An Updated Digest of RBC Weekend Film Recommendations

Stanford Professor and his friends recommend over 150 outstanding movies

With minimal forethought, in early November of 2011, I posted about why I like the Steve McQueen film Bullitt. For reasons I can’t fully explain, this larky post grew into a regular feature of RBC weekend film recommendations. The series has featured guest reviews from actors (Ian Jentle), film scholars (Jean O’Reilly) and a fellow public policy analyst (Johann Koehler) who happily is now part of RBC and has a standing spot in the film reviewing rota.

Many people have requested a list of all RBC film recommendations in one place. Here is the full list through September 19, 2014 to be updated now and then. For more recently reviewed films, simply click above on the “FIlm” category to see film-related posts from most to last recent. This list is alphabetical, disregarding the words “The” and “A” at the beginning of titles. This post has all films with titles beginning with A-L. Films with titles beginning from M-Z are here.

Airplane! — A goofy, inspired send-up of Zero Hour! Comic brilliance.

American Movie — Funny and engaging slice-of-life documentary about a struggling filmmaker and his family and friends in Wisconsin.

And Then There Were None — Rene Clair’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s improbable, delightful play about a group of disparate strangers being murdered one by one on a remote island. A Hitchcock-level comic suspenser.

Annie Hall — Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are endearing and hilarious in this 1977 Best Picture Oscar winner about two lovers who are lot like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.

Behind the Sun — A moving, starkly beautiful fable about feuding families by leading Brazilian director Walter Salles.

Bend of the River — Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart deliver another entertaining noir western, with superlative support from Arthur Kennedy, in a story about a family of pioneers trying to establish a new life in Oregon.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings — The waning days of baseball’s Negro Leagues are brought vividly to life in this highly entertaining comedy starring Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor.

The Bishop’s Wife — The only people who grow old were born old to begin with. Cary Grant and Loretta Young’s warm, reverent story of a special visitor with a special mission makes for wonderful Christmas viewing.

Black Angel — This 1946 film noir about a lovestruck dipsomaniac and a devoted wife who is trying to exonerate her husband from a murder charge is Dan Duryea’s finest hour on screen.

The Blue Carbuncle — A charming Christmas episode from the Granada Television Sherlock Holmes series features engaging byplay between Jeremy Brett and David Burke.

Body and Soul — The touchstone for all boxing films features powerful acting by John Garfield and Lili Palmer, a gritty Abraham Polonsky script and superb visuals from cinematographer James Wong Howe and editor Robert Parrish.

Boomerang! — Dana Andrews dominates the screen in Elia Kazan’s supremely well made docudrama based on a baffling real-life murder case.

Breaker Morant — The Australian New Wave captured the world’s attention with this riveting courtroom drama directed by Bruce Beresford.

Brighton Rock — A tough hood played by Richard Attenborough finds himself falling in love with the saintly girl who witnessed him commit a murder.

Bullitt — Steve McQueen is cooler than cool in this gripping crime film, featuring the most famous car chase in the history of American cinema.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari — The first horror film and first film with a twist ending is a triumph of German Expressionism. A unique cinematic experience.

Callan: The Richmond Files — The terrific British TV series that made the terrific Edward Woodward a star comes to a satisfying conclusion as he faces off against fellow superspy T.P. McKenna.

Canyon Passage — Jacques Tourneur’s unusual and memorable noir western features Dana Andrews sharing romantic sparks with Susan Hayward and slugging it out with a fearsome Ward Bond.

Cape Fear — Robert De Niro will set your skin crawling as a terrifying ex-con out for revenge against a milquetoast attorney and the women in his life. Another of Johann’s favorite remakes.

Charlie Muffin — Near-perfect espionage film with David Hemmings as a burned out but still brilliant British spy struggling with inept superiors.

The Chase — Robert Cummings stars in this strange, little-known film noir about a down-on-his-luck ex-GI who finds a job as the driver of a sadistic gangster.

The Cheap Detective — Neil Simon’s parody of Bogart films is even funnier than his Murder by Death (see below), with Peter Falk leading a wonderful comic cast.

Chiefs — This U.S. TV mini-series is an engaging, sprawling, multi-generational story of law enforcement, racism and a serial killer in a small Georgia city.

A Christmas Carol — A treasure of a short animated film including disturbing Victorian images from the Dickens classic.

