remarry. Not quite up to the standard set by The Awful Truth (which had been directed by Favorite Wife scriptwriter Leo McCarey), but first-rate still.

Comedy M Steve's 100
My Life as a Dog (1985)

Wonderful film of a young Swedish boy coming to terms with tragedy while finding the joy in life with help from the country relatives who take him in.

Comedy, Drama A
My Man Godfrey (1936)

Carole Lombard finds forgotten man William Powell in a scavenger hunt and brings him home to butle for the high-society Bullocks.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Mystery Train (1989)

Offbeat Jim Jarmusch narrative weaves together three stories set in Memphis, Tenn., over the course of a single day.

Comedy F
Nasty Girl, The (1990)

Brilliant exploration of guilt and secrecy in the new postwar Germany. Humorous and disturbing. (subtitled)

Drama F
Night at the Opera, A (1935)

Another Marx Bros. classic. That’s just the sanity clause—that’s in every contract. You can’t fool me—there ain’t no Santy Clause. The stateroom sequence has a woman asking for her Aunt Minnie, possibly a reference to the boys’ mother, Minnie Schoenberg Marx. Would rate an A except for some dull romance interludes.

Comedy F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100


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.