Recommended: Middleweights, Tier 1

  • Amadeus (1984) ... It is a rare movie that can combine comedy and tragedy so well without one aspect overwhelming the other. And that's how I remember this movie; I'll have to see this again to see if my recollection is correct.
  • Amelie (2001) ... Two introverted (and yet ironically very attractive) people find each other. Such a basic description hardly does justice to this delightfully light turn from usually-dark director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Like all his movies, this one is visually quirky and arresting. The characters are endearing, the script is lively and it's many characters fully-formed even with minimal screen time, and our star (Audrey Tautou) is wonderful. And it just made me feel good. What more could I ask for?
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) ... As good a "returning home from war" movie as I expect I'll ever see. It's very touching without being melodramatic, and all the performances are wonderful. I also felt a much stronger "sense of place" in this movie than in many others from this era. A side note: can it be an accident that Fredric March, who plays Myrna Loy's husband, reminded me of William Powell?
  • Breaking Away (1979) ... One of my favorite feel-good movies. This, Watership Down (which traumatized me), and Moonraker (I specifically remember my Dad deciding my brother and I were probably old enough to go to a Bond movie with him) are the movies that leap to mind as a permanent part of my youth. This is easily the best of the three, and stands up marvelously having watched it again almost 25 years later.
  • Bull Durham (1988) ... Perhaps the best sports movie ever. Everything about this movie works: the sports, the comedy, and the romance. I'm tempted to say this movie contained best-of-career roles for Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Kevin Costner.
  • Casablanca (1942) ... That so many previously indistinguished elements came together so perfectly here continues to amaze me. A movie with no weaknesses, as near as I can tell.
  • Cool Hand Luke (1967) ... Newman's Luke may very well be my favorite cinematic non-conformist. A great man vs. system movie.
  • Dr. Strangelove (1964) ... One of my favorite black comedies, this is worth watching for any number of reasons - the script, the direction, the laughs. But most of all, Peter Sellers and George C. Scott.
  • Emma (1996) ... My wife, who voluntarily read just about everything 19th century English literature has to offer, loves this movie. I, who read as little 19th century English literature as I could get away with and still snag the degree, also love this movie. The story, the cast, the pacing, the scenery - all wonderful.
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980) ... While all the Star Wars movies are fun, innovative, iconic, etc., only Empire can lay the claim to being good.
  • Erin Brokovich (2000) ... Julia Roberts deserved her Oscar, running the range from vulnerable to strong, sometimes exhibiting both traits simultaneously. Great script with plenty of humor and a feel-good finish that isn't overdone.
  • The Fugitive (1993) ... While I still resent Tommy Lee Jones beating out Ralph's Fiennes for the best supporting actor Oscar, he was terrific here. And I think this is Harrison Ford's last great movie. Nothing he's done since has measured up.
  • The Grand Illusion (1938) ... Terrific war movie with only like 5 gunshots in the whole thing. I can't imagining it didn't significantly influence both The Great Escape (and other movies of that ilk) and Casablanca. Our three main characters are beautifully drawn and portrayed. Very satisfying.
  • Harold & Maude (1971) ... Worth it for the suicide scenes alone. One of the first truly "offbeat" movies I remember liking during my adolescence.
  • Jaws (1975) ... Having watched this countless times on TV, it doesn't thrill me anymore, but I still enjoy it immensely for the brisk plot and terrific characters. I particularly love everything that happens after Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss take to the boat.
  • LA Confidential (1997) ... Everything a crime/mystery movie should be. Great performances, and it's particularly fun to watch the Good Cop (Guy Pierce), Bad Cop (Russell Crowe), In-Between Cop (Kevin Spacey) evolve over the course of the movie.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) ... The most magical film experience I've had since I was a kid (since Star Wars perhaps?). Also the first movie I can remember since childhood that I've wanted to see more than once in the theater. I'd pay full price twice.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) ... While I favor the first movie, this is as good a middle child as could be hoped for, especially since it's impossible to get a movie made that clocks in over three hours. For me the emotional centerpieces of both movies were the tragedies: Boromir in The Fellowship and Gollum/Smeagol here. It's been awhile since I read the books, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the movie does a better job than the book in portraying Gollum ambiguously. Reading the book I remember siding with Samwise; Gollum was simply not to be trusted. Here he's still not to be trusted, but he is also so so pitiable. A marvelous character (the best?) and technologically amazing.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) ... What is there to say about this movie that hasn't already been said? It's marvelous and spectacular, just like the previous chapters, and I loved it (I still favor Fellowship though). I find it interesting that the emotional core of these movies is always peripheral to the central characters. In Fellowship it's Boromir's tragedy, in the Two Towers it's Gollum's pathos, and here in Return of the King the heart of the movie lies with Eowyn, wonderfully portrayed by Miranda Otto (who, along with the non-Frodo hobbit actors, own the movie). That said, this was the first time Vicky (who also loved it, perhaps the most of the three) and I left the theater after a LotR movie and spent most of our time out to dinner picking at it rather than marvelling at it. The homecoming was too melodramatic, and the slo-mo scene of Frodo in bed brought to mind a parody of Dorothy, waking up in her bed after her Oz adventure. Both the eagles and Denethor's madness come out of nowhere, and desparately needed some establishment. Minas Tirith looked great, but turned to tissue paper in the face of catapult fire. Good gravy folks, *stagger and interlock* those stones! There were a few other nits, but I won't blather on; I don't want you to leave with the impression that I didn't love it. I hope they announce a DVD box set with extended editions of all three movies so I can enjoy them all over again. Oh, and "that still only counts as one" was a fabulous line, perfectly timed.
