I forgot this page was even here! This material was written years ago! This is the beginning of a list of movie recommendations that were requested by a friend. It will be ongoing. Right now it's a mess and needs editing.


Classics | Scary | Small | Action | Indie | Bollywood | | |

Movie recommendations

Classics – a little offbeat
• "Kind Hearts and Coronets": Unique comedy with Alec Guinness playing 8 (?) different characters, each killed off by his main character.
• "A Letter to Three Wives": An upsetting letter is sent to an unnamed recipient, and each of 3 women has reason to believe it is meant for her. Like several other films of the time, the movie uses three individual tales as a way to focus on one enigmatic (and usually unseen) central character (as in "The Bad and the Beautiful," another excellent old film). Good writing, but what I love about this film is the way that ambient sounds turn into freaky little tinny, echoey voices in each woman's head.
• "Lord Love a Duck": A really weird mid-1960s film starring Roddy McDowell and Tuesday Weld. Sometimes the film is too weird and random, but the scene of Tuesday Weld trying on cashmere sweaters while her father watches is the most ridiculous, hysterical thing you'll ever see. ("Periwinkle pussycat?! ... papaya surprise!?" ... "lemon meringue?!")
• "It Should Happen to You": Judy Holliday, one of the funniest blond actresses of the '50s, plays Glady Glover, a woman so determined to become famous that she buys billboard space in Manhattan. The fact that she's a half-wit doesn't get in the way of her narcissistic quest. Perhaps this is where Angelyne got inspiration.

You can't go wrong seeing any of the following: "Double Indemnity," "All About Eve," "Some Like It Hot," "The Apartment," "The Killers," "The Maltese Falcon"... (more to come)
Overrated classics (still interesting, but...): "Gone With the Wind," "From Here to Eternity," "On the Waterfront."

Good scary-but-not-gory films
• "Stir of Echoes": Solid ghost story set in a working-class Chicago neighborhood. Setup is triggered when thick-headed telephone lineman Kevin Bacon is hypnotized by Illeana Douglas during a party. The hypnosis triggers his innate ability to communicate with the dead, and then all sorts of spooky stuff happens. This movie seems to have been green-lit after the success of "The Sixth Sense," and has a cute "I see dead people" child of its own. But the direction, by frequent Spielberg screenwriter David Koepp, is much more playful and eventful than the tony "Sixth Sense." If you rent this and don't like it, I will reimburse you the rental fee.

Small favorites
• "The Gods Must Be Crazy": It looks like it was shot on 16mm film, especially during the slapstick scenes, but it makes up for it with graceful simplicity and feather-light charm. The story takes place somewhere in central Africa, among trees and plains, quaint villages, dirt roads, and rhinoceros pathways. Crucial topical elements of Africa, such as genocide and disease and overpopulation and famine, are unrepresented in favor of showing the continent's sweet side. Intersecting characters include (1) a shy, clumsy, but inherently good-natured scientist who studies dung, (2) an ill-tempered guerilla leader, (3) a lovely but irritable blond teacher from the city (Johannesburg?), and (4) a peaceful Bushman tribesman who talks in clicks and wants to throw a catalystic Coke bottle off the edge of the earth. The best movie ever made about the folly of modern civilization! (For some reason I can't convince anybody to watch this, but I think it rules.)
• "My Dinner With Andre": The movie that consists solely of a dinner converation. The absorbing converation -- between Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory -- questions the assumptions we make in our daily lives. I am not sure about the dinner; in fact, I don't remember what they eat. Maybe noodles.

