Jeff's Favorite Movies

As of today, I've watched and rated 2,800 movies, assigning each a numerical rating 1 (a waste of life) and 10 (loved it). Of course, this rating took place over many many years and I can't claim that my ratings have been consistent over the long haul; I'm sure that my tastes have changed during this journey. But although I'd like to, I can't watch all 2,800 movies over again to try and be more consistent, so for what it's worth, here is the list of the 70-or-so movies I've rated 9 or 10, followed by the 320-or-so-next-best films I've rated as 8.

I generally favor movies that are heavy in the plot department; there are many movies which are highly regarded on the Internet Movie Database or by critics which I don't like at all. Breathless is one such example. To me, it felt like nothing happened, and I rated it a 4 (I've since re-rated it as 7, because I now better appreciate it's allure, but it's still not a favorite). Even the highly-regarded Citizen Kane falls into that category; I rated it a 7 since although it might have introduced lots of new film techniques and had many interesting perspectives, the plot itself was totally boring to me. I didn't ever really care what "Rosebud" meant, so the rest of the film's goodness was lost on me. So those are two movies that don't quite make it onto my list of favorite movies. If you strongly disagree with both of these non-recommendations, you might as well stop reading here because my tastes don't align with yours. But if you tentatively agree, keep reading.

To rate a movie highly (that is, rate it as if I'd really enjoy watching it again, which is what my rating of 8 means), it has to have at least one of the following: a great plot, gorgeous photography, be a musical, contain beautiful music such as the way Kubrick used music, be a great science-fiction movie, or include anything about Italy, or especially Rome, for which I'm a total slut. I'm not at all adverse to non-American films; many of my 300-or-so-next-best films are black-and-white subtitled films. So if you're still reading and these things also tickle your fancy, here are my favorite 300-or-so movies out of the 2,319 I've watched.

I welcome you to email with any comments on my choices.

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My Favorite 60 or so Movies, listed alphabetically

  1. (subtitled) Das Boot: Settle down for the slow pace of this movie, with the pay-off that you'll gain an understanding about life in a submarine during wartime. A German U-Boat crew terrorizes British convoys and pays a heavy price for their actions. Terrific action film, the best submarine movie I’ve ever seen.
  2. (subtitled) Cranes are Flying: Young lovers Boris and Veronika are separated when he secretly enlists in Russia’s WWII army. Both suffer greatly because of the war. Though the same story has been told many times, this 1957 Soviet film that features inventive hand-held camera work, superb compositions, and means of filming that communicate much more than standard techniques would have done.
  3. (subtitled) Metropolis: Silent sci-fi film which wrote the book on science fiction in the movies. Watch this film and consider how many of its scenes have been copied over and over again, even still in modern sci-fi movies.
  4. (subtitled) Raise the Red Lantern: Wicked treachery between the four wives and servants of a Chinese prince, with the real star of the show being the superb photography, especially of the gorgeous palace.
  5. (subtitled) Run Lola Run: Lola run through Berlin to help her criminal boyfriend, and you gotta love it. Rinse & Repeat. All with fast-paced nearly non-stop action. My favorite non-war-related German movie.
  6. (subtitled) A Separation: Superb story of a married Iranian couple in which the wife decides to separate, setting off a chain of events that might destroy her husband. Prepare for intense drama from start to finish.
  7. (subtitled) The Seventh Seal: A knight and his squire return home from the Crusades through a Europe ravaged by Black Plague, while Death threatens that the knight’s end is near. He buys time to do one last good deed by playing a game of chess against Death and uses that borrowed time to save a young family. A superb movie filled with never-to-be-forgotten scenes, great photography, some humor, several memorable characters, and an intense message.

In case you agree with my list of favorite movies, here are my 300-or-so-next-best films that you might also enjoy, again listed alphabetically
(The best 34 in this bunch are in bold font)

