List Below – Updated January 7, 2018 (original: Nov 6, 2014)
I have always been interested in movies. As an Anthropologist minor, I devoted a chunk of my classes to studying and understanding the importance of culture and sociological perspective of people & humanity. It went along almost seamlessly with Information Technology as my major because technology, I believe, has to be designed with a focus on the people (the users) & their sociological/cultural perspectives. For this post, I wish to focus on one of these technologies that take into account human culture: television & movies.
Movies are one of the primary literal expressions of human thought and their importance to our culture is often underplayed. The cinema eras very often reflect the culture and thought processes of that time period. More broadly, they reflect the imagination, ingenuity, and issues of the people of that period (and also of all time). Movies have a certain quality of art to them as a lot of details and work goes into them with multiple industries that depend on it.
A lot has changed over the years. The film industry globally has gone from short black-and-white films to color. From a small industry only affordable to the wealthy to a multi-billion dollar industry with tickets affordable to almost everyone. From silent films to full audio. From analog cameras to digital 24 frames per second cameras (slowly going up to 48 fps in some films nowadays). From 2-dimension films to 3-dimensions. From standard definition to high definition. You get the idea.
The classic saying goes “a picture tells a thousand words.” Imagine how many words and messages can be told throughout an entire 90 minute movie — 24 frames per second on average x 60 seconds x 90 minutes = 129,600 frames on average per film. If we stick to that saying, one picture tells a thousand words but one film tells 129.6 million words.
This video art-form, if I may consider it ‘art’, will continue for as long as humanity exists.
Scroll below list to see what characteristics I considered for this list
Also, I must stress that my personal standard is that no movie is or ever will be perfect because it implies that it cannot be improved upon whatsoever, and there are no mistakes anywhere at all with perfect acting, perfect directing, perfect story. Perfect is perfect. I do not under ANY circumstance rank anything whatsoever as ‘perfect’ so ranking will never be 10 out of 10 on this list or any list by me for anything. Nothing and nobody is perfect or ever will be!
My Top 50 Movies
Based on the 4 categories above, this is my list of 50 favorite movies I have seen thus far (out of total 920+ movies as of January 7, 2018 including Hollywood, Indian Bollywood, and a few Japanese/other foreign movies):
— 9.5 (in order)
The Shawshank Redemption – Truly a special movie. Friendship, hope, freedom, journey are all themes that this movie represents & it lives up flawlessly to all expectations. Acting was marvelous. Never going to forget the character of Andy Dupree and his buddy Red. Inspiring movie that I watched more times than any other movie on this list.
Schindler’s List – Powerful story of overcoming hatred in one of the darkest times in history (Holocaust during World War 2). Truly makes you wonder why do we, as humanity, do this to one another. This movie and the events it portrays make me lose some hope in humanity, but at the same time I realize that humans are also capable of overcoming much adversity as the movie encapsulates in the intricate story. We have the drive to push forward, and that is what we have always done & always will do. This movie shows that anyone can be a hero and make a difference even while facing impending odds. Based on true story of redemption. Ending is very powerful when black&white (representing darkness) turns into color (representing hope and light at the end of the tunnel). I was left speechless and almost close to tears, which almost never happens for me.
The Godfather – Classic masterpiece of an Italian mafia godfather in USA and the their day-to-day doings. The cast is great, directing top-notch. Initially, I had hard time getting into this movie since it is somewhat slow-paced, but it is an awesome movie once you get past that & story draws you in. The godfather theme song is one of the most recognizable and used music pieces of all. Marlon Brando is probably the greatest actor of all time and great as Don Corleone as he always is.
Rear Window – I watched this movie for the second time, and I was blown away seeing things I did not notice the first time. This is one of the best movies I have ever watched. The whole movie takes place in one single apartment complex (out of one room), but there is so much happening that you don’t realize you are in one room the whole movie. James Stewart is my favorite actor of all time and one of the greatest ever based on his career of movies. Grace Kelly is spectacular and beautiful as always. Alfred Hitchcock is a magician who draws you into his world from start to finish in his brushstrokes.