The best action films Most action films are rubbish. The stories barely hold together. Here are a few good ones.
• "Road Warrior": Doubles as science-fiction since it's set in a post-apocalyptic world. But at its heart this is an updated Western. The story is like "Shane," where a lone fighter comes across a group of settlers whose home is being attacked by unlawful outsiders. Mel Gibson is the fighter and he drives a badass V-8 muscle car equipped with nitrous oxide and booby traps for anybody who tries to steal his petrol. The "injuns" include a mohawked berserker named Wez, who is sometimes chained up by the leader of the tribe, The Humungous -- a masked he-man who looks like "Friday the 13th"'s Jason on steroids. They're attacking an armored oil refinery whether the decent folk live. My favorite character is the feral kid, who may or may not be related to Chaka from "Land of the Lost." He throws a steel boomerang that cuts off the fingers of anyone who tries to catch it without a chainmail catcher's mitt. There are a lot of weird elements to this film, such as a rape scene, a gay element (Wez's character), and the fact that the sexiest woman, who you think will pair up with Gibson, dies. My grandpa took me to see this when I was 10; I'd never seen anything with such a violent edge before, but I dug it and it was like my grandpa and I shared an understanding. This is the middle of three "Mad Max" films; the first one is slow and underdeveloped, the third one is an overwrought big-budget mess. This one is like Goldilock's porridge. The director, George Miller, was trying to make a 4th film, but then Mel Gibson went and got all Jesusy on everybody, and Miller called things off.
• "Die Hard": Satisfying if hokey. Pretty much the perfect set-up -- an empty skyscraper, terrorists (robbers), and one man they've overlooked. Bruce Willis is hammy and overdoes the regular-guy shtick in his wife-beater shirt, but he's tolerable. Alan Rickman is the perfect villain. There's a sub-plot about Willis's wife Bonnie Bedelia abandoning her family in favor of her career, and having to remove her symbolic corporate jewelry in order to beat the bad guys. This is the perfect movie to watch when you're home with a cold, eating mac and cheese, and don't feel like using your brain. (At all.)
• "Robocop": There is no getting around it, the title sounds stupid, because anything that rhymes with "bobo" can't not sound stupid. But the movie itself is funny, sharp and vicious. Director Paul Verhoeven went on to make the overdone sci-fi crap-fest "Total Recall," as well as the Elizabeth Berkely career-killing sex melodrama "Showgirls." He then got his twisted groove back for "Starship Troopers," another favorite of mine, although it's almost three times as dorky as Hoboglop.
• "The Untouchables": David Mamet's sure-footed screenplay provides the perfect platform for director Brian DePalma to string a series of action set-pieces together. The 1930s-based story, of federal police on the trail of mobsters who are violating the prohibition of alcohol, breezes through a yriad of issues and ideas while building appealing characters (Sean Connery won an Oscar for his part) and setting them up for climactic showdowns. The baby carriage / staircase gunfight, a reference to the old Russian film "Battleship Potemkin," is some of the best slow-mo action ever put on celluloid. All-around solid entertainment. Even Kevin Costner fails to suck.

