I am a man of lists. I like arranging things and creating ordered lists to work through. I’m also a man who enjoys curating and recommending works of art and entertainment to people who don’t delve into film and literature as deeply as I do. I love recommendation lists for these reasons!
As a fan of cinema, I always like to be able find interesting movies that get lost in the shuffle and send them to point looking for something new!
That was the case last Sunday when listening to one of my favorite conservative podcasts! The host frequently talks about his lack of knowledge of popular films and how he doesn’t catch most of the references people make to him.
Me being me, I took an hour to draw up a SHORT list of 33 films I would recommend offhand to anyone looking for something new in their media diet. Not all of these are contemporary. Some of them go all the way back to the 1920s. That said, I didn’t pick anything too esoteric. This isn’t a list filled with weird artfilms like Andrei Rublev, Holy Motors, Seventh Seal, The Tree of Life, Diary of a Country Priest and Intolerance. These are all movies that I could see playing relatively well to an average filmgoer!
Plenty of them are light hearted comedies and engaging dramas! Some are more challenging but essential viewing. At its core though, this is just a list of great films with classical American/spiritual stories that I’d pass along to you to watch at your leisure!
For good measure, Most of these should be available to rent online or stream on Netflix!
1. Duck Soup: Lets start simple: a classic Marx Brother’s comedy riffing on the idiocy of the political class and the casual cruelty of political leaders whose inability to lead causes widespread conflict and war. Duck Soup must’ve been biting commentary post-WWI. In the age of Biden, populist disdain for the “establishment” and general discontent for political institutions, a film that takes the formality and laughs at it can feel vindicating.
2. Meet John Doe: From the same director as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life, this Depression-era comedy depicts a newspaper attempting to astroturf a tragic story about the death of the “everyman” into prominence and accidentally causes a movement of common decency to arise around one man’s story of failure. It’s a beautiful retelling of the Christ-story that captures the essence of modern cynicism and the excesses of corrupt media culture.
3. Sullivan’s Travels: A pretentious Hollywood director with no experience living in the real world attempts to create a piece of influential art by traveling across the United States for the first time by himself and slowly discovers the proper role of the artist in helping the lives of real suffering people should be.
4. On the Waterfront: We move onto a semi-autobiographical film about it’s director Elia Kazan’s personal journey abandoning the communism of his youth. When a young criminal is pressured to turn in the mobsters controlling the New York Docks, he’s faced with a personal crisis of loyalty and virtue. The film was an intensely angry work of prestige cinema that defends the right of the individual to speak for themselves and do the right thing against the whims of society.
5. A Face in the Crowd: In one of the most scathingly anti-populist films in history, Elia Kazan tells another extremely dark story about an unassuming down on his luck musician who ends up swindling his way into national fame and fortune by abusing his cult of personality. The film has been read as an Anti-Trump film but it’s more widely applicable. It’s a story about the nature of personality cults. It can be quite uncomfortable the watch…
6. Ace in the Hole: As one of the most scathing anti-media films in history, Billy Wilder’s drama about a group of parasitic newspapermen covering the tragedy of a man trapped in a mining accident turns into a farce as this tragedy becomes a means for media profit. Wilder is well known as one of the most playful and versitle screenwriters in history making films like Double Indemnity and Some Like it Hot. With this film, he’s at his angriest and most condemning!
7. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence: John Ford’s late-career masterpiece is widely regarded as one of the greatest westerns of all time! This slow, stagey and intentionally claustrophobic western tells the story about the challenging moral compromises that are necessary for the formation of a society. More controversially, the film ultimately asks how much history will care about the truth and lies of the past. It’s blinding cynical quote about “printing the legend” is an unforgettable line!
8. Buster Keaton Rides Again: One of the more rare documentaries in circulation, this unassuming film depicts the final years of one of the great comedians of early Hollywood history decades after his career fell apart. The aging washed up legend is shown filming one of his past short films in the 1960s shortly before his death. What makes it interesting is that it shows a washed-up comedian who still approaches his faded career with a sense of joy and professionalism that’s rare for anyone who’s best years are long behind them!
9. Death Wish: The classic Charles Bronson action thriller takes the crime-ridden New York City of the 1970s for a ride as a lone vigilante leads a one-man war against crime by becoming the only guns lighter willing to do what’s necessary to put the scum of society down. The film is a pitch black thriller that cuts to the core of the reactionary instinct within all of us that calls for justice in a cruel world by any means necessary.
If you like it, I recommend checking out the bonkers sequels as well! The 2018 remake isn’t bad either!
