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. The Best Years of Our Lives: Three World War II veterans return home after the war with difficult adjustments to make. This movie touches a lot of people, including me, and shows a time capsule of an America long gone. Plus, geez, that musical score is just delicious.
  2. (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.
  3. Brief Encounter: The story of an affair, proficiently told with beautiful photography, perfect pacing, great acting by two every-people, and accompanied by Rachmaninov's great Second Piano Concerto. Sit down and enjoy 90 minutes of well-told romantic indulgence.
  4. Charade: A young woman’s husband is killed by a small gang who believes he made off with all the loot from their robbery. They assume she has the loot and they now want their fair share, regardless of who gets hurt. Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and other merely great actors in a who-dunnit with plenty of twists and turns.
  5. (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.
  6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Another wierd sci-fi masterpiece. Can you erase someone from your past? Are you sure you want to?
  7. Forrest Gump: One of the few best movies of all time. We just weave through Forrest's life, the mundane, the improbabilities, the impossibilities, and all the while we admire the plain and simple value of being good.
  8. It Happened One Night: An early romantic comedy from the 1930's that holds up pretty well 80 years later.
  9. (subtitled) The Piano Teacher: A young student falls in love with his much older sadistic and masochistic piano teacher.
  10. (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.
  11. Roman Holiday: This one's just the ultimate feel-good romantic comedy for me. I love the scenery, I think I've been everywhere except the police station and inside Joe's apartment, and wow, Audrey Hepburn's first movie! Gregory Peck and her enjoy a romantic weekend in my favorite city.
  12. Sophie's Choice: Sophie is a holocaust survivor from Poland who emigrated to the United States and met and fell in love with Nathan, an mentally-unstable holocaust historian, and Stingo, a southerner who became best friends to both of them, and lover to Sophie. Her holocaust story unfolds over the duration of the movie.
  13. (subtitled) Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans: This silent film tells the story of a farmer and his girlfriend who plan to murder the farmer's wife. Be careful what you wish for! This is a great example of a well-done silent film: the musical soundtrack is perfect, and the story is so well told visually that very few intertitles are needed.
  14. Titanic: Spectacular disaster film meets love story meets standing on the bow of a ship and flying through the air. What could be better? If you're the person who hasn't seen this yet, you should watch it.
  15. (subtitled) The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: A musical (actually an OPERA, since all words in this movie are sung, none spoken) about idyllic young love interrupted by separation due to war, and the long-term impact of that separation on it’s young lovers.
  16. White Christmas: One of the two greatest Christmas movies of all time, with "It's a Wonderful Life". But the advantage has to go to White Christmas, since it's an upbeat musical. And wow, what a great set of songs (and dances) are in this movie. Two army buddies team up to give their old General a great Christmas, and to find romance and snow in the meantime.

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) The Adventure (L'Avventura): First movie in the series about alienation (L'Avventura, La Notte, L'Eclisse, Red Desert) by Antonioni. A group of friends takes a yacht to a small uninhabited volcanic island. One of the women disappears. Her girlfriend and boyfriend hook up, but he's unwilling to commit. Loaded with gorgeous photography, superb compositions, and a quite beautiful leading lady.
  2. The Adventures of Robin Hood: This is a movie from my own Dad's childhood, almost 20 years before I was born. Wow, could they ever make a fun movie back then. When you think today's action movies are spectacular, sit down with this one and watch how they did it just as well back then. Plus, you get to enjoy a soundtrack by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, one of my favorite modern composers.
  3. American Beauty: A bored suburban family man has a mid-life crisis after having a crush on his daughter’s hot high-school friend. His OCD wife has a crisis of her own. And his daughter does some growing up. All this, plus a great soundtrack.
  4. Annie Hall: Funny and touching romantic comedy about a neurotic New York comedian (Woody Allen) who falls in love with an insecure ditzy nightclub singer (Diane Keaton).
  5. The Apartment: Clerk in huge company is intimidated to provide his apartment to executives for their use to have sex with female employees, but becomes disgruntled with the arrangement when he learns that the elevator operator he likes is being had in his apartment by the company president.