Kick-ass indie films that are cool
• "Run Lola Run": A bright-red-haired, punkyish German woman has 20 minutes to run across town and save her boyfriend from mobsters after he flubs a job they've assigned him. Oh yeah, she's got to come up with about $50,000 along the way. Somehow she ends up getting multiple chances (3 to be exact) to achieve her goal -- kind of like a cardio-vascular version of "Groundhog Day." Each attempt includes a bit of chaos theory in which the filmmakers show us how small events affect the fates of people along Lola's path. The catchy techno music, swift editing and energetic, kitchen-sink approach to moviemaking (at one point Lola turns into a cartoon) are infectious and make the film a visceral pleasure that leaves you feeling a sense of life's possibilities.
• "Donnie Darko": No, not the mafia story with Al Pacino and Johnny Depp; that's Donnie Brasco. Donnie DARKO is a story of schizophrenia, time travel and parallel universes, set in an uptight, late-1980s, upper-middle class suburb. The main character has visions of a distorted rabbit-faced creature who tells him to do bad, antisocial, scary-rabbit-like things. Imagine a hallucinatory version of "Harvey," the old Jimmy Stewart movie where he talks to a giant bunny. "Donnie Darko" has several sub-plots involving the people at Donnie's high school, including an uptight teacher who places all moral impulses into a love/fear dichotomy and says things like, "Sometimes I question your commitment to Sparkle Motion!" The screenplay refrences everything from Graham Greene and J.R.R. Tolkein to "Evil Dead," Hungry Hungry Hippo, and the Smurfs. This is the perfect cult film because the story leaves you puzzling over its intricate meaning while giving you dozens of odd little moments along the way. The tone is somewhere between John Hughes and David Lynch.
• "Memento": It's the backwardsest movie you'll ever see. Plus it's got Stephen Tobolowsky.
• "Fight Club": An obvious choice, and not really "indie," but sublimely daring and subversive. Based on a Chuck Palahniuk novel, which itself is sort of based on Nikolai Gogol's short story "The Nose," or maybe the film "Angel Heart." The story touches on many things that are soul-deadening and absurd in modern, corporate-driven society. It also happens to feature a cult of terrorist-pranksters who blow up you'd be right in guessing the film came out before the 11th day of the 9th month of 2001. Brimming with ideas, quotable bits, and the coolest soundtrack music ever to not be performed by musicians.
• "Sexy Beast": Ben Kingsley is mean and can't take "no" for an answer. Ever.
• The films of David Lynch. Some are overrated but all are worth seeing. My favorites include "Blue Velvet," "Lost Highway" and "The Elephant Man." Watching his films, you can both sense what was sexy and new about his surrealist vision (he led the way during the 1980s resurgence in adventurous cinema), and also sense where it falls apart and becomes arbitrary. (Hey, it's a midget talking backwards in a room full of red curtains!)
• "Go." It's the perfect title for this perfectly inconsequential film that moves very quickly through three vignettes that occur simultaneously. In each story, at a crucial moment somebody says the word "go." It all takes place in Los Angeles and Las Vegas among a loosely connected group of scheming party people, none of whom are good or bad, just varying degrees of senseless. Doug Liman directed this as his follow-up to the terrific film "Swingers." Liman has gone more commercial since then (and apparently "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" was a fiasco).
• The films of Alexander Payne. Most are written as well as directed by him, though usually based on other source material that Payne freely adapts and improves upon. The best, indisputably, is "Election." But "Sideways," "About Schmidt" and "Citizen Ruth" all have depth, wit and a painful undercurrent of melancholy. Payne packs his stories full of almost anthropological observation and he never shies from allowing his characters to make fools of themselves. He's got a bleak view of humanity in which people are often followers, misguided and hypocritical, and slaves to some of their worst impulses; but he seems to be making films because he understands these things from within. Even Payne's work on the screenplay for "Jurassic Park 3" (which he script-polished with indie-film legend John Sayles!) is sympathetic to its flawed characters (unlike in the first two "Jurassic Parks," which paint their "bad" humans in varying shades of loathsome). If I were a teacher I would make students write an essay titled, "Who is the hero and who is the villain in 'Election'?" since the movie makes you question your sympathies to each character (especially the main one, played byMatthew Broderick). Payne also has a lot of fun with visual and story motifs, such as garbage (in almost every scene of "Election," and some of the other films), and cattle (in "About Schmidt"). Because the characters are so flawed, these films are not for all tastes -- a number of my friends say they hated both "Schmidt" and "Sideways."
• The films of Paul Thomas Anderson. These include "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia" and "Punch-Drunk Love." I think he also wrote and directed "Hard Eight," a solid little drama, but I tried to confirm and the film does not exist on (Did I imagine it?) Anyway, P.T. Anderson's films "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia" are clearly inspired by the multi-character films of Robert Altman, such as "Nashville." "Boogie Nights" spans about 10 years while "Magnolia" spans one night, but they are very similar in terms of their cross-cutting structure and gentle approach to often foolish characters. Souls, not plotlines, are Anderson's main concern. He comes from a Christian background and so his characters tend to be morally flawed (you know, sinners) and desperately in need of love and/or redemption. "Boogie Nights" is about the family-like dynamics of a group of porn filmmakers; naturally the family is dysfunctional and everybody is deluded about what they're doing. "Magnolia" is about weak- or ill-willed parents whose children turn into emotionally stunted grownups. Those two films are extremely ambitious, full of dramatic invention, and "Magnolia" has even inspired a cultish following (thanks in part to a set of numbers hidden throughout the film). But each is overlong (2.5 hours or more) and so Anderson reeled things in for "Punch-Drunk Love," which settles on just one character/story and is equal parts touching and mesmerizingly strange. It's definitely worth it to see all of the above. Anderson loves his actors and gets juicy performances out of them as they play their sinful characters. He also uses steadicam like a maestro.
• Any film written by Charlie Kaufman. So far, he has been responsible for "Being John Malkovich," "Human Nature," "Adaptation," "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," and "Eternal Sunset of the Spotless Mind." (Most of the above were directed by Spike Jonze or Michael Gondry, also names to watch.) Kaufman's stories completely defy genre or formula; originality is his strong suit. His weakness is in trying to sustain his mind-bending premises for entire films while keeping his characters sympathetic (pretty much everyone in "Being John Malkovich," for example, is a one-dimensional selfish asshole). He seems to have finally succeeded with "Eternal Sunshine," the best of the lot. All of the films are funny, clever and worth seeing, but "Eternal Sunshine" is actually about real-life feelings and circumstances that you can relate to.

Bollywood movies
According to one friend...
• 1. Gumnaam
• 2. Sholay
• 3. Don
• 4. Kuch kuch hota hai
• 5. Howrah Bridge

According to another friend...
• Sholay
• Qurbani
• Khabhi Khabhi
• Silsila
• Kuch Kuch Ho Tha He
• Khabhe Kushi Khabi Gam
• Kal Ho Na Ho
• Veer Zqara
• Dil Cha tha He
• Naseeb
• Lagaan