A Christmas Story — Irresistible comic nostalgia from Jean Shepherd about a boy’s wish for a special present. You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.

The Claim — Michael Winterbottom’s Western-style adaptation of Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge features nuanced acting and astonishingly beautiful scenery.

Contact — Johann Koehler enjoys this adaptation of Carl Sagan’s book about the first human communication with aliens not just for its look and themes, but also for its insights into the lives and careers of jobbing scientists.

Cool Hand Luke — Guest reviewer Johann Koehler illuminates this gritty tale of a non-conformist prisoner played by the magnificent Paul Newman.

Count Dracula — Louis Jourdan makes a smooth vampire in this modestly budgeted but solid BBC adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous novel.

The Court Jester — Danny Kaye does it all in one of the funniest films in the history of American cinema. The pellet with the poison’s in the…

The Crooked Way — Underappreciated film noir features peerless John Alton cinematographer and a sturdy performance by John Payne as a ex-GI with amnesia who tries to uncover his criminal past.

The Cruel Sea — Jack Hawkins anchors an unromantic, moving portrayal of the life of British sailors during World War II.

Curse of the Demon — Jacques Tourner’s chiller pits a skeptical psychologist against a supposed mystic who places a deadly curse upon him. It couldn’t be real, could it?

Dances with Wolves — Johann Koehler recommends Kevin Costner’s “flawed masterpiece”, which resuscitated the Western genre in 1990.

The Day the Earth Stood Still — Robert Wise’s peerless sci-fi classic about a cultured, peace loving alien’s visit to Earth. Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Dear Murderer — This urbane, nasty and entertaining late 1940s Britfilm noir features Eric Portman as a clever killer whose wayward wife Greta Gynt is colder still.

Devil in a Blue Dress — Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle tear up the screen in a fine film noir based on Walter Mosley’s novels about a Black detective in the 1940s.

Dial M for Murder — Though sometimes consider a minor Hitchcock effort, this film benefits from The Master’s genius and the performance of a lifetime by Ray Milland as a murderous, smooth-as-silk villain.

Die Hard — Christmas time is here with big explosions as Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis face off in this thrilling action movie.

The Double — Richard Ayoade’s creative, colorful adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s short story features an excellent performance by Jesse Eisenberg is a dual role. Reviewed by Johann Koehler.

Doubt — John Patrick Shanley’s stupendous screen adaptation of his stage play features a complex performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as a Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse. Reviewed by Johann.

Dracula — Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson of Dark Shadows fame deliver a streamlined, fresh and scary take on the bloodsucking Count.

Dracula (Spanish language version) — Shot with Spanish-speaking actors at night on the same sets as the famous Browning/Lugosi version, this film is just as good as its more famous twin.

Ellery Queen Mysteries — Boxed DVD set of the beloved Link/Levenson detective show that was cancelled after only one superlative season. See if you can guess, “who done it”.

Excalibur — John Boorman’s full-blooded, personal take on the King Arthur story is a highly original and enjoyable movie.

Fall of the Roman Empire — Anthony Mann for once gets a big budget and makes a historically inaccurate but visually sumptuous epic featuring world-class performances by Alec Guinness, James Mason and Christopher Plummer. Reviewed by Johann.

Father of the Bride — Johann loves remakes, including this 1991 revisiting by comic genius Steve Martin of the Spencer Tracy/Elizabeth Taylor classic.

Fiddler on the Roof — Norman Jewison brings the beloved, long-running Broadway musical to screen with tremendous success.

A Fish Called Wanda — Johann Koehler makes the case that this is John Cleese’s best post-Fawlty Towers work: A comic heist about what happens when English propriety (read: pomposity) meets American forthrightness (read: obnoxiousness).

A Fistful of Dollars — Another remake that caught Johann’s eye, this spaghetti Western helped make Clint Eastwood an international superstar as he took on a role first made famous by Toshiro Mifune.

Flirting — Australian film set in a boys’ school next to a girls’ school gets the aches and joys of adolescence just right.

The Fountainhead — Michael O’Hare riffs and rants about the pains of watching this movie which is based on the work of third-rate philosopher Ayn Rand, whom he likes even less (if that’s possible).

The Frightened City — Herbert Lom and Sean Connery in a solid B-movie melodrama set in the London underworld.