  • Lost in Translation (2003) ... This is exactly the kind of movie I often should like but don't, and thus walk away feeling like the unsophisticated amateurish wannabe movie critic that I am. It's character-driven and practically plotless, and is really just a slice-of-life, fishes out of water tale. But this one's perfect. Scarlett Johansson is so good, she's the only one good enough to steal away her Oscar nomination (and do it twice!). And I just know I'm going to be pissed off when I finally catch Sean Penn's sure-to-be-showier performance in Mystic River and feel like Murray got cheated. But really the thing that puts this movie over the top is just how poignantly, subtly romantic it is. At no time does it sound a false note, at no time is it overly sentimental, and at no time does take the easy route to easy satisfaction. I knew Coppola has some chops based on The Virgin Suicide, but never would I have guessed she would plumb such emotional depths in her sophomore effort.
  • Nobody's Fool (1994) ... I think this movie is perfect. Period.
  • Out of Sight (1998) ... This is the movie where Steven Soderbergh sprang into the foreground for me. I love the way the movie moves in and out of time, and I thought the dialog was terrific. I'm tried and failed to become an Elmore Leonard fan (let's face it, he's no Carl Hiaasen) based on the strength of this movie.
  • Pride and Prejudice (1995) ... Sure, it's an almost six-hour BBC miniseries, but I think it counts as a movie. This is my wife's favorite movie, and one of these days I'm going to have to see if there's room for it in my top 20. A marvelous adaptation, perfectly realized. It was hard to get psyched for 300+ minutes of Jane Austen, but I was hooked inside of 10 minutes, and started looking forward to watching it again almost as soon as it ended. Each character is perfectly drawn and my wife and I had great fun discussing and dissecting the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ballet of manners they engaged in. Colin Firth was so good as Darcy they let him do it again in Bridget Jones's Diary. Jennifer Ehle should be a big star (why isn't she?). I'll stop gushing now that I've set your expectations too high.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) ... Perhaps the best opening sequence of all time, and amazingly there is no letdown as the film progresses.
  • Rear Window (1954) ... Wow . . . Hitchcock did such a good job of sucking me into Jimmy Stewart's voyeurism that I really felt Raymond Burr was looking at *me*. It's easy to get drawn into all the little dramas that unfold across the courtyard, in addition to the question of whether or not a murder has been committed. Very well acted, but it's hard not to think that Stewart's character is a bit of a moron for his constant rebuffing of Grace Kelly. Oh, and they were both very good, but Thelma Ritter was my favorite.
  • The Seven Samurai (1954) ... This gets my vote for greatest epic "western" ever. I'll expand on these comments when I rewatch it.
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998) ... While I'm a sucker for in-jokes, I think this movie succeeds as modernized meta-Shakespeare. All the elements of Shakespearian comedy are there - love denied, mistaken identity, cross-dressing, crossing class boundaries, entertaining supporting cast, and a romance that works. This movie seems to catch some flak here at The Listology, and I still can't really understand why (although I haven't seen Saving Private Ryan yet, so perhaps I'll agree with the Oscar resentment when I do).
  • Stagecoach (1939) ... Only a few degrees separate my favorite John Ford movies, but I think this one snags the top spot, so I'm going to bump it up to the top tier. Take a truly interesting mix of characters (including good female characters!), put them in a box (or a stagecoach, if you want to be literal), and send them through dangerous Apache territory together. The script and performances are terrific, and I particularly enjoyed the mix of cliches (Dallas's heart of gold) and surprises (Hatfield's true intentions). And to think they told Ford that another western would ruin his career (I think I have that right).
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950) ... I'm generally not a big fan of noirs, so it was a treat to find one I love. Everyone was terrific: William Holden as the reluctant gigolo, Gloria Swansen as the forgotten silent film megastar, Erich von Stroheim as her butler (even if he did hate the role), and Nancy Olsen as the only wholesome character in the movie. Watching the documentary, it was fascinating to learn that everyone was pretty much playing themselves to varying degrees! This is probably the best movie about Hollywood I've ever seen, and it's a shockingly scathing indictment, particularly for 1950. Anyway, two little side notes: Buster Keaton gets maybe 20 seconds of screen time, in which he gets to say "pass" twice during a bridge game. Twenty non-contiguous seconds, two words, and yet he carves out a little actorly moment for himself. Truly remarkable what that man could do with his eyes. It's such a shame that he too was basically playing himself as one of the "waxworks." My other side note relates to William Holden: I never would have guessed he was the same actor as the leader of The Wild Bunch; he really reminded me of Joseph Cotten here.
  • The Thin Man (1934) ... My favorite classic comedy, bar none. And a good mystery to boot.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) ... I'll have to see this again before commenting, but I do remember loving it.
  • The Truman Show (1998) ... Touching and entertaining, I really didn't know if this movie was going to go for tragic or uplifting during the big finale.
  • Zero Effect (1998) ... Quirky and very fun, and a terrific mystery. It gives the feeling that you could have unravelled the mystery yourself from the clues provided, even though I imagine that would be very hard (having to know about the history of bed sizes and California fire codes and all. :-)
Author Comments: 

