Jeff's Favorite Movies
As of today, I've watched and rated 2,319 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 2,319 movies over again to try and be more consistent, so for what it's worth, here is the list of the 60-or-so movies I've rated 9 or 10, followed by the 300-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 send me an email with any comments on my choices.
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My Favorite 60 or so Movies, listed alphabetically
- (subtitled) The Hidden Fortress: Peasants, general, princess and lots of gold travel across borders, similar plot to Star Wars (R2D2 and C3P0 help Solo and Skywalker get Princess Leah to safety). Superb comedy, superb direction, love the scene where the generals fight with spears.
- (subtitled) The Human Condition, Parts I, II and III: A powerful 9-1/2 hour epic anti-war trilogy with superb black-and-white cinematography and great music, telling its tale with very little battle footage. It tells the story of Kaji, a Japanese pacifist during World War II who agreed to improve productivity in an iron-ore mine in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in exchange for amnesty from military service. He worked on treating the miners more fairly to improve productivity, including 300 Chinese POWs that were dumped on the mine by the military and treated very poorly by most of the other mining overlords. For this he was arrested, beaten, and his amnesty revoked for siding with the POWs. Kaji's relationship with his wife, Michiko, is depicted during this movie as well, to setup Kaki's motivations through the rest of the story. That covers the first movie in the trilogy, named "No Greater Love". After having his amnesty from the draft revoked, the second movie, named "Road to Eternity", follows Kaji through reporting for service, basic training, and eventual leadership of his own platoon during WWII, ending with the nearly complete massacre of his platoon in a battle against a Russian tank column. The brutality of the Japanese in disciplining their own troops is one focus of this central part of the trilogy, and it includes the only battle scenes in the trilogy, about 45 minutes worth if memory serves me correctly. In the finale, named "A Soldier's Prayer", Kaji leads the couple remaining survivors from his platoon and various refugees picked up along the way on a long trek on foot through now Soviet-occupied territory to return to southern Manchuria in the hopes that something remains of their towns and families. All he wants is to return to his wife. He has to surrender along the way and becomes a forced laborer being mistreated in a Soviet work camp, reversing the role he held in the first part of the trilogy. The intensely-building suspense of "Will he make it home to Michiko, and will she even still be there?" holds our interest during this superb finale. 9-1/2 hours is a big commitment, but I found this epic trilogy to be well worth the investment of my time.
- The Naked Island: A masterfully crafted cinematic poem about a peasant family of four who are the only inhabitants of a small Japanese island where they terrace-farm the land. Their daily workload is tremendous, rowing to the mainland, collecting water, bringing it back and hauling it up the terraces to water their plants individually. Their story is told without any dialog (!), but instead has gorgeous musical accompaniment, and features beautiful black-and-white photography in which many individual frames of the movie could be cut out, printed and hung on a wall as artwork. Be prepared for a very unusual experience when you sit down to watch this movie. It is excruciatingly slow and you must clear your mind and enjoy the photography, the music, the slowly-exposed story of these people and their environment. After watching, be sure to watch again with the original soundtrack (not audio track 2), but with subtitle track 2, which is an English translation of the Japanese director’s and music composer’s commentary track.
- (subtitled) Rashomon: Conflicting testimony of crimes of rape, murder and robbery are told by the three participants in these actions. Then they are recalled during a pounding rainstorm by three people taking refuge under the Rashomon Gate in 12th-century Kyoto, Japan. They seek to figure out the truth, but are frustrated in this effort. Perhaps each testimony is the truth that each witness would have been proud of? This 1950 Japanese movie, directed by Akira Kurosawa and featuring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura is a true classic, along with The Seven Samurai. So influential worldwide that the term 'the Rashomon Effect' has come to mean what occurs when an event is given contradictory interpretations by the individuals involved.
- (subtitled) The Seven Samurai: This is another superb Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa and featuring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, as is Rashomon. In this one, seven unemployed samurai soldiers are hired in 1587 by a small peasant farming village to defend the village from impending attack by bandits. It took me a few viewings (and listening to the DVD commentary tracks) to understand the Japanese culture and history in this movie, but once I did so the movie advanced from a really fun action movie into a masterpiece. It's been imitated many times, but never bettered.
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)
- (subtitled) Floating Weeds: Well-made movie about the leader of a troupe of travelling actors who returns to the city where his illegitimate son and one-time-girlfriend live. The troupe returns there occasionally, where he sees his son, masquerading as an uncle. The son is now grown and falls in love with a girl in the troup. This is Ozu’s remake of his own 1934 silent film ‘A Story of Floating Weeds’ (Floating Weeds means Drifters). This version of the film features superb photographic compositions in every scene, with splashes of color (especially red) in most compositions, especially in the lower-right corner.
- (subtitled) Harakiri: An aging ex-Samurai comes to a clan’s headquarters, asking them to let him commit suicide in their courtyard. They tell him the story of another Samurai who did the same thing a few weeks ago. He slowly reveals the family relationship between him and that prior samurai, and the revenge he’s extracted for the cruelty of that prior suicide. Gets a bit silly during the final battle scene, but other than that an intense drama.
- (subtitled) High and Low: An employee’s son is kidnapped, and the rich executive boss has to decide whether to pay to have the son recovered. Then the 2nd half of the film deals with the attempt by the police to find the kidnapper and bring him to justice.
- (subtitled) Ikiru: A worker in the bureaucracy of the post- WW II Tokyo city hall with terminal cancer decides to make a contribution to society that will outlast him.
- Samurai Rebellion: A young woman is forced to marry into a family when the local clan leader rejects her after she bears his child. The family finds her to be a great wife. The local clan leader then wants her back once the child becomes the only heir to that leader, and the family doesn’t want to let her go. Their rebellion against authority has consequences.
- (subtitled) Stray Dog: Excellent Kurosawa detective thriller with a superb view into life in postwar Japan.
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And finally, a few TV series which I've especially enjoyed, again in alphabetical order
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