Fruitvale Station — Most biopics focus on famous people, but this compelling film dramatizes a day in the life an ordinary person: Oscar Julius Grant III, who was the victim of an involuntary manslaughter by a police officer on New Year’s Eve, 2008. Reviewed by Johann Koehler.

Get Carter — Michael Caine is electrifying as a bereaved gangster who goes to Newcastle to find out how his brother died. Brutal and stylish.

Ghostbusters — Johann Koehler explains how improvisational comedy and big budget blockbuster filmmaking mesh beautifully in Ivan Reitman’s film about three friends who battle evil spirits.

Gilda — Rita Hayworth seduced the world with this tale of South American intrigue and romance, which also features terrific cinematography by Rudolph Maté and a fine co-leading performance by Glenn Ford.

Great Expectations — British film giant David Lean does right by Charles Dickens.

Green for Danger — The inimitable Alastair Sim investigates a murder in Sidney Gilliat’s marvelous comic mystery.

The Guard — The buddy cop formula gets an irreverent, knowing update in John Michael McDonagh’s tale of an African-American FBI agent saddled with a foul-mouthed, booze-swilling, prostitute patronizing, veteran Irish cop played by Brendan Gleeson. Reviewed by Johann Koehler.

La Haine — Mathieu Kassovitz’s tale of anomic youth in riot-plagued Paris is one of the best films to come out of independent French cinema. Reviewed by Johann.

A Hard Day’s Night — Richard Lester’s trendsetting musical is pure joy, with the Fab Four on the crest of unprecedented fame and success.

Heat — Johann praises another remake, this time one done by the same director as the original! Michael Mann’s supercharged cops and robbers films features an unforgettable, historic pairing of De Niro and Pacino.

Hell Drivers — Ex-Con Stanley Baker takes on a tough truck driving job, nasty criminals and an agreeably sassy Peggy Cummins in Cy Endfield’s exciting and dramatic film.

He Walked by Night — One the best post-war police procedurals (and the inspiration for Jack Webb’s Dragnet) in a nail-biting hunt for a serial killer which highlights John Alton’s unparalleled gift for moody photography.

The Hill — Director Sidney Lumet’s spare, gut wrenching study of men in a military prison stars Harry Andrews, Sean Connery and Michael Redgrave.

The History Boys — Nicholas Hytner’s adaptation of Alan Bennett’s hit play tells the story of an inspiring, unconventional teacher’s attempt to prepare a group of brainy, randy Yorkshire boys for the Oxford University entrance exams. Reviewed by Johann Koehler.

The Hitch-Hiker — The first film noir directed by a woman (Ida Lupino) is a white knuckles all the way ride based on the case of a real-life spree killer.

Hoop Dreams — One of the greatest documentaries ever made flinches at nothing in the lives of two African-American teenagers who dream of playing pro basketball. Perhaps the best film Keith has reviewed at RBC…unforgettable.

The Hospital — Paddy Chayefsky penned this acidic black comedy about the world of modern medicine and the patients and doctors who inhabit it.

House of Cards — F.U.! The original, British House of Cards mini-series about dastardly doings in Parliament and Whitehall remains politically aware, funny and suspenseful thanks to strong acting and a magnificent script.

The Howling — Aaahooooo!!! Lycanthropes terrorize an innocent couple in Joe Dante and John Sayles in-joke-filled werewolf tale aimed at horror movie buffs.

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying — The charming Robert Morse sings his way from window washer to CEO in 1950s Manhattan, in an effulgent adaptation of Frank Loesser’s Broadway smash.

Impromptu — Judy Davis sparkles as George Sand in a funny, sexy, artistic romp in the French countryside with Chopin, Liszt and Delacroix.

In a Lonely Place — Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame and Director Nicholas Ray are in peak form in this dark tale of romance and murder that packs an emotional wallop.

In the Loop — Armando Iannucci shows his mastery of political satire again with this hilariously foul-mouthed transatlantic tale of scheming pols and generals on the eve of war. Reviewed by Johann Koehler.

In the Name of the Father — Jim Sheridan’s searing 1993 film about the wrongful conviction of a young Irish screw-up on terrorism charges provides a vehicle for Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite to put on an acting clinic. Reviewed by Johann.