If you're going to use these lists for recommendations, you really should read how they're organized.

UPDATE: I've archived Tier 2 and Tier 3.

I disagree about The Empire Strikes Back. In my opinion, TESB is the weakest of the original Star Wars trilogy, with Return of the Jedi being the best.

Funny, I'd peg Jedi as the weakest of the original three. It probably had the best effects, but it was Star Wars all over again, but with Ewoks. Empire was the only one of the three that gave any depth at all to the characters, and it's the only one of the four that didn't follow the "good guys blow up centralized threat to save the day" plot. Empire was certainly the darkest of the four, and it's the better for it. I'm actually looking forward to Episodes II and III, as they have the potential to recapture that darkness.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) is spelled thusly...

Thanks! But now the list looks all funky 'cause that's the only entry with a year. Ah well, maybe now I'll get around to adding the years sooner rather than later.

You don't have to add the year. I was just pointing out that the film was 'Glen Ross' not 'Glenross'.

:-) Oh, I know. But I want to add the year. I'd already started doing it on my other lists.

Now Jim it is getting very eery. I have The Best Years of Our Lives all set up for a viewing this week. I have seen that movie at least 5 times but something made me want to watch it again. Just too Freaky our movie watching habits lately.

Cool! That's just as surprising as the Romper Stomper coincidence. I mean, I expect to watch the new DVD releases at roughly the same time as you, but the overlap in our "backfill" choices is remarkable. Maybe it's a Massachusetts thing.

Jim, first time for Rear Window?

More and more I think it is Hitchcock's best. Stewart is wonderful and the way the movie makes gentle fun of the viewer for our natuaral voyeuristc tendencies is superb.

Yes indeedy, believe it or not, that was my first viewing. I've been playing lots of catch-up lately, especially on my Hitchcock. From what I've seen so far, I'd be hard pressed to pick between Psycho and Rear Window for "best Hitchcock." Rear Window is richer and Psycho hits harder.

Seen North by Northwest yet?

Yup! I liked it, but not as much as most folks, I'm guessing.

Hmm...I've been putting off watching "Best Years Of Our Lives" because of its long running time...but for this recommendation from a guy who admits to being lukewarm about old movies, I guess I'll watch it soon.

Crap, I forgot to bring BYOOL to Florida. I guess it'll have to wait.

Rats! Well, I'll be eager to hear your thoughts when you do see it. I thought it was terrific.

Jim, I don't know about everyone else, but the automatic highlighting thing isn't working for me. I don't know what's new to this list. Unless you didn't really add anything?

Interesting. I just tried it, and it accurately highlighted everything. What browser/OS are you using?

Here at home, I have AOL, and it isn't working here either. But I posted that from my school's computer lab, which I believe uses Microsoft Internet Explorer through some kind of T1 line.