  6. (subtitled) Ashes and Diamonds
  7. Atonement: A young girl thinks her older sister’s boyfriend is a sex fiend and falsely reports him as having raped another girl. He is arrested, then released to serve in the British Army during WWII. The young girl comes to her senses later in life and has a difficult time atoning for her mistake. The 5-minute steadicam scene of the British retreat from the Germans at Dunkirk is spectacular.
  8. (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.
  9. Breakfast at Tiffany's: Audrey Hepburn falls in love with George Peppard in the New York of 1960.
  10. The Bridges of Madison County: All right, maybe it's a glorified soap opera, but it sure did leave a silky milk chocolate taste in my throat.
  11. Brigadoon
  12. (subtitled) Carmen: Bizet's opera Carmen features great music and a story involving a soldier who falls into unrequited love.
  13. Casablanca
  14. Conspiracy Theory: Seemingly-crazy and paranoid cab driver Mel Gibson thinks everything around him is evidence of a conspiracy, and he loves Julia Roberts.
  15. Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  16. (subtitled) Divorce Italian Style: A 40-year-old Sicilian man wants to divorce his wife since he now loves a 20-year-old hottie, but of course, divorce is not allowed in Catholic Italy. So he sets her up to cheat on him with the intent to kill her in a fit of rage and get a short jail term for the crime of passion, then marry the hottie.
  17. Dodsworth
  18. Foul Play: Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase foil a plot to murder the pope, with lots of terrific comedy mixed in.
  19. The Good Earth
  20. Good Will Hunting
  21. His Girl Friday: Whirlwind comedy about a newspaper editor who wants to retain a woman as his star reporter and also as his wife.
  22. (subtitled) La Jetee: The precursor to Twelve Monkeys. An experimental film made with narration over still photos (except one video clip of the woman waking up) about experiments in the aftermath of WWIII to travel to the future to obtain what’s necessary for humanity to survive.
  23. Jewel Robbery: Great comedy about a woman who is willingly swept off her feet by the robber that stole all the jewelry in the jewelry store she was visiting while her husband bought her a huge diamond ring.
  24. Little Children: Sarah & Brad and their small children, and their spouses and friends, and the town pervert and an ex-town-cop intersect and build to a crashing climax.
  25. (subtitled) Lola: Jacque Demy tells, in French New Wave style, a really good story of the intersecting lives of several characters in France during the 50s in his first full-length film. Lola is a dancer/entertainer/prostitute with an American sailor who lovers her, an old flame who reappears in her life, and her ex / father of her child who has reappears after 7 years overseas. This is a brief film that moves right along and therefore keeps one’s interest, and one with beautiful scenery, for example the super-picturesque shopping arcade named Passage Pommeraye in the city of Nantes, France. Many of the characters love each other, Frankie, Roland, and Michel love Lola, Lola maybe loves Roland and Michel, Madame Desnoyers loves Roland, her daughter Cecile loves both Roland and Frankie. Not only are they connected with encounters, but with history. For example, Madame Desnoyers used to be a dancer like Lola is, and Celine wants to be one. All of them exhibit some innocence in that even when they lie to each other, they go back and correct those lies later. And, by the way, beautiful actress playing Lola will be Marcello’s lover Maddelena in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and Guido’s wife in Fellini’s 8 1-2.
  26. Lolita: A middle-aged man goes to all lengths to win the heart and the body of a teen-aged girl who is the daughter of a woman who takes him in as a boarder for the summer.
  27. (subtitled) Love Me If You Dare: Childhood friends taunt each other through life. The final 15 minutes will leave you reeling.
  28. Love Me Tonight: A very funny comedy romantic musical with memorable tunes and clever lyrics. A Parisian tailor poses as a baron to collect the large amount owed him by an aristocrat, and meanwhile falls in love with a princess. If you can get past the age of this 1932 film and the over-the-top acting of Maurice Chevalier, you’re in for a real treat with this one.
  29. Manhattan: A Woody Allen romantic comedy about friends in New York and a midlife crisis.
  30. Marriage Story: Couple (director and actress in New York plays) with a young child, decides to get divorced. Wife and child move to LA for her to act in a TV show, and the divorce turns ugly.
  31. Monsieur Hire: Erotic thriller about an unpopular middle-aged man suspected of murdering a young woman, and peeping at another woman across the courtyard of his apartment building.