10. 1776: One of the few major Hollywood films about the American Revolution, this musical is set in June 1776 and follows John Adams as he attempts to convince Congress to sign the controversial Declaration of Independence. It’s a silly story but it’s remained a cult classic and an inspiration of many in the decades since. It does an amazing job humanizing the mythic figures of the American founding while capturing the drama behind their accomplishments.
Consider that this musical was the inspiration to Hamilton…
11. Network: A proto-type for modern films like Joker, Network follows a TV host in the final hours of his career as he’s allowed to go on a drunken rampage that accidentally sparks the attention of a nation collectively screaming “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”. It’s a film defined by its intense rage, societal unease and satire that rings true today!
12. Glory: One of the few great Civil War films, Glory depicts one of the important moments of the war with the creation of the first all-black regiment in military history. As a story though, it depicts one of the most important ideas a story about racism can cover: how to break down the barriers of prejudice through respect and virtue.
It’s a Great War movie, a great patriotic film and an amazing story about how America began to slowly wrestle with its worst sins!
13. The Right Stuff: Based on the novel by Tom Wolfe, this space-age epic depicts the founding of the American Space program and the talent search for the “Mercury Seven” astronauts. As a rebuttal to modern talks of toxic masculinity, the film posits that the traits that make men capable to take such a job include bravado, bravery and chauvinist pride.
14. October Sky: One of the better Oscar-flicks of the 1990s, this small drama follows the life of a Virginia coal miner’s son who is desperate to escape the fate of all the adult men in his community. In order to do this, he decides to commit his effort to become an amateur rocket scientist and winning a scholarship from NASA that will allow him to build a better life for himself. It’s a wonderful story of breaking the ties that find us by picking ourselves up by our bootstraps!
15. Groundhog Day: I am nowhere near the first conservative ever to sing the praises of Bill Murray’s minor masterpiece Groundhog Day. National Review Online STILL runs a yearly piece about the spiritual implications of the film. Despite being a low budget 1990s comedy, it’s developed an intense cult following as one of the most moralistic and genuinely vital films of the last century!
16. The Crossing: Another example of the rare Hollywood Revolutionary War film (not counting The Patriot or Drums Along the Mohawk), this low budget TV-film from the early 2000s is notable so far as it’s one of the rare serious dramas made about the American revolution. This short film depicts Washington’s desperate crossing of the Delaware River and the siege of Trenton following the loss of New York by the continental army. It depicts a rare moment of fear and doubt at a turning point where the war could’ve been lost within weeks.
17. The Lives of Others: William F. Buckley once described this unassuming German drama as “the greatest film I’ve ever seen”. The Lives of Others may in fact be that and the greatest anti-communist film ever made. This quiet drama is set against the final years of the Stazi’s rule over East Germany. When a dissident communist artist starts writing an article to smuggle across the border that could embarrass the party, a government spy watching the case is left with a crisis as to whether he can morally allow this man to be arrested.
18. Who Killed Captain Alex: One wouldn’t expect a bombastic CGI-laden action movie to be made in the slums of Uganda but that’s exactly what this film was. Though initially, just a meme laughed at because of how insane it’s content was, the films of Wakaliwood became an unironic success story when the touching story of the filmmakers behind them came to light. Suddenly this bizarre kung-fu mobster action comedy became quietly beloved as people realized it was made by one man’s passion for $200 in the middle of an active war zone.
If you don’t believe me, check out IHE’s lovely review of the film!
19. Bernie: (No not THAT Bernie) One of the stranger dramas of the last decade, Bernie is both a bizarre love story to middle American decency and an unexpected crime thriller that shows the profound effect that one man’s charity can have in building up a community. It feels like a contradiction. At the same time, it’s one of the most compelling, funny and emotional dramas of the last decade!
(Note: From the same director as Dazed and Confused, The Midnight Trilogy Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some, etc.)
20. Dallas Buyer’s Club: This small drama from 2013 tells an odd story of a Texas man who contracts HIV and opens up his own business “legally” providing experimental Mexican drugs to AIDS patients who otherwise can’t afford treatment for their disease. The movie has largely fallen by the wayside in recent years but it remains one of the best screeds against government bureaucracy in recent cinema!
21. Fury: One of the most suspenseful war films of the past decade was this somewhat underrated action movie that focuses on tank combat in the final weeks of World War II. There’s brutality and a sense of hopelessness that permeates the film but captures the essential truth of all warfare: “there are no pro-war stories.”
22. Patriot’s Day: This action film based on the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing was panned in the box office for its simplistic depiction of Muslim terrorism but, as a thriller, it’s top-notch filmmaking with some of the most dramatic true-to-life events in recent history. While it doesn’t have much to say about the nature of terrorism or police work, the film’s ability to capture painfully close-to-home imagery makes it subtly disturbing and tense.
