Preferred Films

A few jobs ago, we were shooting the breeze one day, and a Chinese-born co-worker asked, “So what are some good American movies?”

Alas, most of the recommendations from the rest of the staff programmers depended on meretricious special effects or barnyard humor.

So first I prepared this annotated list of my favorites for my co-worker Ru Zhongwei. As I looked it over, I realized that it revealed something about my tastes, predilections, and viewing habits. (By a rough estimate, I figure that I’ve probably seen 3500 movies in the past 30 years.) There are somewhat less than 100 entries here; the dingbats mark my indispensable sixteen.

And, yes, I prepared this list before the American Film Institute got the same idea.

But what would be more interesting, I realized, is a list of bad movies that I once thought were great. That list is at the bottom of the page.


I intentionally restricted the list to feature-length movies, which unfortunately cuts out a lot of the best animation. I also excluded silents. There should be something from the Marx Brothers on the list, but I have to confess that all of their movies run together in my mind. I also fiddled the list so that most of my favorite actors are represented, even if that means Walter Matthau checks in with Charade.

Quotes from Jonathan Benair and Julie Kirgo are from Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, eds.

As promised, here are the movies that I’m embarrassed to admit that I liked at one time.


  • At Long Last Love: Cybill Shepherd and Burt Reynolds sing Cole Porter. It could happen.
  • Crack in the World: I think they’re remaking this movie as The Core.
  • Friends (1971): Adolescent lust in sunny France and dire consequences. A drippy soundtrack by Elton John, or did I say something redundant?
  • Harold and Maude: Ruth Gordon in a December-May romance with a kid who habitually commits suicide to get attention. Sort of a Penn and Teller meet Mrs. Robinson.
  • Rollerball (1975): I don’t know why the sport never caught on. And I don’t know why anyone would want to remake this movie.
  • Zardoz: Not to be outdone by Rollerball‘s pretentious Bach-driven soundtrack, this silly futuristic meditation on the noble savage features the Beethoven Seventh Symphony. But hey, Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling—why complain?

Last updated: Saturday, 13 February 2021 16:16