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
Quiet Man, The (1952)

American John Wayne returns to the Irish village of his youth and falls for Maureen O’Hara—but he refuses to fight her domineering brother for her dowry.

Comedy F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Nonstop excitement, based on the cliffhanger serials of the 1940s and 1950s. Don’t bother with the sequels, though.

Action/Adventure A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Rashomon (1950)

In this examination of the subjectivity of reality, a samurai, his wife, a bandit, and a woodcutter offer varying accounts of a rape and murder. (subtitled)

Drama A Elliot's 50
Rear Window (1954)

Confined to a wheelchair in his high-rise, Jimmy Stewart begins to believe a neighbor is a wife-murderer. Glamorous girlfriend Grace Kelly aids his investigation in this Hitchcock masterpiece.

Mystery/Suspense A AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Rebecca (1940)

A naive young woman falls for and marries a moody widower but cannot escape the legacy of first wife Rebecca.

Mystery/Suspense M AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Red River (1948)

Montgomery Clift takes on patriarch John Wayne in this tale of mutiny on the trail.

Western F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Not for the weak of stomach. But Quentin Tarantino’s terrific script and directing are matched by great performances from Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, and others in this account of a badly botched bank robbery. Far superior, IMHO, to the more-lauded Pulp Fiction.

Action/Adventure, Drama F
Richard III (1995)

Delicious Ian McKellen rendition of Shakespeare’s crooked spider has the eponymous monarch creating a Fascist state after murdering his rivals to the throne.

Drama F
Ride the High Country (1962)

Sam Peckinpah is among the greatest directors of westerns—right up there with Howard Hawks and John Ford. While not as virtuosic a film as his Wild Bunch, this elegiac tale of two aging gunfighters is a great film. Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott play two ex-lawmen entrusted with bringing a large sum of money back to the city from an isolated mining town. Along the way they encounter a young hellion, an unwilling bride, and a very mean family of miscreants.

Western M Steve's 100
Rio Bravo (1950)

Howard Hawks’ second-best western (after Red River) features an aging sheriff (John Wayne), a drunken ex-deputy (Dean Martin), a cool young gunslinger (teen idol Ricky Nelson), a gimpy old deputy (Walter Brennan), and a saloon girl (Angie Dickinson) trying to bring a cold-blooded killer to justice while his brother lays siege to the town. All the pieces fit together perfectly in this great example of leisurely storytelling. Parodied brilliantly in Support Your Local Sheriff.

Western M Steve's 100
Roberta (1935)

Third time’s no charm for Astaire and Rogers, who are forced to play second fiddle to Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott.

Musical TV
Robin and Marian (1976)

Underappreciated film about the aftermath of legend. Twenty years have passed since the Merry Men fought Prince John. His crusade with King Richard now over, Robin returns to an England where Marian and the Sheriff of Nottingham await.

Drama M
Room with a View, A (1985)

A typically repressed young Englishwoman learns to live and love a little on an Italian vacation.

Comedy F FilmSite 200
Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, the (1966)

Curious about America, a Soviet submarine commander accidentally runs aground near a sleepy New England town. Sweet film about hysteria, paranoia, and friendship.

Comedy F
Sabotage (1936)

Hitchcock’s take on the Joseph Conrad novel of a suburban movie theater owner and terrorist.

Sabrina (1954)

Audrey Hepburn as the chauffeur’s daughter with a crush on playboy William Holden. Humphrey Bogart is the corporate exec who wants his brother’s marriage to form a business alliance.

Comedy M
Samurai Trilogy (1954)

Three films exploring the development of Musashi Miyamoto from wild farm boy to epitome of the Shogunate samurai. American audiences may have trouble accepting Musashi’s notions of honor and duty, but the characterizations and cinematography make these truly memorable.

Drama F
Say Anything (1989)

Genial slacker John Cusack sets his sights on valedictorian Ione Skye in Cameron Crowe’s very human romance.

Comedy F
Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1934)

Leslie Howard as the English noble who risks his life to rescue French aristocrats from the guillotine.

Action/Adventure F
Searchers, The (1956)

Atypically dark Western about the quest to find the truth about a young girl kidnapped or killed by Indian raiders. Wayne’s hatred of Native Americans is played as bigotry, not heroism.

Western F AFI 400
FilmSite 200
Steve's 100
Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Excellent adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel by star Emma Thompson, adroitly directed by Ang Lee. Sense is actually a contrast with sensibility, as it refers to sensitivity and living by emotions rather than acting sensibly.

Comedy F AFI 400
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

The rare movie musical not based on a play. Features catchy tunes, exuberant dancing, and (of course) an ensemble cast of 14.

Musical F Steve's 100
Seven Samurai, The (1954)

Be prepared to immerse yourself totally in this 3½-hour epic of seven Japanese warriors who risk their lives without pay to protect a village from bandits—some for honor, some for glory, some for duty. (subtitled)

Drama A Elliot's 50
Seven Year Itch, The (1955)

When the wife’s away, the husband will … dream about seducing the upstairs bombshell. Particularly when she’s Marilyn Monroe. Tom Ewell reprises his Broadway performance.

Comedy M
Seventh Seal, The (1957)

An evocative allegory that follows an errant knight and Swedish family during the Black Death.

Drama A 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.