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
Ninotchka (1939)

Deft Ernst Lubitsch story of the clash between a coldly efficient Soviet inspector and Gay Paris in the 1930s. Garbo laughs!

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
No Way Out (1987)

Kevin Costner is a Pentagon official who becomes the subject of a manhunt when his lover is murdered.

Mystery/Suspense F
North by Northwest (1959)

Another Hitchcock take on the innocent man on the run, this time with the charm of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Sainte.

Mystery/Suspense F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Notorious (1946)

Cary Grant seeks Ingrid Bergman’s help to infiltrate a Nazi cell in South America. But how far will he push the woman he is beginning to love?

Mystery/Suspense A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Notting Hill (1999)

Bright romantic comedy about a movie star who may or may not be falling for an ordinary bloke. While Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts are good, the one you’ll remember is Rhys Ifans as Hugh’s uninhibited and totally winning housemate. Warm story handled deftly by all, with a great soundtrack.

Comedy M Steve's 100
On the Waterfront (1954)

Strong dramatic fare about the mob-controlled union of dockworkers. Brando stars as Terry, the man who finally stands up to the crooked union boss (played brilliantly by Lee J. Cobb). Rod Steiger is Terry’s brother, a crony of Cobb to whom Brando utters one of the most famous lines of all time: I coulda been a contenda. Karl Malden plays a supportive priest, and Eva Marie Sainte his girlfriend. Like High Noon before it, the film carries added baggage as part of the McCarthy era; it became director Elia Kazan’s self-defense for naming names before HUAC.

Drama F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Landmark production from spaghetti western director Sergio Leone features Henry Fonda playing against type as a rotten killer.

Western F
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
First film since It Happened One Night (1935) to win all five top Oscars (best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, and best screenplay—from Ken Kesey’s novel). Jack Nicholson plays a man who voluntarily enters an insane asylum and then begins to undermine the repressive and dehumanizing discipline. Louise Fletcher is the controlling, iron-willed head nurse who butts heads with him at every turn. Both depressing and uplifting, the film celebrates nonconformity and the need to question authority.
Drama A
One, Two, Three (1961)
Lightning-fast screwball comedy of Berlin-based Coca-Cola executive Jimmy Cagney frantically trying to cover up his daughter’s marriage to a Communist.
Comedy F
Palm Beach Story, The (1942)

Though not as perfect as Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels or The Lady Eve, this effort comes close. Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert are wonderful as the faltering marrieds, but you’ll never forget the Ale and Quail Club, the Wienie King, Rudy Vallee, and Mary Astor.

Comedy F Steve's 100
Paper Moon (1973)

Ryan O’Neal is a traveling con man saddled with a young girl (Tatum O’Neal) who may or may not be his daughter.

Comedy M
Paths of Glory (1957)

One of the two most powerful antiwar films ever made (the other being Renoir’s Grand Illusion—interesting that both deal with WW I). Kirk Douglas is understated and most effective as the officer assigned to determine whether three soldiers named by a general as cowards for failing to fulfill his idiotic battle orders should be court-martialed and executed. The hypocrisy of the scapegoating general is shown to mirror the insanity of the war in general.

Drama A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Persuasion (1995)

Beautifully rendered short version of one of Jane Austen’s gems. The acting is superb in this tale of patience and the enduring power of love.

Comedy F
Philadelphia Story, The (1940)

Katharine Hepburn (in a role written for her), Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart—the delightful script is just an added bonus.

Comedy A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Elliot's 50
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)

Searing examination of a rock star’s attempt to tear down the walls he has built over a lifetime of loss, rejection, and denial…You don’t have to be high to enjoy Alan Parker’s visual counterpoint to the rock album, but liking Pink Floyd’s music undoubtedly helps.

Drama, Musical F
Pink Panther, The (1964)

Any individual movie probably gets an M, but there are enough classic bits scattered throughout for the series to rate an F. The only ones worth watching are The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, The Return of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Srikes Again, and Revenge of the Pink Panther.

Comedy F AFI 400
Planet of the Apes (1968)

After an extended space sojourn in suspended animation, a crew of American astronauts lands on a planet where highly evolved simians rule wild humans. Adventure, social satire, and a cautionary message.

Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy A AFI 400
Elliot's 50
Play It Again, Sam (1972)

Nebbish film lover Woody Allen tries to emulate Humphry Bogart after his wife divorces him. Woody and Diane Keaton’s first film together is a charming spin on Casablanca.

Comedy F
Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Though Austen’s magnum opus gets slightly filtered for modern audiences, this engaging adaptation is still quite faithful.

Comedy F
Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Screenwriter Aldous Huxley takes remarkable liberties with Austen’s novel, but Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Edna May Oliver, and the rest of the cast make it eminently watchable.

Comedy F
Prime Suspect I (1991)

Helen Mirren’s signature performance as London’s DCI Jane Tennison, who must track down a serial killer while battling sexism in the police department.

Drama, Mystery/Suspense A
Princess Bride, The (1987)

Heroes! Monsters! Magic! Miracles! True Love!

Action/Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy F
Prisoner of Zenda, The (1937)

Ronald Colman plays a Ruritanian prince and the English lookalike who must replace him when brother Black Michael has the prince kidnapped in a bid for the throne. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. steals the show as the wily Rupert of Hentzau.

Action/Adventure A Steve's 100
Producers, The (1968)

Checking over Off-Off-Off-Off-Broadway producer Zero Mostel’s accounts, nebbishy Gene Wilder gets a crazy idea…become rich by producing a flop. Mel Brooks’s first bigscreen hit.

Comedy M Steve's 100
Psycho (1960)

Hitchcock switched gears ever so slightly from his usual edge-of-the-seat suspense films to this mystery-cum-horror story and made it work brilliantly. Some of the most unforgettable scenes in all filmdom enhance this tale of an unlikely bank robber, a gothic motel, a shy boy, and his mother. Thousands gave up taking showers altogether after viewing this one.

Horror, Mystery/Suspense A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
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.