Everyone needs inspiration from time to time or sometimes you just want to watch something new and different. For that, we’ve curated lists of movies and shows we recommend.
Enjoy all of these without any guilt, you’re sure to learn something along the way!
Classic Television: Way Back TV
I LOVE LUCY: The show that started the 3-camera set-up. The show that figured out and executed the sitcom format. It established the set-up and pay-off jokes writing style. Find it. Watch it.
COLUMBO: The definitive detective series. Smart. Well-crafted. Catch the early episodes. You’ll enjoy living in the 70’s.
MAVERICK: The western that broke the genre rules by adding humor. Each episode is a tutorial on how to break genre rules while still delivering the full package.
TWILIGHT ZONE: It holds up. Yes, you can really see the wires in some episodes. But the deep themes of humanity still resonate. It reminds every writer that tension and suspense are at the heart of conflict.
NORTHERN EXPOSURE: A show that built unique characters and created stories about human fear and frailty. Every episode is a reminder that “quirky” is an organic form of character based on neurotic need. Puts the overly-quirky shows today to shame.
SOPRANOS: You should see every episode from start to finish. A grand arc of story, character and theme. The violence is operatic. And the sex? Masterfully crafted into storylines by adding conflict, complication and tension.
PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE: Exceptional children’s programming. Ahead of its time. Nothing has matched it.
ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE: Probably the best cartoon ever made. Clever, subversive, funny. The precursor to all the edgy animated series on air today.
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE: Each episode is exceptionally crafted. Characters and stories that play out family drama and reinforce the theme of family, love, spiritual belief. You always feel better after watching an episode of Little House, is there anything wrong with that?
L..A. LAW: Overtly brutal in its intellectual pursuit of winning. Every episode is a writer’s handbook on how to transform the cerebral into the visceral.
CHEERS, WINGS, FRASIER: All from the same creators and masterminds. Clever story themes that are fresh. Character combinations that give the best opportunity for conflict and comedy. The characters don’t play the joke, they play the conflict.
Cozy Films: The Ones You Almost Forgot
We’re inundated with media, and seem to constantly search for the next super-charged special effects event like an addict looking for an eight ball. But now and then it’s nice to return to a movie that we forgot we loved.
This is my list of cozies.
DONOVAN’S REEF: John Wayne is in a non-western and he pulls it off.
CANNERY ROW: A romance that makes me fall in love with California.
THE STING: Did you forget how smart this movie is? And how sexy Redford and Newman are as a team?
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE: It’s as wonderful as you remember it. Lush, romantic, endearing.
TIME BANDITS: You’ll never watch Harry Potter again. This movie delights.
WITHNAIL AND I: The chicken scene makes you laugh and the final scene makes you cry.
THE ITALIAN JOB: The original with Michael Caine and Benny Hill. The last chase sequence is a stunner.
HAPPY NEW YEAR: If you only know Peter Falk from Columbo and Princess Bride, you have a pleasant surprise in store for yourself.
LOCAL HERO: Whenever you feel the need for a phone scene, watch this movie first.
POLLYANNA: Hayley Mills is the optimistic orphan that turns a town around.
Comedy Movies: The Best of the Bad
Funny is money. Hollywood is always looking for the next big comedy. Audiences will pay to laugh. But some comedies are just bad in all the right ways.
This is my list of bad comedies I can watch again and again.
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE: Any movie that makes up the word “liger” is tops on the bad comedy list. At the end of it, you’ll vote for Pedro.
POLICE ACADEMY: No one in the film industry is going to stand around and opine about the Police Academy franchise. But the truth is, they’re funny. What else do you want from a comedy?
BACHELOR PARTY: Tom Hanks gets a bachelor party. When suicide is a comedic subplot, you know you’ve got comedy gold.
PILLOW TALK / LOVER COME BACK / SEND ME NO FLOWERS: They’re all basically the same movie. Doris Day and Rock Hudson are charming, romantic and funny.
MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT: Paula Prentiss is paired with Rock Hudson and it’s everything opposite of the Doris Day romance formula. Paula does the chasing and lying.
FOLLOW THE BOYS: No woman on earth is funnier or sexier than Paula Prentiss, then add Connie Francis and Janis Paige chasing through Italy and France to rendezvous with their Navy husbands and you’ve got a chick comedy. Also, Connie Francis sings the theme song: Follow the Boys. And they do.
CADDY SHACK: Can anyone find a structure with this movie? Who cares? You’ve got Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase. Doesn’t get any funnier than that.
HALLELUJAH TRAIL: It’s big and unwieldy. But it’s a comedy western with a wagon train of whiskey heading west. Donald Pleasance is weirdly cast as an oracle. It works.
ONE CRAZY SUMMER: It should be called one sub-plot too many. It has too much going on with too many characters, but it’s funny. John Cusack is at the center of the crazy.