Star Wars episode 4 – This introduced us to the Star Wars universe (or “galaxy far far away”). What else is there to say? Star Wars is Star Wars. The moment you turn it on and see the cool intro in opening credits, you are drawn into the Star Wars universe instantly. You essentially become a human spectator watching the doings of another galaxy.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – A journey for middle Earth comes to an end in this wonderful trilogy by JRR Tolkien. The greatest trio in Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli with the unforeseen heroes in Frodo and Sam. Fantasy at the finest.
Forrest Gump – Wow, what a powerful movie. I always believed a person can overcome anything in life, and this movie epitomizes everything I stand for. Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors with top-notch acting in this masterpiece.
Star Wars episode 5 – “Luke, I am your father.” Jackass, you betrayed Master Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi & the entire Jedi Council for Sith-lord Darth Sidious. They trusted you with their lives. GO GET ‘EM, LUKE – May the force be with you!
Apocalypse Now Redux version – Classic Vietnam War masterpiece. The beginning is a bit slow, but once you get drawn in, it picks up steam. Good acting by Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando is spectacular as always.
Gandhi – A view into the life of Mahatma Gandhi, a man of principle that lived & died for peace. He went to prison many times for his non-violent protests; if anyone from his side decided to riot through violence against the British, Gandhi would go on fasts for weeks until they stopped. He wanted freedom for India but only through peaceful means. The film was done in India where they could accurately depict the scenes. Ben Kingsley did a very good job representing Gandhi and the directing was top-notch.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – A movie that takes place in mental institution during the hippie era, but I believe it is more about enjoying life and overcoming power struggle. It is interlaced with many other messages & themes. Jack Nicholson at his finest.
The Usual Suspects – The ending blew my mind as I was not expecting it. It reminds me of one of those stories where you are amazed by everything, and then you get to the end only to watch the character wake up from a dream. It almost ends up being a facade because as a viewer, you don’t know if any of it ever happened. Not that this movie is similar at all, but you have to watch it to understand.
12 Angry Men – Even though movie is not on real court proceedings of a jury, I wish it was! A jury’s job should be to investigate all the facts they can gather before reaching a verdict even if it includes questioning the lawyers/witnesses during the trial, but sadly that’s not how most courts work. Jury must make a decision on what is presented by the lawyers (or rather what they want to cherry-pick & present); jury cannot stand up and ask questions directly to the lawyer or witnesses. Only 3 states allow it in USA out of 50 states. It is mind-boggling that lawyers can ask questions and for clarification, judges can, witnesses can, but jury cannot speak a word! I believe there should be no room for ambiguity or confusion, as we see the jury contemplate in 12 Angry Men. Great movie with powerful acting.
Toy Story 3 – This movie was marvelous with awesome sentimental value. It’s a story of growing up & facing whatever obstacles you face and coming out a better person. What makes it magical is it brings out of the kid in everybody regardless of age, place of upbringing, circumstances, gender, and any other factor. I say be a kid for life!
Fight Club – My head blew up trying to follow this masterpiece of a movie. Beginning was okay then it entered ‘awesome’ territory at midway point. After that, it was almost flawless. I would say this movie is much different than most movies I have watched. I cannot say much else without spoiling it. Just know the 2nd half of the movie is not what you may expect going in.
Raiders of the Lost Ark – One of my favorite movies that I re-watched more times than I can remember. This is pretty much the movie (along with Jaws) that made me a huge fan of Steven Spielberg. Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones, did a great job. INDYYYYYY! Just an iconic character of the 80’s that I’m sure many kids before my generation grew up idolizing.
It’s a Wonderful Life – One of the most watched movies. The lead character George Bailey goes through challenges in life where he loses everything and everyone one by one. In his frustration, he wishes he was never born. An angel gets sent to show him life if he never existed. George realizes the profound impact he has on people around the town and how things would be without him. Very powerful movie that shows the impact of the little things in life and how even the unlikeliest people can touch others in positive manners in ways we would not expect. George appreciates life much more once he sees that and the magic of kindness, optimism, and life itself.
Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – Bit odd movie but I truly enjoyed it. In many ways, it made fun about the Cold War through mockery about politicians and upper military brass at the wheel of the vehicle of nuclear holocaust. Kubrick made this movie during the height of the Cold War to mock the stupidity of the Cold War – he mocks both sides and the foolishness. While it is comedy, moments in the movie freak you out to see how much power these folks on both the American and Soviet have to end the world with just 1 coded order. Makes you laugh at the dark humor, sarcasm and overall comedy but scares the crap out of you at the same time. The Cold War was truly a scary time.
— 9 (not in order)
Pulp Fiction – I liked this movie a lot. Many consider this top 10 greatest movie ever, but I didn’t think of it that highly on my first watch-through. I need to watch it again in future.
Taxi Driver – Very dark movie. Acting, directing, story all great. Not a movie for everyone since it is dark and bit depressing. If you like those sorts of movies, check out Clockwork Orange. I liked the cinematic, acting, and directing of Clockwork Orange, but I refuse to put it on this list as it is not a movie I would recommend most people to watch since it is very dark & disturbing. Taxi Driver has re-watch value though.
Life is Beautiful – Powerful brilliant movie of a father using comedy to protect his son from the horrors of the holocaust without ever giving up. It shows the wonders of life and comedy triumph everything even in times of tragedy. Powerful performance by lead actor Benigni playing character ‘Guido’, who sacrifices everything he had to save his kid & keep a smile on his face, through some of the toughest ordeals a human can go through.
Indiana Jones and Last Crusade
Saving Private Ryan
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Full Metal Jacket
Star Wars Episode 6 – Death Star.. *KABOOOOOOOOM*
2001 A Space Odyssey – Stanley Kubrick’s best movie. Some say it was Clockwork Orange, but I think it was this.
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Dark Knight
Back to the Future
Se7en – Another dark movie probably not for everyone
Life of Pi
A beautiful Mind
American History X
3 Idiots – One of my favorite Indian movies about a college student attaining success through originality & creativity rather than being like everyone else. Life is about learning to think in your own manner even if others look at you oddly for not thinking like everybody else. Every great thinker over time has recognized that what defines greatness is not thinking like everyone else, but it is about thinking like yourself. That is what made those great thinkers ‘great’ because if everyone thought the same, there would be no change or improvement on status quo. Great movie.
Once Upon a Time in America – Almost 4 hour long movie that covers the entire life story of a fictional gangster who grew up in New York. We see how he ended up the way he did and the betrayals/regrets/mistakes along the way as he thinks back on his 40 year journey. Profound movie that covers an in-depth story of friendship, family, innocence, growth, death, murder, betrayal. Sergio Leone is known for his western and cowboy movies, but he did spectacular job directing here. Robert De Niro at his finest.
Taare Zameen Par – Spectacular Indian movie about education. Success of a great teacher should not be measured simply by the grades that their students output but by how they reach every student, especially the ones that may be difficult to get to. This movie epitomizes that notion. The title translates to “Stars on Earth” with stars representing young students and kids – our future.
Up – Very much an inspiring movie. Life goes by fast in our hustle and bustle, and before we know it we don’t complete all of our dreams we set out as a child to fulfill. If you don’t chase your dreams, life will be incomplete and you will be lying there in the end wondering how things could have been if you had simply let it. There was one powerful sequence early in the movie that brought me to tears watching. This movie is about one such individual, who rather than give up, decides to chase after one final adventure late in life. It’s truly an amazing movie.
Citizen Kane – Widely considered the greatest movie ever. I watched it twice, but I could not see “THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER” hype. Story-wise, it is not as brilliant. Shawshank Redemption, Godfather & Schindler’s List blows this out of the water when it comes to plot/character development. For 50’s time-period, I think it is very good. Directing is absolutely top-notch.
