After compiling a list of all the movies I want to see (I use Asana for stuff like this!), I found myself watching way more movies than I normally would, and across a wider range of genres. Instead of watching a tv show or repeating my go-to movies over and over, I actually watched the ones I kept saying I want to see sometime – old, new, mega popular, and obscure. So, I highly recommend making your own list and slowly crossing it off! It feels productive, in a very entertaining way.
(Also, since this is fairly lengthy, feel free to scan the list for movies that pique your interest and read about those! Or read all of them if you’re an information-glutton like me)
Movies I highly recommend in green!
SCI-FI / FANTASY
- Passengers – Two people wake up early in their long journey through space. Not groundbreaking, a little stressful, but interesting concept and cool scenery.
- Gattaga – In hopes of traveling to space, a man alters his genetic code. Somewhat 1984-ish with the idea of two societies divided by talent and health. A little slow-moving and they don’t actually ever go to space, but Jude Law gives a good performance as a disabled man.
- Stardust – A star (in the form of a woman) falls from Heaven to a magical land. The man who pursues her is actually hoping to win over a different woman, which is exhausting. Very magical and goofy, it felt like something weird I would’ve watched in childhood, so loved it for that. Watch with popcorn on a rainy afternoon.
- Cloud Atlas – A time-traveling drama with a very confusing plot. Supposed to be epic, but in reality is not memorable.
- Zathura – Jumanji: Space edition. As with Stardust, the goofy childishness of it was enjoyable.
- Ad Astra – An astronaut (Brad Pitt) journeys to the depths of space in order to confront his father in hopes of preventing devastation to the earth. This ended very differently than expected; the focus is more on the main character’s internal conflict and psychological torment of space travel than unraveling the mystery of the threat to the universe, but I thought it was very well done. Definitely a thinker.
- Equilibrium – A mashup of Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and the Matrix (cue the black trench coats). Not the best movie of its kind, but worth a watch if you love that kind of stuff.
- 12 Monkeys – Some time ago, a virus wiped out most of the human population, the rest of whom now lives underground. Maaaybe shouldn’t have watched this at the beginning of the pandemic last year! Ha. A convict (Bruce Willis) goes back in time to try to figure out what caused the spread and prevent it from happening. This movie is epitomizes what I love about great movies made in the nineties – good acting, strong plot, weird characters, and a general focus on quality movie-making above graphics and animation. It’s kind of a long journey, but completely worth it for Brad Pitt’s perfect embodiment of a psychotic person, twitches and uncontainable energy and all.
- Ocean’s 8 – Danny Ocean’s sister (Sandra Bullock) leads a hodge podge team of women criminals to steal a diamond necklace during the Met Gala. The original Ocean’s Trilogy could be argued as my favorite set of movies, period. Unfortunately, the all-girls version (we miss you, Clooney and Pitt and Damon!) falls short. The heist is pretty entertaining, but the chemistry between the women falls flat and the jokes are just not that funny. Shame.
- Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, III: Revenge of the Sith, and VI: Return of the Jedi – Let me just say, I watched Star Wars a million times growing up – but I never really watched them. It was like watching football before understanding any of the rules. I SAW them, but I didn’t have any idea what was going on. (Anyone else??) I FI-NA-LLY watched all the movies (minus The Phantom Menace, as per the machete order) – pausing every ten minutes to ask Whit a gazillion questions – and have to say I loved them!! If you haven’t really seen them either, I highly recommend watching in the machete order, which makes episode IV all the more impactful.
- Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (extended edition) – Kind of like Star Wars, I had seen the Lord of the Rings movies, but less so because I always fell asleep about 30% of the way through them. I know, I know. I WANTED to like them, but they just lull me right to sleep! Anyways, Whit finished reading the Fellowship of the Ring (in French!!), so we watched the extended edition together. I thought I might actually get into it (again, always wanted to like it), and it turns out, the extended edition was actually the way to go for me! I hate it in movies when you’re supposed to know something about the plot that isn’t ever explicit through dialogue or action. For whatever reason, I just can’t pick stuff up (when I do, I think way too deeply about it and assume there’s more to it that I’m missing). Having MORE details with all the extra scenes really solved this problem for me – and having Whit know pretty much all the answers because of having also read the book. Anyways, I really liked it and can’t wait to watch the rest!
- Avengers: Infinity War – Neither Whit nor myself are huge into the superhero genre. We did really like this movie though. It was epic and filled with enjoyable scenes.
- Avengers: Endgame – Since we never felt super attached to the Avengers movies, this epic finale wasn’t very emotional for us. In fact, it felt like it dragged on and on because of how many scenes there were tying up loose knots. One thing I wish we’d done before we watched it was watch Wonder Woman, because we had no idea how the heck she had so many powers when she shows up near the end.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel – Probably Wes Anderson’s best movie and visuals (agree or disagree?). Pink hotel, skiing down the alps, thousands of cake boxes, mystery and quirkiness. Watch this is if you haven’t yet!