A SHOT IN THE DARK: The second of the Pink Panther movies and it has almost no plot. But Peter Sellers uses every opportunity to create big and small comedy moments. A jewel.
Irish Films: Acting the Maggot
OH THE IRISH!
THE QUIET MAN: Politically incorrect. Thank God.
A DATE FOR MAD MARY: Skewed in all the right ways.
INTERMISSION: It’s a requirement that every Irish movie has an edge of subversiveness.
WAKING NED DEVINE: Irish humor. Irish small town. Irish pluck.
MICHAEL COLLINS: Big story, big characters played against monumental events of history.
THE COMMITMENTS: Soul music in Dublin
THE SNAPPER: Gossiping townsfolk and a pregnant young woman make this very Irish movie a romp.
LEAP YEAR: It’s the American view of an Irish movie. But it’s a romance with Amy Adams so there’s a lot of fun here.
CALVARY: A comedy about a priest who takes a death threat seriously. Every person he interacts with could be his deadly stalker.
BROOKLYN: Beautiful story of immigrants in New York.
SING STREET: Big. Fun. Lots of music. Lots of Irish energy. You’ll hug yourself then book airfare to Ireland.
Military Films: Stand Up and Salute
MILITARY MOVIES: STAND UP AND SALUTE!
No one honors the military in a more celebratory way than Hollywood. Here are some of the best.
SERGEANT YORK: A moral pacifist from the backwoods becomes the most decorated American soldier of WWI.
TOP GUN: Yes, it still gets the heart pumping. The opening sequence thrills, and it just gets better and better with every push of action.
THE RIGHT STUFF: You will be so proud to call yourself an American as you sit through every beautiful frame of this magnificent movie. Watch for Levon Helm as Major Jack Ridley, the only actor who could out-laconic Sam Shepherd.
M*A*S*H: This film still holds up. There’s almost no structure, but it’s Robert Altman in the ‘70s and everybody was high. So we can forgive it. Funny and tragic.
THE GREAT DICTATOR: Confirming again that Charlie Chaplin was brilliant, observant and sly.
APOCALYPSE NOW: What is it with war movies and insobriety? Everyone was high and drunk, it shows in some scenes. It’s still an overwhelming visceral experience.
THE DEER HUNTER: A movie of cruel beauty. A reminder of who fights on the front lines for our country.
PATTON: We’ve always suspected that the best military leaders walked on the edge of insanity. Patton is played impeccably by George C. Scott. It’s a Francis Ford Coppola script and the opening monologue sets up the entire movie.
STALAG 17: This movie shows William Holden at his best. Boredom, paranoia and betrayal in a German POW camp during WWII.
THE GREAT ESCAPE: Another German POW camp. The title says it all.
Mom Movies: Oh Sweet Mother
OH SWEET MOTHER
Film honors and vilifies mothers. Mothers are at the center of our favorite stories. The list can go on and on, but for now here are my favorite films about Mother.
MOMMIE DEAREST: You knew it would be at the top of the list, and rightly so.
TERMS OF ENDEARMENT: Okay now we have the obvious choices out of the way.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY: Do not watch this film alone. If you don’t watch it for Mother’s Day then save it for Halloween.
PLACES IN THE HEART: Love, courage and strength.
BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES: Mother at the center of a family as soldiers return home from WWII. You’ll want to call your mother and say those three little words: I love you.
MASK: Cher plays against sentiment which only makes this film more wonderful.
THE FAMILY STONE: Finally, a movie that shows the fragmentation, chaos and sibling rivalry of real life. Diane Keaton holds it all together as the mother at the center of the chaos.
SHOOT THE MOON: Is Diane Keaton the only actor who can play a mother? Keep your hankies close at hand.
PSYCHO: Oh Norman. Behave. Make your mother proud.
FRIENDLY PERSUASION: Dorothy McGuire holds the family together as a Quaker mother during the Civil War.
Musicals: Sing It Out
OH SWEET MUSICALS!
We aren’t people who typically love a musical, so any film that is labeled with this genre has to go a long way to win us over.
Here is the list of movies that are must see, especially for those looking for that big moment inspiration.
CABARET: It’s got everything. Men in the closet. Men coming out of the closet. Nazis. Liza Minelli in lingerie. Exceptional.
ALL THAT JAZZ: Nihilism meets hedonism. Who will win?
THE MUSIC MAN: A big valentine to the heartland. It’s fun and grand with beautiful music.
WEST SIDE STORY: Exceptional songs and music. Some of it seems a little campy now, but it’s still right there.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN: It makes you want to sign up for a class in tap and ballroom dancing.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS: Big numbers set in Paris. Gene Kelly at his best.
HELLO DOLLY: Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau? You’ve got to love it. There’s a killer dance number with Tommy Tune.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS: Sisters rule!
LION KING: The opening sequence alone will make you stand up and cheer.