The Intruder — Roger Corman and William Shatner (!) deliver the goods in a film that is part superb character study, part a powerful dramatization of White Southern resistance to school integration.

I Walk Alone — Ex-con Burt Lancaster is out to get his former pal Kirk Douglas in this tough gangster melodrama.

In Which We Serve — Noel Coward’s sincere and stirring film about the Royal Navy succeeds as a patriotic wartime tonic and a memorable film in its own right.

It — Stephen King’s tale of a menacing clown battling a group of friends first as children and then as adults will send a shiver up your spine.

Kansas City Confidential — John Payne anchors this tough, exciting heist film that allegedly inspired Tarantino’s conception of Reservoir Dogs.

The Kennel Murder Case — William Powell makes a charming and clever Philo Vance in one of the best of the Hollywood detective film series of the 1930s and 1940s.

The Kid Stays in the Picture — Film buffs will love this unique documentary about rascal/genius producer Robert Evans, who was at the center of Hollywood’s re-invention in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The King of Comedy — Guest reviewer and actor Ian Jentle explains why this film and Raging Bull reveal the greatness of Robert DeNiro.

L.A. Story — Steve Martin’s largely successful effort to make a Woody Allen movie includes big laughs and sweetly romantic moments.

Layer Cake — An ultra-cool, violent British gangster film featuring Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney and Michael Gambon. The only review Keith wrote while sitting in one of the sets of the movie!

Local Hero — Master of quirkiness Bill Forsyth scores again with this endearing, funny tale of an American corporation’s effort to buy land from a group of Scottish villagers.

The Long Arm — The ever-solid Jack Hawkins plays a police inspector who has an idyllic family but faces the challenge of dealing with an extraordinarily clever and violent thief in post-war London.

The Long Good Friday — Bob Hoskins explodes as a British mobster in one of the best crime epics of recent decades.

Lured — Lucille Ball makes a wonderfully plucky heroine in Douglas Sirk’s strange and beguiling story of the hunt for a serial killer.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.

17 thoughts on “An Updated Digest of RBC Weekend Film Recommendations”

  1. I’m in the middle of building a comprehensive film library of the “good stuff”, not the available for streaming stuff, and I really appreciate these. They’re something I look forward to on Fridays. Thanks.

  2. Cannot resist mentioning “Tell Me a Riddle,” directed by Lee Grant, starring Melvyn Douglas and Lila Kedrova with a strong assist by Brooke Adams. It gave me a chance to see the things that a woman’s eye would register and focus on: in one scene, the camera suddenly focuses on some china teacups in a kitchen and brings them to the center of the screen, while in another scene, a baby’s hand grasps the finger of its very elderly grandfather as the camera zooms in and makes it the most important reality in the world at that moment. Also, the way Lee Grant uses filters for the flashbacks to the girlhood of Kedrova’s character, accompanied by the songs of Eastern European Jewry in the early twentieth century, just about take the viewer’s breath away. In the days before the VCR, I once traveled more than a hundred miles just to see it play again in a theater. My only regret is that I could never find a soundtrack for it despite years of searching.

  3. I know, I know, it’s your list, but,

    Under, “M”

    Stanley Kramer’s 1963 comedy masterpiece :

    “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”

    Thanks

  4. For sheer – strange – “The Bedsitting Room” (1969) can’t be beat. Cast is a list of Who’s Who in British comedy of the time. See imdb at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064074/ but the problem is catching it – never released and only shows up sporadically as a 3 am show on Showtime East or the like. DVR is your friend (VHS in my case).

    Marginally more normal, “The Stone Tapes” (1972 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069316/) and “SteamBath” (1973 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167415/). Also I did not see “Harold and Maude” on the list, or “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. Oh, and “Blazing Saddles” (“It’s twue, it’s twue!”) and “Young Frankenstein” (“walk this way”), both hilarious masterpieces of strange.

    Stuff to look forward to.

    re mad mad mad mad world: I feel much better now. Much.

  5. Keith: Alphabetical is all very nice, but how about sorted chronologically (not by when you posted the recommendation) or even better, by genre, chronologically. Yes, any of your readers could do this, but you have this information at your fingertips so it would be much less effort for you than any of us.

  6. I would like to read the M-Z list, but the link to that page throws the following error: You do not have permission to preview drafts.

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