The B+ Movie Guide: The New List (Part I)
I gave Colin a giant list of 500 movies, and he finished it. Of course I’m gonna come up with another list.
This one is for everyone, though. Not specifically for Colin. This is raw material for everybody, should they choose, to go out and see more movies. Not all of them are essential. Most of them are just awesome. I told Colin that once he finished this list, I’d give him another one that was more fun than work. Geared toward cool stuff that he’d enjoy.
I went through and found 1,000 more movies that I think either need to be seen (leftover “essential” films) or are just really great and would be enjoyed by most who see them. There’s gonna be a lot of writing here, so we’ll just get going:
Oh, but there are some things I need to say here. One — it’s just a thousand movies. There were a couple other hundred I could have had here instead.
Also, this is based purely on films I HAVE SEEN. I’m not gonna recommend movies I haven’t seen. Just not gonna do it. So if there’s something missing from both lists that seems like it should be recommended: 1) don’t comment with it. That’s not the point of this. I know you will anyway, but don’t. 2) I either have not seen the movie or 3) I just didn’t care for it enough to recommend it. Though typically if a movie feels generally essential and I don’t particularly care for it, I will usually include it because I do try to be objective. So really, it’s mostly 1 or 2.
But anyway, here we go.
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Pretty essential, and didn’t make it on the first list because we started at 1920. There’s a whole slew of silent film stuff, plus shorts and whatnot, but for this list’s purposes, we’ll start with this. Film buffs should see this at some point.
Les Vampires (1915)
Not for everyone. This is one of my favorite films of all time, and is one of those that is actually one of those that will show up on a list of essential movies. It’s 7 hours long, though. It’s a silent serial. 10 episodes. It’s pretty terrific. If you can brave it, you’re in for a really good series.
The other D.W. Griffith epic. Pretty essential, as films go.
The Golem (1920)
It’s a German horror film about a giant Jewish rock monster. I am not kidding. The Golem is basically Jewish Godzilla. And historically, you can’t blame the Golem for any of the shit he did.
The big silent epic. Every piece of gold in the movie is colored, otherwise the film is black and white. It’s a marathon. About four hours long. But as far as silent films go, it’s very essential. Though most people haven’t seen this. So it’s not like not watching it sets you back any.
The Navigator (1924)
Buster Keaton on a boat.
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Buster Keaton wants to be a detective.
The Big Parade (1925)
Big silent army picture. A must for the era.
The Jazz Singer (1927)
It’s The Jazz Singer. If you want to be a “film person,” you should probably see this at some point. It has more historical value than entertainment value. It’s just okay, as far as quality goes. It’s more historically worthwhile than anything.
Seventh Heaven (1927)
If you love big silent melodrama, complete with excessive sentiment and romance, this is your film. It’s pretty terrific. Charles Farrell has a job cleaning sewers, and one day finds Janet Gaynor, a woman constantly abused by her drunk sister (and is most likely a prostitute) who is ready to kill herself. He stops her, and, feeling sorry for her, lies to the cop about to arrest her and says he’s her husband. Only now he has to prove it to the inspector who will come by within the next 30 days, otherwise they both go to jail. So they start living together, and there’s a good portion of the film that shows them growing to like and even love one another. And then the film turns on a dime and becomes a war picture. It’s overly sentimental, and has that “love conquers all” mindset (which could lead to eye-rolling in the film’s climax), but Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell are terrific together (see: Sunrise), and she won an Oscar for this (along with Sunrise and Street Angel, which will be on this list in a second). Borzage knows how to get the best out of what could be a boring story.
The Crowd (1928)
Extremely essential silent movie. Terrific film. The plight of the lower-middle class. Real life stuff. You don’t see this kind of stuff out of Hollywood around this time. Usually it’s escapist stuff or unrealistic depictions. This is some dark shit. Terrific film.
Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)
Buster Keaton has a boat. This is where the house falling stunt comes from.
The Love Parade (1929)
Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette Macdonald. If you don’t know about this pairing, you should. Maurice Chevalier was the king of the pre-code musical. Everything he sang about was sex. And you knew it. But it was never explicit. (Though, it kinda is.) Chevalier plays a French officer who is sent to a small country because he’s banged half of the women in the court. Meanwhile, the queen of that country is upset because everyone wants her to marry someone. And etc, etc, the movie takes us to the point where they bang each other. It’s pretty great if you’ve seen a lot of movies of this era. The pre-code films always are, because you appreciate how explicitly implicit the sex stuff is.
Street Angel (1928)
Gaynor and Farrell again. She’s down on her luck and has to pay for medicine for Ma. She gives in and tries to sell herself for the money. It gets her arrested. Ma dies. She comes out and tries to live a normal life, but it’s difficult. She falls in love with Farrell, and keeps her past from him. But then it starts to catch up to her. Another Borzage. Similar to Seventh Heaven. Gaynor won an Oscar for this (alongside Seventh Heaven and Sunrise), and Borzage really gives you great images that elevate the story. Not essential, but if you love their other movies, it’s worth it.
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The Blue Angel (1930)
Iconic. Dietrich. Professor falls in love with a showgirl, which ruins his life.
City Girl (1930)
Murnau. Silent film after the silent era. Farmer comes to city to sell grain. Meets city girl. They fall in love. He brings her back to the farm. She has to adjust. It’s pretty great. Fantastic images. You know you’re in good hands with Murnau.
The Divorcee (1930)
Pre-Code. Norma Shearer won an Oscar for it. She finds out her husband cheated on her, so in retaliation, she cheats on him. Then they get divorced. He becomes a drunk and she bangs a lot of men. Pretty great that Hollywood was able to get away with these kinds of stories.
Hell’s Angels (1930)
Howard Hawks. If you saw The Aviator, then you’re probably a little interested in seeing this. Great for early color, because they have a full on color sequence in the middle, where they show off Jean Harlow. Not a particularly great movie, but definitely important for this era. (Hawks and his budgets, shooting the film twice, essentially, early color, and the fact that this was the biggest movie of the era, with the amount of time and money that went into it.)
King of Jazz (1930)
It’s a revue film. Paul Whiteman (self-proclaimed as the King of Jazz. Which, of course only a guy named Whiteman would claim such a thing) hosts the whole thing, and there are a bunch of skits and sequences. It’s shot in color, so there’s two-strip Technicolor happening, which is nice. You get big lavish musical numbers in color. The bridal number is impressive. Early Bing Crosby appearance. Walter Brennan is in it. There are great little comedy sequences like All Noisy on the Eastern Front and a big Rhapsody in Blue number for the finale. The revue films of this era are pretty entertaining (Hollywood Revue of 1929 is another one worth watching, though it’s harder to find than this). This is the one fully in color, which is why I’m featuring it here. I’m fascinated by early color.
Bad Girl (1931)
Love this movie. Borzage won his second Best Director for this. (The first was for Seventh Heaven.) Here’s the premise: a woman is gorgeous. And every man falls over himself to flirt with her. Only she’s not interested at all. She’s shut herself off to this. Only she meets one man who is immune to her and actually insults her. And because he’s the only many whose ever done this, she falls in love with him. Which could be the plot of an entire movie, but instead is the first ten minutes of this movie. The rest of the movie is them dealing with this, and getting married, and — it’s hard to explain without telling the whole plot. But it’s really interesting because it deals with regular people and real problems. I loved this movie a lot. One of my favorite Oscar Quest movies. I consider it a huge hidden gem for cinema.
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