23. Hacksaw Ridge: Mel Gibson’s most recent war film is one of the stranger pieces of biographical filmmaking and war films put in theaters. This epic tells the story of a Quaker pacificist who cannot touch a weapon because of his religion but who decides to serve in the military as a medic. His strange dedication ends up putting him in the right place to bring about one of the most incredible miracles of the battle of Okinawa.
24. Hail Caesar: This comedy from the directors of Fargo and No Country for Old Men tells the story of a 1950s Hollywood producer who servers as the studio “fixer” who is faced with a dilemma when his star actor is kidnapped by communist screenwriters. It’s a bizarre story that got somewhat panned upon release in early 2016. In hindsight, the movie has aged like fine wine!
As FCH once said, nobody else in Hollywood could get a movie like this made!
25. Darkest Hour: Considering how many leftists have utterly turned on Churchill, it’s amazing this 2017 film got made! The film tells the story of how Churchill took over the British government in the weeks leading up to the siege of London by the German airforce. It’s a quiet drama that captures the pressure the great prime minister felt in the first weeks of a war he wasn’t sure he’d win.
26. First Reformed: A disenfranchised and depressed Christian preacher finds himself radicalized by a global warming activist and starts planning to take revenge on the people he sees destroying God’s creation. While it’s not clear just how much the film ultimately agrees with its protagonist, it’s easy to look at this film as critical of its character’s bleak extremism.
Paul Schrader completely surprised the film industry when this film dropped unexpectedly in 2018 and now the aged screenwriter has become one of the most in demand filmmakers alive!
27. The Death of Stalin: The funniest film of the last half-decade was this British dark comedy about the week following the death of Joseph Stalin. This short comedy plays up the absurdity of the men in Stalin’s cabinet as they dance the careful dance of tyranny and struggle to cease power in the aftermath of a power vacuum.
28. Green Book: 2019’s Best Picture Oscar was criticized heavily by the left for it’s unscathing portrayal of American racism in the 1960s. In my read, the film is actually one of the most touching stories to tackle the topic of racial hatred in years. It actually does the hard work of breaking down the arbitrary walls of race and building bridges between people who don’t see eye to eye.
It’s a shame that the film isn’t quite up to date with the racialism of the modern left…
29. Won’t You Be My Neighbor: This documentary from 2018 tells the story of the life of Mr. Rogers. As undramatic as that might sound, the film does an amazing job expressing just how deeply one man’s uncommon kindness and patience can go to change the world. Mr. Rogers did the hard work of translating his Christianity into something gentle that touched the lives of millions of people who needed to hear his message!
No film in the last decade will leave you more inspired than this documentary!
30. Standoff at Sparrow Creek: The late film studio Cinestate produced several excellent grindhouse thrillers before it shuttered last summer (for… reasons…). One of it’s best films was this thriller about a rural milita group who comes to fear that one of its members shot up a police funearal. What follows is a surprising story about paranoia, disenfranchised people being pushed to the edge by government conspiracies and paranoia.
31. Chernobyl: This 2019 HBO miniseries manages to be one of the most scathing indictments of political untruths and the cost of lies in modern storytelling. It finds, in the tragedy of the Chernobyl power plant meltdown, something universal about the way people cut corners, preserve themselves and defend convenient lies for their own gain.
I have an extended essay for ArcDigital going in depth on the film’s topical themes!
32. Created Equal: Last year’s excellent documentary on the life of Justice Clarence Thomas is an amazing firsthand source on the life of the man in question. Borrowing heavily from his memoir, this one-on-one interview explores the life of the sitting Justice and how the intense congressional hearings surrounding his debunked sexual ethics complaints affected his life.
It will also give it’s viewers a seething hatred for Joe Biden if they didn’t have one before… Lest we forget, Joe Biden led some of the nastiest accusations against the sitting president during the hearings!
33. Mr. Jones: I’ve been relentless in pounding the impotence of this low budget historical thriller since I saw it back in the summer. Since then, I’ve interviewed the film’s screenwriter and declared it one of my favorite films of the past year!Thankfully, It only caught on by word of mouth and quickly shot onto many people’s radars as the most important film of the year.
This most unexpected Polish drama about the holodomer completely took my by surprise. While it’s an imperfect movie (the human drama of the real life horror outpaces the directing and character writing), Mr. Jones manages to deliver on exploring a historical event that remains one of the least understood in the 20th century. There are STILL communists who deny that Stalin purposely starved the Hungarian people to destroy them…
I will make it a mission that everyone I know sees this film just to help spread the truth.