- Men In Black: International – As someone obsessed with MIB back in middle school, this movie was really fun. It was extra fun seeing the Paris scenes as we watched from a theater in central Paris. 🙂
- Gladiator – A greedy rival leaves the would-be Roman emperor (Russell Crowe) to mercilessly fight for his life as a slave in the gladiator ring. The movie is violent, no doubt, but the themes of honor and justice make it worth watching.
- Inglorious Basterds – Two plots to take revenge against the Nazis merge in an epic bloodbath. This is a Quentin Tarantino movie, which equates to gratuitous language and violence. Brad Pitt takes the lead, which makes for a light-hearted overall feel, but I can’t get behind the excessive gore, even if it’s against the Nazis.
- Marriage Story – This story of a divorcing couple (Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver) is visceral and real. Great acting and insight into real life, but pretty depressing overall.
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – THIS. MOVIE. WRECKED. ME. It probably didn’t help that I watched it on the plane and I think I was very newly pregnant. But, Mister Rogers, oh my gosh. Was there a sweeter person who ever lived?? His heart is so gentle and lowly, and he represented Christ so well by loving so many people. I dare you to watch this and not cry. “You are special just because you’re you.”
- Les Miserables (1998) – I will use the IMDB description here because I can’t beat it – “Valjean, a former criminal, has atoned for his past and now finds himself in the midst of the French Revolution, avoiding a law-obsessed policeman hell-bent on capturing him.” A classic French tale that is really all about forgiveness.
- The Florida Project – A story about a struggling-to-get-by, druggie single mom and her carefree daughter who live in a motel outside of Disney World. TOUGH TIMES! This movie is sunny and colorful, but heavy with the weight of neglect, misbehavior, and consequences. It touches on foster care, and I would recommend it if you’re interested in that subject!
- 3 Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri – A mother mourning her daughter’s awful, unjust death takes out her anger on the local policemen who seem to not care in the least. The characters struggle with the weight of anger and revenge, but their hearts are eventually softened by a couple of crucial acts of mercy.
- Casablanca – I had seen this at an old movie theater in college, but the sound was messed up so I didn’t really know what was going on. I watched it on the plane home from Paris which made me weepy.
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – This 1966 classic starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton follows a neurotic middle-aged couple one evening as they host a young couple new to the university. The older couple is chaotic and verbally abusive to each other but they suck the younger couple in with an overconsumption of alcohol. As the movie is shot in one location and the plot is entirely dependent on dialogue and physical acting, the actors’ talent shines. The ending makes the characters’ bizarre behavior make sense, and leaves you with a lot to consider.
- The Duchess – Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley), disregards societal expectations and instead lives boldly, according to her strengths and passions. Her cheating husband, however, retains power over her. I liked the depiction of a strong female character and seeing how her successes and failures were defined by the time period she lived in.
- La Haine – This French film follows three young men in the Paris projects during a politically tumultuous time. It does an excellent job of showing the reality and challenges when teenagers who are full of potential are left to idle with no opportunities and nowhere to go. A very enlightening look at poverty and racial issues.
- Revolutionary Road – Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet come together again in this story of a young couple in the fifties raising their children and putting their dreams on hold. Their life during this time is characterized by affairs, overworking, pregnancy, and miscommunications. It was fine – a bit too sad and heavy for my liking.
- 1917 – This 2019 Oscar-winner follows two soldiers who attempt to cross no man’s land to prevent an unnecessary battle. The visual effects are incredible, and the challenges of war are gut-wrenching. Will make you incredibly thankful for the sacrifices people made in WWI for our freedom.
- Julie & Julia – Ugh, a movie about Julia Child AND a wannabe blogging chef who follows Julia’s every move? My heart! My favorite scenes are the ones depicting Julia Child’s life in Paris, but Julie’s (the chef) storyline is adorable, too. Watch it whenever you feel sad, or heartsick for Paris.
- Moonrise Kingdom – A young scout leaves his camp to start a life with his girlfriend who runs away from her isolated house on the island. The emotional reach of these young characters trying to be adult-ish in their pursuit of love is somewhat endearing? but also kind of creeps me out. It ends up being mostly funny and cute, but still kind of weird.
- Emma – A rich young British girl delights in getting her own way and interfering in the drama of everyone around her. She sounds super annoying, but is somehow charming and likable despite her faults. I would easily have this movie on 24/7 just to see all the beautiful sets and scenery.
- Lady Bird – An emotional teenager tries to carve her own path, against her mother’s constant involvement. Yes, this movie was well-done, but it just didn’t hit home for me. I mostly cringed at all the awkwardness (why relieve a period of time that was uncomfortable for everyone?).
- Paris Je T’aime – Twenty vignettes from each of Paris’ twenty arrondissements (neighborhoods). Each has a completely different vibe and style. Some of them I could do without, but overall this movie made me so happy! It’s funny, sweet, and meaningful. And oh yeah, you get to see a LOT of Paris. (Cry!)
