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 Big Parade: In my opinion, this silent film is the best ever made demonstrating the horrors of World War I, especially after the innocence and idylism of the first two acts. Difficult to find, but if you come across it, don't miss it.
- (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.
- 1917: Two men from the trenches of WWI France are given the assignment of warning troops some distance away to not attack the Germans tomorrow morning since it’s a trap. Amazingly shot in a few no-cut segments which were cleverly blended together to make a movie that looks like it has no cuts at all. The director’s commentary is excellent, explaining a lot about how the movie was made. The cinematographer’s commentary is superb, though, explaining the shots, cameras used, lighting, etc.
- (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.
- Schindler's List: The very best holocaust movie ever made. You will never forget this one.
- (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)
- All Quiet on the Western Front: World War I disillusionment.
- All the President's Men: The Watergate scandal
- Amadeus: Mozart's life story
- (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.
- Black Hawk Down: Intense modern war movie about a helicopter shot down during fighting in Somalia.
- (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.
- Bridge of Spies: Spies in cold-war Berlin.
- (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.
- Cinderella Man
- (subtitled) Downfall (Der Untergang): Powerful story of Hitler's last days in the bunker, and the surrender of Germany.
- Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: A search for closure after 9/11.
- (subtitled) A Film Unfinished
- The Grey Zone: This is an intense Holocaust film about the Jewish assistant of Dr Mengele and the Jewish work crews in the crematoriums of Auschwitz, who remain alive day by day in a moral dilemma by working for the Nazis against their fellow Jews. They finally strike back but at huge cost.
- The History of the World, Part 1
- Hotel Rwanda: Compelling story about genocide in Rwanda
- (subtitled) The King of Kings: Cecil B DeMilles' legendary silent film about Jesus Christ's oppression, death and resurrection.
- (subtitled) Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog): Half-hour sobering holocaust documentary about the Nazi death camps, told by narration over high impact photos and videos of the actual camps
- (subtitled) The Passion of the Christ
- Russian Ark: A single-scene steadicam walk through The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia
- (subtitled) Shoah: 9-hour documentary about the Holocaust, told through interviews with witnesses, survivors and perpetrators.
- Spartacus: Kubrick tells the story of Spartacus, a slave of Rome who becomes a gladiator trainee, then escapes the training camp and leads an army of freed gladiators and other slaves in a revolt against a decaying Roman Republic in the 1st century BC.
- They Shall Not Grow Old: Stunning documentary made from authentic restored WWI footage with real WWI soldier voice-overs. Trench warfare, the terrible daily life of British soldiers in the war, kids put into an impossible situation, sympathy toward the enemy who also wanted nothing to do with this, the inability of civilians to understand what happened, the list of things this movie is "about" is silly to try to enumerate since there’s just so much in this movie that there is no substitute for watching the movie.
- (subtitled) The Tree of Wooden Clogs: A gorgeous and very slow-paced view of a year in the life of several families of Italian farm peasants who live in landlord-provided housing at the end of the 1800s. Their daily routines are shown in detail, one young son becomes among the first sent to school, a marriage and wedding night in a convent results in an orphan being adopted the next day. They gather at night to tell horrific stories and scare each other silly, breaking out in laughter. I found their lives fascinating to learn about, and felt at the end like I knew these people very well. A second watching 4 years later made me like it even more.
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- (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.
- 12 years a slave: A free black man is sold into slavery.
And finally, a few TV series which I've especially enjoyed, again in alphabetical order
- Chernobyl: 5-hour HBO documentary about the Chernobyl disaster, how it unfolded, the first responders, the attempt to prevent the disaster from becoming catastrophic, and the trial that uncovered exactly why the disaster happened.
- The Crown
- (subtitled) Deutschland 83
- Downton Abbey: I can't believe I was suckered into this soap opera, but darn if I don't love every character and wish they were still on my TV set
- I, Claudius: 1000 bonus points for being about the Roman Empire
- The Windsors - Inside the Royal Dynasty: Very good CNN historical documentary series about the Windsor family, the British Royal Family who changed their name to The Windor Family after WWI, and rules, under QEII, to the present, with Charles, William and George waiting in the wings. Great companion to The Crown, which dramatizes the history of this family.
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