I am a bit of a movie freak and was even in the local film society for a number of years until I couldn't stand their serious lack of taste and projection ability any longer. Though the video store shelves are stacked high with crap, there are some great movies out there if you know what you're after, which can even be enjoyable on the small screen. Though avoid VHS and choose wide-screen DVD wherever you can.
All ranting below is my extremely humble opinion of course...
Favourite art movies
The Pianist (2002) - Roman Polanski's incredible true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman's epic survival as a Jew in Warsaw during WW2. One hundred and fifty minutes of movie perfection, but the middle is quite a tough experience to sit through. Completely outclasses "Schindler's List" and surprises audiences with its moral complexity. Deserved the Palme d'Or it won at Cannes. (Note the parallel with Polanski's own childhood as a Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied Warsaw.)
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) - Alain Resnais's classic story of a French nurse who has a brief affair with a Japanese man in post-war Hiroshima. Absolutely beautiful, and though slow and delicate, it's thoroughly engrossing. A very special movie indeed. (Important note: I strongly advise against seeing any other films author Marguérite Duras was involved with - they're all dreadful!)
Wings of Desire (1987) - Wim Wender's beautiful story of an angel who falls in love. Wenders has made a lot of really seriously flawed movies before and since, but in this one everything magically came together - plot, visuals and soundtrack. Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk are perfect. Sadly, I thought the remake was a bit of a waste of time.
Being John Malkovich - (1999) personally I've never thought much of Malkovich or any of his films, so I was surprised that a film revolving around him was so damn good! Surreal, highly original and very entertaining.
The English Patient (1996) - I was convinced I'd hate this one and refused to see it at the movies, but finally decided to watch the first ten minutes on TV. I was hooked and couldn't believe the non-standard plot. Very impressive.
For me, there's nothing better than a good comedy.
Something About Mary (1998) - truly wonderful comedy from the Farelly brothers with 70s garage musician Jonathan Richman as a stand-in for the Greek chorus. Great plot, great cast, great laughs, great music, great ending - a perfect movie.
Deconstructing Harry (1997) - outrageous even by Woody Allen's usual standard, this is the most shocking and arguably most hilarious movie he's ever made. Lots of amazingly foul language and ridiculous situations. Billy Crystal has a great little role as the Devil himself. If you like his stuff, you have to see Sleeper, Play It Again Sam and Everything you Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Too Afraid To Ask.
In China They Eat Dogs (1999) - a Danish movie which thank goodness isn't an art-house flick for once. Nothing to do with China or dogs or even eating for that matter, this is a bank robbery flick where everything wrong. Highly original, entertaining and has a brilliant ending.
Blazing Saddles (1974) - this western spoof is a Mel Brooks classic and possibly the most politically incorrect mainstream movie ever made. Ridiculous and profane, with an insane false ending, a touching real ending - and even a catchy title tune.
Young Frankenstein (1974) - the Frankenstein story now gets the Mel Brooks treatment with the help of Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman...
Dumb and Dumber (1994) - I have to say that I hated the title and vowed never to see it.... but when I finally caved in, I almost died laughing. Strictly for the immature at heart. With the most ridiculous kung-fu restaurant fight scene ever filmed.
Sitting Ducks (1980) - a tale of two accountants who rip off the mob and go on a hilarious journey. This low-budget movie is almost unknown but I guarantee it will have you in stitches!
Liar Liar (1997) - I have even seen avowed enemies of Jim Carrey laughing at this one!
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) - a brilliant concept with great faux 60's style and even a nice romantic touch with the help of Burt Bacharach. Very funny. (Most people liked the sequel better, but for me, the first one was it.)
Favourite crime movies
Pulp Fiction (1994) - probably one of the greatest movies of all time, this one has the best of everything. Style, cast, soundtrack, plot, twists, ending, etc etc. Even with the massive expectations I had when I walked in, I knew this was the most impressive movie I had ever seen. Unbeatable.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) - a truly excellent and unconventional movie from Jim Marmusch about a large black hitman who lives and works according to the ancient samurai warrior's code. It really is a must see!
Heat (1995) - a damned good film with an awesome white-knuckle robbery scheme in the middle.
Vivement Dimanche! (1983) - one of the very few French movies I ever really liked, this is a warm-hearted thriller from François Truffault with an unlikely couple who get together to solve a murder.
Favourite science fiction movies
Mars Attacks (1996) - a brilliant Tim Burton movie where Earth gets attacked by really mean spirited Martians. Inspired by warped bubble-gum cards from the 60s which were withdrawn as they were too weird. Very funny and like so many Tim Burton movies, highly original.
Favourite ones which I'm struggling to categorize
Ed Wood (1994) - another brilliant Tim Burton movie. A must-see about the legendary cross-dresser and director of movies which were so bad that they are now classics - especially "Plan 9 From Outer Space".
Green Mile (1999) - what a genious Steven King can be and how wonderful that they somehow didn't muck the film up. A terrific movie.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - more Stephen King, this time from a book written under a pseudonym to see if a really good story could sell well under an anonymous name. (Or so I hear.) Excellent screen adaptation.
Olympia 1. Teil - Fest der Völker and Olympia 2. Teil - Fest der Schönheit (1938) - Leni Riefenstahl strikes gold with an amazing film about the 1936 Olympic Games. For a while she follows the events and takes a standard approach, but after a while she just does what she wants. An incredible timeless classic and the awards for the film were well-deserved. (Note: don't forget to watch Part II - this is the most entertaining portion if I remember rightly.)