Okay, I've tried this in Netscape 6.2, IE 6.0, and Opera 6.0 and they all seem to work. This feature does require a browser that understands cascading stylesheets (CSS). Perhaps the built-in AOL browser is weak? Is there any way to use an external browser with AOL? Is there any way to tell what browser AOL embeds in its service?

When I was on AOL, about a year ago, it was a modified, bare-bones Internet Explorer. Now that they have Netscape, though, that may have changed. I don't think it has, though...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I also have Internet Explorer at home. But now I am at school, using Internet Explorer 6.0, and the highlighting still isn't working.

So when you go here using IE6, Amelie and the review are not highlighted? How 'bout if you go here? Totally bizarre that it works on my IE6 but not yours (I don't doubt it; it's just bizarre). Have you disabled Javascript or any other features? I seem to recall that IE has this weird coupling between Javascript and CSS. Another test:

Is this text highlighted?

How 'bout this? Is this text highlighted?

Let me know! Hey, anybody else having problems with this feature?

OK, what I am about to say applies to both AOL, and the IE I have at home, which I think is version 5.5. It probably also applies to IE6 at school, but I haven't actually checked there:

One link from your post, the first "here", took me to:

The other link, the second "here", took me to:

At both of these URLs, the reviews of "Amelie", "Breaking Away", and "Stagecoach" are highlighted, along with reviews of "Breaking Away" and "Stagecoach" at the bottom crossed off. However, when I try to click on "Middleweights: Tier 1" anywhere on this site - at Recent Posts, or recent updates, or your profile - I get sent to:

Where nothing is highlighted.

And by the way, the text appears highlighted both times you ask me if it is highlighted in your post, but the second time, the text appears gray rather than black, if that means anything to you.

Okay, what we've established here (I think) is that the site (and your browser) is working the way it's supposed to.

When you first load a list (like from recent updates, my profile, or whereever), nothing is highlighted. This is as it should be, and the reason my lists used to be highlighted the first time you loaded them was because I was applying the highlighting by hand.

So you look at this unhighlighted list and wonder what's new, so you click on "what's new". This should then load the version of the list you describe where Amelie etc. are highlighted. The link this button fires up is exactly the same (I hope!) as the first link. If link #1 loads the highlighted list but the "what's new" button does not, I will run screaming into the hills. :-)

While this might seem like a step backward, it means nobody has to highlight updates by hand anymore. I might add a user preference if you wanted to load the highlighted view by default.

Anyway, is that not the behavior you're seeing?

Wow, I feel really stupid. Never noticed that "What's New" button before...

Sorry for wasting your time with my denseness.

BTW, what's up with the crossed-out reviews that appear at the bottom when I click on "What's New"?

:-) Not at all.

The crossed-out reviews are ones that have either been deleted or changed. Since the code just checks whether or not an item still exists after the edits are saved, there's no way to distinguish (without getting VERY complicated) if an item is deleted or merely updated/corrected.

First viewiing of Sunset Boulevard; now that is something to celebrate. A wonderful movie. it could easily be argued that movie is one of the 5 most influential movies ever made.

William Holden was a truly great actor He is the same guy from The Wild Bunch and Stalag 17 and The Bridge on The River Kwai and ... Plus if you want another side of him check out some of his later movies like Breezy and especially SOB.

...and Sabrina and Network and...

Great actor, if even that's not an understatement.

Thrilled you liked Sunset Blvd., Jim. It is certainly one of my favorites. Nice comments about Buster, too.

For some odd reason, my local megascreen AMC theater showed this two summers back. I was poor as dirt at the time, but naturally, I found a way to catch this on the big screen. I think I sold off a few CDs... How could I not? It is one of the best...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Thanks fellas, it was a treat to watch (LBangs, I'd certainly do whatever it took to see it on the big screen). My wife loved it too. I'll definitely add both your William Holden recommendations to my to-see list! Actually, Stalag 17 is already in my queue - I really can't believe I haven't seen that one yet, what with my admiration of The Great Escape and Chicken Run.

Yay! So glad you liked "Sunset Boulevard"! Maybe the noir genre still has hope for you, despite "The Big Sleep" and "The Man Who Wasn't There." Many Hitchcock movies could be classified as noirs. Maybe you would also like "The Maltese Falcon", "White Heat", "Sweet Smell of Success", or "The Third Man"; have you seen any of these? These are great film-noirs that I would highly recommend, if "Sunset Boulevard" has piqued your interest in film-noir.