- Darjeeling Limited – Another great Wes Anderson film. Three very different brothers travel by train across India, encountering all sorts of unusual scenarios and ending up bonding together. Owen Wilson and his happy-go-lucky, persistent optimism steals the show.
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Based on a novel, a neurotic genius (Cate Blanchett) slowly loses her grip on reality and abandons her also-genius husband and beloved daughter. Things I love about the book and movie: Seattle rain, a quirky old mansion, someone who’s highly intelligent yet shuns social standards, wittiness, almost-unbelievable scenarios, and the fascinating backdrop of Antarctica.
- Murder Mystery – A married couple (Adam Sandler and Jen Aniston) find themselves in the middle of a whodunnit on a yacht with the would-be inheritors of the rich man’s fortune. Obviously with these actors, this is not going to be an award-winning movie. But it was a fun way to pass the time one weekend night.
- Wine Country – Six women (including Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph) reunite for a friends weekend in Napa Valley. This movie is admittedly SO stupid, but I just love it. The characters absolutely nail the middle-aged woman stereotypes, which made me laugh so many times. Even though it’s kinda trashy, it is also just fun and uplifting and made me miss hanging out with groups of friends.
- This is Spinal Tap – As someone who loves satire, I couldn’t believe I had never seen this. A documentary about a made-up terrible rock band? I liked the concept and there were some laugh-out-loud lines, but I wouldn’t say you should go out of your way to see it.
- Wreck it Ralph 2 – Ralph and his tiny racer friend Vanellope run all over the arcade world trying to fix the internet and save the games. Not quite as good as the first movie, but I loved that the gender roles were switched – Vanellope is the hero and helps Ralph work through his emotions and challenges. Go Disney!
- La La Land – Didn’t think I would like this, as I rarely enjoy musicals, but I had heard so much about it and it looked so fun and cheery, I had to give it a go. Turns out, it was great! So colorful, cute story, and nice incorporation of the songs into the plot.
- Mary Poppins (2018) – Did anyone think this was a good movie? I just can’t. There’s no plot of any kind. I don’t like musicals…
- Phantom of the Opera (2004) – I somehow convinced Whit to watch this with me as HIS FIRST EVER MUSICAL (with the exception of the time I introduced him to the Wizard of Oz POST COLLEGE). We basically hated it. I really wanted to like this movie because of the mysterious Phantom and the setting at our beloved Parisian opera house. But… the emotional-driven saps that you might call main characters just put a knife in our very logical hearts. Not for us.
- Hamilton – Okay, wow! We obviously thought we wouldn’t like this due to our history of not liking musicals, but unfortunately, we had to renounce our position and admit that the world is right. This movie (play) is fantastic!! We are not into rap or show music (did I need to say that again?), but the music is so well orchestrated, we could only be impressed. The actors are AMAZING. I don’t know how they do it. They are truly so talented. I actually enjoyed learning the history (never thought I would be interested in American history), and applauded the representation of different ethnicities playing old white men. Watch!!! (Tip: Turn on the subtitles! Thank me later.)
THRILLER / MYSTERY
- Parasite – This movie crosses so many genres and is very well-made. It’s better if you know nothing about the movie going into it. But even though I think it’s a good movie, I’m hesitant to recommend it because of unnecessary gore and other creepiness towards the end. That’s not something I can endorse.
- Knives Out – A longtime fan of Clue (see: fan of satire), I hoped for more with this movie. Most of the movie, however, is untangling the clues step-by-step to solve the murder. I wished that the actual murder/mystery part had taken up more time. It does have the classic elements of fancy old house, lots of characters, and some witty remarks. It’s great to have a new non-creepy, old-house mystery movie.
- Alta Mar (High Seas) (tv series) – I wanted to include this because it’s SO GOOD! A Spanish tv show (on Netflix) about some mysteries that take place while traveling across the ocean in the 1940’s. The sets get a 10/10 from me. The acting improves over the course of the show, especially in Season 2. The mystery is great – every episode leaves you dying to know what happens next. (Tip: Watch until you get halfway through an episode, then pick up where you left off next time, so you get to watch the end and beginning parts that are more tense!)
- Sleepy Hollow – Johnny Depp is the detective in Sleepy Hollow, where a (pumpkin-headed?) murderer ravages the town. This movie is evenly-paced, easy to follow despite being dialogue-heavy, witty, and weird. The perfect Halloween movie that’s dark but not scary.
- Black Swan – A dancer (Natalie Portman) transforms herself to fill the lead role of the ballet Black Swan. This is a psychological thriller at its best (note the sex and violence warnings).
- The Talented Mr. Ripley – A young man (Matt Damon) travels to the Mediterranean where he becomes entwined in the lives of a beautiful, charismatic couple (Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow). Beautiful people and beautiful scenery? Yes. Weird vibes and strange choices? Yes. This is an intriguing psychological thriller for a spring or summer evening. It will leave you wanting to lounge by the Mediterranean Sea and will also repel you a little as you question the choices of the characters (also has short scenes of sex and violence).
Which of these have you seen and loved? Absolutely hated? Other movies you would recommend based on this list?