Favourite war movies
Europa Europa (1990) - ok, it has only moderately good production values but with a story like this, who cares? In 1939 in Poland, a young Jew poses as a German to save his life and ends up as the mascot of a Wehrmacht company and then transferred to an elite Hitler-Jugend school while he desperately tries to hide his true identity. Unbelievable and fairly faithful to Salomon Perel's almost unbelievable true story.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) - the all-time anti-war classic from Erich Maria Remarque about a group of young German soldiers who go off to the Great War. Contains amazing action scenes which put the special effects of many modern movies to shame.
Favourite western movies
Yes, I am serious!!!
Unforgiven (1992) - I knew Clint Eastwood always wanted to return to make the ultimate western but I thought it was a stupid idea. And then he makes this masterpiece! What a guy. A grim tale with an incredible amount of punch.
Yojimbo (1961) - a Japanese western where Kurosawa regular Tojiro Mifune saunters into a town in the grip of gang warfare and causes a bit of havoc himself. This is really something and probably the most entertaining of all Akira Kurosawa's movies.
Hannibal (2001) - I'd heard bad things about this one but it must have been because of a couple of squeamish scenes. But don't be put off! This is an amazingly well-crafted and beautiful movie with wonderful music, lovely scenery and a perfect understanding ending. Thank goodness Jonathan Demme was busy and Dino de Laurentiis had to ask Ridley Scott to make it. Fantastic.
Angel Heart (1987) - an incredible flick I happened to catch on TV late one night by chance. Starts off as a film noir and goes to places you just don't expect.
Sleepy Hollow (1999) - Johnny Depp makes another good movie with Tim Burton. Great effects which really bring the movie to life.
The Terminator (1984) - I was spellbound by this movie when I saw it late at night on a really small TV set. What a concept! The sequel was pretty good too, if not better in some ways.
Favourite horror movies
Why are horror movies all in the worst condition at the video store? Must be the kind of people who love the genre...
The Shining (1980) - one of the very rare decent movie adaptations of a Stephen King book as most of the other ones I've seen have been pretty unimpressive. This is an amazingly surreal movie and whoever picked the poster image did it an amazing disservice. This is an absolute masterpiece of modern horror from Stanley Kubrick. A curse upon whoever came up with the poster and the trailer, as they put me off seeing the movie for years as it looked so awful.
Nosferatu - Phantom der Nacht (1979) - Werner Herzog's remake of the classic silent film. Herzog is a real hit-and-miss director but this one is a definite hit and the clincher is the soundtrack by Popol Vuh who have served Herzog well over the years. Haunting and quite beautiful.
Braindead (1992) - forget all those lame zombie movies from the 60s and 70s - here's the perfect one to entertain you. Lots of laughs as a rare Sumatran rat-monkey's bite causes mayhem in a small town. Who'd have thought Peter Jackson would go on to make "The Lord of the Rings" from this one?
The Frighteners (1996) - a really original idea about a guy who can see dead people and one day all hell breaks loose. Make sure the cinema / home theatre has excellent bass sound reproduction as the theatre we saw it in was almost shaking itself apart in some scenes. Another classic Peter Jackson movie.
Favourite action movies
Fair point, action movies are mostly complete crap, but there is one tremendous exception...
Drunken Master 2 (1979) - Jackie Chan's greatest movie ever and they don't even have a publicity image for it in the IMDB! This is a period piece set in the 1930s where the evil British imperialists are trying to plunder ancient Chinese treasures. This movie has everything: comedy, romance, a half-decent plot - and the most insanely full-on fight scenes the world has ever seen!!! However because the visuals are so amazing, it really does need to be appreciated on the big screen - and with subtitles too. Note that you should try to see any other Jackie Chan movies you want to see before seeing this, as they will all look like complete crap in comparison. This action film will never be equalled.
Favourite animated movies
The Brave Little Toaster (1987) - a wonderful, wonderful movie which follows a group of household appliances as they venture out into the wide world. It might sound like just another animated movie for kids, but it isn't. It's pure movie heaven.
Shrek (2001) - another wonderful animated movie but this time a massive box-office hit. Amazing how Hollywood seems to get it right every now and again!
Most overrated movies
Not that I want to sound too grouchy, but...
Solaris (1972) - this must be one the one of the most painfully boring movies ever made. I really have to wonder about the art-house sci-fi weirdoes who rave about it. At least "2001: A Space Odyssey" is slow but engrossing! Remade starring George Clooney and I hear is is nowhere as dull as the original. You have been warned!
Psycho (1960) - a classic should be able to stand up to the test of time and this one just doesn't.
Casablanca (1942) - a simple B-grade movie, the writers were stunned when what had taken two days to write became an all-time popular screen classic. There is admittedly a great theme song plus some great scenes and lines, but this movie also has equally awful aspects. The Parisian scene is laughable and and the Nazis are cardboard cut-out caricatures. It's neither the best war movie nor the best romance. Give me Bogie's The African Queen to watch over this any day.
Star Wars (1977) - (and the follow-ups) great work for a kid's movie but I can't believe how many ordinary people think this was one of the greatest movies of all time. Worst flaws: cardboard cut-out bad guys who are evil through-and-through and squeaky clean good guys. A struggle between good & evil for the hard of thinking.
Triumph of the Will (1934) - this is indeed a dark classic but I really have to question the sanity of people who claim this to be the best propaganda movie ever filmed. Many portions of it are simply laughable and must surely make the few neo-Nazis with IQs in double digits cringe with embarrassment.