  32. Moulin Rouge!: A young man falls for a beautiful nightclub star who is also desired by a jealous duke, all accompanied to fabulous inventive use of music.
  33. My First Mister
  34. My Man Godfrey: Slapstick comedy about a woman who takes in a homeless man to be her butler just to defeat her sister in a scavenger hunt, but falls in love with the disinterested butler.
  35. Ninotchka
  36. The Notebook: An old man reads his demented wife the notebook that detailed their love.
  37. (subtitled) Le Notti Bianche: Romantic story of a love triangle, with superb filming and compositions, beautiful sound track, and some unforgettable scenes, set in a small neighborhood of Venice.
  38. (subtitled) Orpheus: A poet in love with the grim reaperess goes to the afterlife to recover the life of his wife. Great special effects for the time, great story, beautifully made with tremendous post-WWII scenery.
  39. The Painted Veil: An infectious disease Dr Fane and his wife Kitty, in a loveless marriage, travel to Shanghai and then deep into China to help solve a Cholera epidemic after Kitty has an affair in Shanghai with a diplomat. Gorgeous scenery and interesting music among much suffering and a dead marriage.
  40. The Railway Man
  41. The Reader: Young man in Germany is seduced by a 30-year-old woman who turns out to have been a Nazi guard, who is subsequently tried. The movie probes the guilt felt by the after-WWII generation in Germany due to their love for parents, teachers and clergy who they later learned might have done terrible things during the war.
  42. (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.
  43. Seems Like Old Times: Chevy Chase is forced to help bank robbers, then begs his ex-wife, Goldie Hawn, a defense attorney, to help him out with food and a place to sleep.
  44. Seven Pounds: Will Smith's character donates his organs to seven deserving people
  45. Shop Around the Corner: Jimmy Stewart is a clerk in store in Budapest, and falls in love with a pen pal he writes to, who he learns is a fellow clerk in the store. Lots of good comedy in this feel-good Christmas movie.
  46. (subtitled) The Soft Skin: Married middle-aged author meets single young stewardess and they have an affair. They spend more and more time together and this takes a toll on his marriage and also their relationship.
  47. Some Like It Hot: Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis, musicians in a jazz band, need work and have to hide-out from gangsters, so they take a job in a female-only band that's to perform for 3 weeks in Miami. Dressed in drag and with their falsetto voices, they meet Marylin Monroe, the band's singer, and Tony Curtis tries to woo her, imitating a rich oil baron. Wow, what a fabulous nearly-see-through dress she wore during their date! This very funny comedy is well worth a couple hours of real fun.
  48. Splendor in the Grass: High school sweethearts break up because the girl won’t go far enough, and things between them spiral out of control until they meet again several years later and realize, I think, the great life they could have had together but threw away.
  49. Spring: A young man, down on his luck, visits Italy and has an intense love affair, but then it seems like she changes... An oh, the Italian scenery...
  50. Unfaithfully Yours: Hilarious story about an orchestral conductor who believes his wife has been unfaithful, therefore he plots his revenge.
  51. Vertigo: A man with a fear of heights becomes obsessed with the wife of a friend, a disturbed woman who he follows around San Francisco and falls in love with, only to witness her apparent suicide. Then he sees her look-alike and becomes obsessed all over again. Spectacular Tristan&Isolde-like score by Bernard Herrmann.
  52. (subtitled) A Very Long Engagement: The story of a young woman’s relentless search for her fiancee, who disappeared from the trenches of World War I, presumed dead since he was convicted of treason and punished by being pushed into the No Man’s Land.
  53. Water for Elephants: A veterinarian student takes a job caring for animals in a travelling circus, and falls in love with the ringmaster’s wife.
  54. What Dreams May Come
  55. (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.
  56. (subtitled) Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

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.
  2. 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
  3. ER
  4. Outlander: Season 1 is quite good. Beyond that, not so much. A happily-married English woman on vacation in Scotland with her husband visits a stone circle, touches a stone, and is transported back 200 years to the time of Scottish Clans, with some people planning rebellion against England, and a constant struggle between the fiercely independent people and the British occupying forces, led by a Sadistic captain who is dedicated to punishing her new Scottish husband.

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