  1. (subtitled) After the Wedding: The owner of a poor orphanage in India tries to obtain funding from a wealthy man in Denmark, and after the wedding of that man's son, everything changes bit by bit.
  2. (subtitled) Amores perros: A Spanish film similar to Crash. Three interwoven stories: a young man who wants to make enough money from dogfighting to steal his brother's wife away, a model who gets in a car accident and falls apart from her husband, and a hired murderer who wants to avoid his last assignment.
  3. (subtitled) Apocalypto: I enjoyed the heart-pounding action from minute one through minute 139. There's very little dialog, so the subtitles are pretty easy to keep up with.
  4. (subtitled) Ashes and Diamonds
  5. (subtitled) Autumn Sonata: Narcissistic mother, a concert pianist, comes to visit grown daughter and her husband, who are taking care of her other daughter who is suffering from a degenerative neural disease. Things start out cordial, but after a while a fierce recollection of harsh feelings from daughter toward her neglectful mother is unleashed, now that she is grown and emboldened and can reflect on her childhood.
  6. (subtitled) Ballad of a Soldier: A Russian WWII soldier performs some heroics in battle that prompt his commanding officer to grant him a 2 day trip home as a reward, so he can fix his mother’s roof. The journey home is filled with adventure and various kinds of love, taking much longer than expected, turning his 2-day stay at home into a 10-minute stay, just enough time to see his mother and say hello. A touching film with surprisingly little Soviet propaganda; really just credit to a soldier who fought for his country.
  7. (subtitled) The Big City: An entire conservative Indian family’s life is changed when the wife has to get a job to make ends meet.
  8. (subtitled) Black Book
  9. (subtitled) The Bridge (Die Bruecke): In the final days of WWII, 7 German high-school-aged teenagers idolize the war effort, then are drafted. They’re thrilled to serve until they learn what fighting is really like.
  10. (subtitled) Capernaum: A 12-year-old boy living in extreme poverty with his family in Beruit tries to prevent his parents from giving away his 11-year-old sister for marriage to a 30-year-old, but fails, so he runs away and is taken in by an even poorer Ethiopian refugee woman with a young baby. While she works during the day he takes care of the baby for her, until one day when she’s arrested by immigration and when she fails to come back home for a few days he realizes its up to him to help the baby and himself survive. He returns home for his non-existent papers and learns his sister died from pregnancy, so he stabs the 30-year-old husband and is sent to prison. He sues his real parents for neglecting all their children.
  11. (subtitled) The Captain (Der Hauptmann): In the last days of WW II, a German soldier who is deserting finds an abandoned Captain's uniform. He puts it on to save himself from pursuit, other solders see him and follow him as a leader, and we watch as he commits a series of atrocities as more and more people follow him and no one steps forward strongly enough to stop him.
  12. (subtitled) A Film Unfinished
  13. (subtitled) Headhunters
  14. (subtitled) Infernal Affairs: This is the original version of 'The Departed", and is a much tighter film than the remake, being more cinematic, with a great succinct plot. A gangster infiltrates the police and a policeman infiltrates the gang. Each team wants to find and eliminate the traitor.
  15. (subtitled) Kapo: Superb story of a Jewish girl who, with the help of a kind man, outsmarts the Nazis to survive WW II in a work camp.
  16. (subtitled) The Lives of Others: The East German habit of spying on each other
  17. (subtitled) M
  18. (subtitled) Open Your Eyes
  19. (subtitled) Pan's Labyrinth (Laberinto del Fauno): A young girl lives out a fairy tale in the midst of the atrocities commited by her sadistic army officer stepfather.
  20. (subtitled) The Past: A man returns from Tehran to Paris at his wife's request for divorce finalization, and walks into a complicated family situation from events of the past year or so.
  21. (subtitled) Pather Panchali: The story of an impoverished family in India at a time of great crisis.
  22. (subtitled) Persona: Gorgeous abstract film something like Last Year At Marienbad in that there is no way to make complete sense of the movie, you can attempt several theories but none of them work correctly to explain the entire film. The closest, for me, is that an insane woman actress, who didn’t want children and wished her newborn son would die, goes crazy, and splits into two personalities who argue the facts of her life to try and reconcile her insanity. Roger Ebert, on the other hand, argues for a literal interpretation: the actress Elizabeth suddenly stops talking in the middle of a play, is committed to a psychiatric hospital, and nursed and cared for by the chatty Alma at a summer house on the water, where the two women somehow merge. Regardless of interpretation, this movie contains many many gorgeous photographic compositions and is an interesting romp through unreality. Plus, we get to watch two beautiful women for 90 minutes.
  23. (subtitled) The Return: The absent father of two boys returns after 12 years to take them on a fishing trip which exposes his poor fathering skills and abusive personality, and which ends in tragedy and mystery in this contemporary Russian masterpiece.
  24. (subtitled) The Secret in their Eyes: A government investigator spends a lifetime trying to resolve his attraction to his superior while trying to solve the murder of a young woman, which devastated her husband, even after his retirement.
  25. (subtitled) Shoah: 9-hour documentary about the Holocaust, told through interviews with witnesses, survivors and perpetrators.
  26. (subtitled) The Shop On Main Street: A kind-hearted poor Arian man is given control of a button shop run by an elderly Jewish woman during the purge of Jews from a Slovakian city. He and his wife think he is being given the riches of the shop and the Jewish family, but she is nearly deaf, nearly blind, and confused, thinking he’s just looking for work.