GREASE: It’s still the word.
Tearjerker Films: Cry It Out
YOU’RE GOING TO CRY
Why do audiences love tearjerkers? It might seem odd, but going to a sad movie is much the same as going to worship. You gather in a large room, and find a seat among the upholstered rows. You sit quietly and let the words move through you.
You wait for catharsis.
TEARJERKERS TO CRY FOR:
BRIAN’S SONG: Football, friendship and a fatal disease.
TERMS OF ENDEARMENT: We’ve all cried through this film and we keep coming back every time it plays on a late night channel.
OLD YELLER: The seminal film for tearjerkers. It will still break your heart after all these years.
PLACES IN THE HEART: I dare you to sit through the last ten minutes of the film without crying.
MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS: Yes. It’s about every wonderful teacher you meant to thank.
SHANE: When you hear that final plaintive call across the valley, you will cry. “Shane! Come back, Shane!”
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY: Get your tub of ice cream and a bottle of amaretto to pour over it. You will weep buckets.
E.T.: Come on! Who isn’t in happy tears when Elliott takes E.T. home by flying his bicycle over the desert.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS: Teenagers, disease, young love.
POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE: The mother daughter stuff gets you every time.
GHOST: There’s nothing better than being in love with a dead guy.
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: This film will get you right in the heart.
THE WAY WE WERE: Why can’t we all just promise to stay in love forever?
WITHNAIL AND I: Funny and sad. The best combination of both.
GOODBYE MR. CHIPS: Courage from a quiet man. Get out your hankies.
The Great Westerns: The Ultimate Americana Classics
HEAD ‘EM UP AND MOVE ‘EM OUT
Why Westerns matter: Westerns form the ultimate American film genre. They define in theme and character the best and worst of the American soul and spirit. Westerns are built by intertwining the three act structure with the Hero’s journey. If you want to learn structure, watch westerns. If you want to learn how to execute Hero’s journey, watch westerns.
Westerns built the American film industry.
WESTERN MUST SEE MOVIES;
SEARCHERS: It’s typically at the top of every list for a reason, it’s beautifully crafted, from an exceptional screenplay. It follows the paradigm of Hero’s Journey before there was such a thing to the point that when the Hero is supposed to be in the inmost cave, the cowboy hero is literally in a cave.
SHANE: The stranger that rides into town and cleans it up. Deep themes of alienation, family, inspiration and redemption.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE: Come back to the western, this film will make you love every part of the genre.
THE WAR WAGON: John Wayne and Kirk Douglas fight for the lost ranch and a shipment of gold.
TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE: Written and directed by black listed writer, Abe Polonsky. A manhunt for a Paiute Indian wanted for murder. Modern themes in the western genre.
THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER: John Wayne has to clean up the town and get his family ranch back from swindlers.
BIG JAKE: John Wayne on a manhunt for the men who kidnapped his grandson. Every sequence of adventure is fun and surprising.
THE BIG COUNTRY: Romance out west. Hint, hint, the hero gets the girl.
GOOD BAD UGLY / FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE / FISTFUL OF DOLLARS / JOE KIDD / HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER: The best of the Eastwood westerns. Each film a jewel. Violent, dusty, relentless. These are the westerns that revived the genre. Forget Unforgiven, these titles will keep you happy all winter when you’ve watched everything on TV.
SILVERADO: An homage to the old westerns. Big, brazen, sentimental.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF: The western genre played for comedy. James Garner, Jack Elam, Walter Brennan and Bruce Dern play every scene with delightful zeal.
GIANT: I don’t know if it’s technically a western, but it sure feels like it. Spend an afternoon with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean.
Young Love: We Love Love
SPRING MEANS YOUNG LOVE:
We love films about love. We love to see the first romance, the first kiss, the first heartbreak. We love the movie that reminds us of our own awkward coming of age.
This is my list of movies I love to love.
SIXTEEN CANDLES: John Hughes knows this turf like no other.
THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY SOXER: Cary Grant and a teen Shirley Temple rock this movie. Throw in Myrna Loy and it is the right mix of young love and sibling rivalry.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS: Sisters who are figuring out their place in the world. This is what Greta Gerwig’s Little Women wanted to be.
THE STERILE CUCKOO: When you want lessons in how to create a quirky character with depth and soul, watch this film.
BYE BYE BIRDIE: Teenagers go wild for a rock star.
PARTY GIRL: Parker Posey makes the Dewey Decimal system sexy.
SAY ANYTHING: Lloyd Dobler is still the definitive sensitive boyfriend everybody wishes they had dated.
MEATBALLS: Campers and camp counselors playing out our best memories of camp.
RED SKY AT MORNING: Nobody knows this film, but it is a real jewel. Teenagers in New Mexico while WWII rages on the far shores.
SUMMER OF ’42: Horny teenage boys stuck on Nantucket Island for the summer.