I've seen The Maltese Falcon and The Third Man long enough ago that I should see them again. I have never been able to keep the latter and The 39 Steps straight in my mind. I'll give White Heat and Sweet Smell of Success a try, thanks! I must warn you though that my noir tastes are very picky and peculiar.

Oh, and I don't count The Man Who Wasn't There as a strike against the genre. That'd be like counting Plan 9 From Outer Space as a strike against science fiction movies. :-)

Hmm... on second thought, have you seen any James Cagney movies before? Some people just don't like him (my dad, for one). "White Heat" stars Cagney as a 1940's gangster-type. Thought I should warn you just in case.

I thought of one possibility of your noir preferences. Do you think you prefer noir when it involves ordinary people (as in "Sunset Boulevard"), moreso than when it involves cops and criminals (as in "The Big Sleep", and "White Heat")? If you think this might be a possibility, you should definitely check out "Sweet Smell of Success", which also involves a guy who's just trying to do his job, and how his situation turns ugly.

I don't know if I've seen any Cagney, which is a pretty good reason to try him. I'm not sure about your theory regarding my noir preferences, but it's certainly worth considering. SSoS sounds compelling to me, so maybe that's an indicator you're onto something.

Well if you want a taste of Cagney, "White Heat" would certainly be a great place to start. The only thing that concerns me is this: when I was searching to see what noir movies were mentioned on your profile, I saw that you thought the acting in "Double Indemnity" was too dated. And Cagney's performance is distinctively 1940's gangster. I would still recommend "White Heat" to you, but just keep that in mind. Hope you like it anyway, along with SSoS.

And the trilogy was completed.

I'm glad you enjoyed The Return of the King. Selfishly, I'm also glad to know that my wife and I weren't the only people on the planet to favor the first one.

Still, what an epic! Great stuff (and great observations in your review)!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Thanks! It really was wonderful, and I've had to physically restrain myself from buying the existing extended edition DVDs. I just *know* as soon as I do there're going to announce something better.

There are actually four Fellowship-favorers in the world. :-) A friend of mine at work just had my review pop into his aggregator, and he mentioned it's his favorite of the three as well.

I hope the movie is recognized at Oscar-time.

There certainly are rumors of a 'complete extended box set' with all three films. I would wait.

I'm very glad to hear there are even more than three of us!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Well, the eagles and Denethor were as random in the book as they were in the movie, so I'm not sure what Peter Jackson could have done. Y'know, I really must say that I think the entire book series is overrated.

The eagles are set up in the Hobbit.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

And in both the movie and book of The Fellowship, but I assumed Jim knew that.

Over-rated!? I suppose that's possible, but that doesn't mean they aren't great! :-) Just that they aren't the untouchable writ from the heavens they are sometimes made out to be by more zealous fans. Me, I loved the books, and count them among the few I've re-read (although it's been quite awhile now since my last reading). It's also hard to overstate their influence and staying power. Terry Pratchett summed it up best:

Tolkien appears in the fantasy universe in the same way that Mount Fuji appeared in old Japanese prints. Sometimes small, in the distance, and sometimes big and close-to, and sometimes not there at all, and that's because the artist is standing on Mount Fuji.

Granted, the entire fantasy genre doesn't get much respect, oftentimes for good reason, but I think Tolkien's stuff stands up outside the genre. Just my opinion, of course.

Getting back to the specifics, Jackson could have gone ahead and improved on the books where necessary - he took plenty of other liberties. :-)

Regarding Denethor, if I recall correctly, his madness only becomes apparent gradually in the books, but it arrives fully formed in the movie. Perhaps necessary for time constraints, but it didn't really work for me. Then again, Faramir really gets short shrift in the movies, and we have no idea what cause Eowyn has for smiling so happily at his side at the end of the movie, so I suppose it makes sense that his father is also written in shorthand.

As for the Eagles, sure they arrive abruptly in the book, but somehow their impact in the battle seemed deemphasized. Looking it up now, they really only get a paragraph. But in both cases it's clear their only *real* purpose is to pluck Frodo and Sam off the rock, which is kinda weak, I admit.

And the polarizing Lost in Translation wins another fan! I could not be happier.

Great write-up, Jim!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Thanks! My wife and I both loved it. I could have kept gushing (comparisons to Wong Kar Wai, noting Murray's particularly funny bits, the kindred spirit nature of their relationship, their shared rudderlessness, how painful it was to watch Murray on the phone with his wife, etc.), but I thought it would have been unseemly. :-)

Sean Penn isn't as good in Mystic River, that is true, but he's got a more complicated part. Bill Murray should have got an oscar for Caddyshack.