  27. (subtitled) The Silence: Crime thriller about the killing of 2 teenage girls, 23 years apart, in which the wrong man is blamed in the end
  28. (subtitled) Sleep Tight: Cesar, a miserable man who works as an apartment concierge, takes a special interest in an attractive woman who lives there. He goes to great lengths to trouble her and several other people who live in the building.
  29. (subtitled) Timecrimes: A man becomes caught in a time loop with various copies of himself, and has to figure a way out so he can rejoin his real life.
  30. (subtitled) Triumph of the Will: Well described as ‘The infamous propaganda film of the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg’, this chilling documentary of actual footage of a week-long rally of the Nazi party just after Hitler consolidated his control over the entire German state shows what Hitler wanted the German people to see in order to gain more support. It’s a well made film showing the beginnings of an incredibly evil group of leaders who were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of human beings.
  31. (subtitled) Where Is The Friend's House?: A small boy is punished in school for turning in his homework on a sheet of loose paper instead of in his notebook, that lets the teacher and him see his progress through the year. He’ll expell the kid if he does it again. But his best friend takes home the boy’s notebook the next day by mistake since it looks just like his own. He spends the entire afternoon and evening trying to return the notebook to the boy, but doesn’t know where in the next village over he lives. This is the first movie in the so-called 'Koker Trilogy' of Abbas Kiarostami. The second movie in the trilogy, And Life Goes On is also superb, in which the director of ‘Where is the Friend’s House’ returns to Koker and nearby villages shortly after a major earthquake which killed 50,000 people. The Iranian people exhibit kindness and determination to go on, despite the devastation. The third film in the trilogy, Through the Olive Trees shows the filming of the scenes of the married couple from ‘And Life Goes On’, in which the two actors are not really married, but the man really really wants to marry the woman.
  32. (subtitled) Wild Strawberries: A grumpy 78-year-old retired Doctor or Professor Isak Borg wakes from a nightmare foretelling his death on the day he’s to travel 400 miles from Stockholm to receive an honorary degree from the University of Lund. He travels there by car with his daughter-in-law, Mariana, being grumpy along the way. The journey represents his life, and will presumably end with his death. It's clear that Mariana doesn't like Borg. They stop at a house on a lake which was where his family spent their summers during his childhood (he was one of ten children), where the Wild Strawberries grow. There he relives a day from his childhood as his present self watching that day as in a dream. Sara, the cousin he was to marry is gathering strawberries for her elderly uncle's birthday when Borg's younger brother Sigfrid kisses her, she responds passionately, and the stains on her apron from the strawberries that tumble away represent her losing her cherry that day. A young woman who looks just like that cousin and is also named Sara wakes him up in the present and asks him for a ride to the University. He agrees, and she brings along 2 male friends, her fiancée (a minister, representing the conservative Borg) and a chaperone who is more interesting to her, representing Sigfrid. This Sara represents Borg's second-chance, a sort of do-over. They get in a car accident and take on 2 more passengers – the married couple in the other car which was wrecked badly. That couple fights constantly in the car, so are kicked out so as to not corrupt the children (Sara and her 2 boyfriends). The remaining 5 stop for lunch and to visit his 96-year-old cold-as-ice mother. He is the last surviving of her 10 children. She shows him photos and toys from his childhood, and a pocket watch with no hands on it which had been in his nightmare. After they leave it starts raining and he sleeps in the car. He dreams of the day he learned that Sigfrid had stolen Sara from him, then he dreams of a test at the university, administered by the husband from the fighting couple, in which he fails all questions about becoming a doctor. He is declared incompetent, then taken to a scene where his wife Karin cheats on him, telling her lover what a cold man Borg is, and that he won't even care about her infidelity. He awakes in the car and tells Mariana about his recent dreams about death and judgment. She says her husband, his son, Evald, has similar dreams, because when she told him she was pregnant, he said it was wrong to bring a child into this world, and that though her dreams are to live and give birth, his dreams are to die. So she is questioning what to do about her fetus - it comes from a line of 3 generations of cold, unlikable people. At one point in the journey he asks Sara which of her men she prefers; she cannot choose either one. They arrive at the University, he receives his honorary degree, Evald and Mariana get back together, deciding to have the baby, and attend a party that night without Borg (that party is Borg's funeral, the party his family goes to without him). Meanwhile, Sara and her 2 men serenade him and congratulate him. Sara, in fact, tells Borg that she really loves him, always and forever. He recalls the day as he goes to sleep, (i.e. as he dies), with a smile on his face, because Sara finally chose him after having rejected him earlier in life.
  33. (subtitled) Wild Tales: An excellent Argentinian movie made of 6 unrelated short stories about people under extreme stress.

And finally, a few TV series which I've especially enjoyed, again in alphabetical order

  1. (subtitled) Deutschland 83: During the peak of the Cold War in 1983, a 24-year-old East German soldier goes undercover to infiltrate the West German military.

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