Movies removed from list above to make room:
Strangers on a Train
Once Upon a Time in the West – Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale at their finest. Badass soundtrack I will never forget (not much dialogue in Sergio Leone movies, where actions speak louder than words).. Cheyenne theme song , Harmonica theme song – different characters have their own themes
Dead Poets Society – Special movie. I blogged my thoughts on this movie here: http://www.harshmode.com/carpediem/
City of God
The Big Lebowski
The Deer Hunter – One of the first movies on Vietnam War because it was financially risky topic to portray in 1970’s. This movie does very good job of portraying that era from people perspective. The first hour is slow before it gets better. This movie reminds me of a quote from another Vietnam movie: “I want what every guy, who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had, wants! For our country to love us as much as we love it!” Soldiers gave everything for a war with no long term goals and based on paranoia by politicians (majority of Americans were against the war). US wins every battle but loses the war as Vietnam still falls to communism after much bloodshed – no domino effect to communism ever took place. When US troops returned home, they received terrible treatment when it should have been the politicians & upper military brass for lying to everyone. Not the soldiers. The soldiers were the real heroes fighting for the nation they loved.
Platoon – There were documented atrocities committed by a few US soldiers in Vietnam. This movie portrays such a situation. Platoon is well done in accurately depicting the chaos during battle situations and how people get during/after battle.
Judgment at Nuremberg – After WW2 ended, massive trials were held by the allies trying Nazi officers for crimes against humanity. This movie focuses on the judiciary (judges from Nazi Germany) that allowed the crimes to continue. It is the duty of judges to ensure justice is served, but the Nazi judges were complacent in their duty. This movie is a trial of those very judges. Powerful movie.
On the Waterfront
To Kill a Mockingbird
Good Will Hunting
The Magnificent Seven
Day of the jackal
Honorable Mention (in no particular order):
PK , Inception , Jaws , Lion King , The Green Mile ,
The Man From Earth – Not a well-known movie due to lack of big name directors/actors & low budget but GREAT story & good takeaway value
Munnabhai M.B.B.S – Indian movie about a ‘thuggish’ guy who argues a doctor’s job is not simply to treat the symptoms of their patient & move on to the next like a robot, but instead to care for their patients and treat them as a human-being (similar to Patch Adams)
Rang de Basanti – Indian movie depicts college students filming a documentary of freedom-fighters who fought for India’s independence from the British. The students learn of things the freedom-fighters fought for and realize many of the same issues are still there. Afterwards, the students take up the fight for change & justice
The Great Escape – Great classic cast with Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and James Garner, many others
Characteristics of Movies
When I’m watching a movie, I pay attention to 4 primary characteristics in this order:
1) Story – This is often an underrated aspect of movies. Without a well written story and/or well presented story, what’s the point of watching?
2) Acting – Facial expressions, body movement, presence, personality, emotion, instincts, everything that an actor does you will notice. The masters of acting to me are those that mastered method acting where they prepare for weeks and essentially become the person they’re acting in real-life (there are different types of method acting). For Hollywood movies, this includes Marlon Brando, Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson for older movies & Daniel Day Lewis, Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Edward Norton, Heath Ledger for relatively newer movies. For Indian Bollywood movies, this includes legendary actors like Dilip Kumar (long before my time), Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, etc.
I believe method actors are very rare, and it is very hard to do. Most of these actors do not do method acting on regular basis as it can lead to psychological issues (Very few did it regularly, such as Marlon Brando).
3) Directing – The captain of the ship. This is usually either overrated or overlooked. Overlooked because the average person does not pay attention to the shots or small details that directors spend days working on. I.e. in any scene, good directors may literally spend days figuring out the details, such as exactly how to place each individual item down to the individual book/pen/anything else. Average fan doesn’t pay attention to that. Overrated sometimes because directing is only one aspect of a movie – you don’t need groundbreaking directing for a movie to be very good. If the other categories are great, you might be able to overcome average director. Of course, great director will make things easier and can overcome weaknesses in other categories (Citizen Kane is one example with great direction).
4) Inspiration – What can you take away from the movie? Whether it’s something personal or something that expresses/defines some aspect of your philosophy that you live by. At the end of the day, you will remember this most about the movie. If the movie had no impact to you then you will not remember any of the intricacies. Unlike the other 3 characteristics above, this characteristic is entirely subjective as every person is inspired by different things and lives by different philosophies & worldviews.
I will update this list once a year as I go through more movies.
Feel free to recommend your favorite movies.
Hope. Inspire. Dream. Live.