I put together the following list more or less off the cuff for a friend of mine who asked for some movies worth seeing. It's based mostly on old movie ratings I had stored and things that came to mind (hence, heavily biased toward movies I like). They're divided in three parts from least obscure to most obscure. I think all of these have something substantial to offer, generally in terms of stuff to think about, but always also in terms of artistic quality, skill of execution, etc. There are flaws (some of them are better written, some are better shot, etc.), but such is life. A great resource for becoming familiar with movies is http://www.criterion.com/explore
To start with, here are some greats that you should have already seen but maybe havent:
- Apocalypse Now Redux (important: see the redux version, it's a totally different movie)
- The Godfather
- Groundhog Day
- Rear Window
- Schindler's List
Other things that are very good (or great) and easy to enjoy, but a little more obscure (foreign ones list the original language):
- The Royal Tenenbaums
- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (french)
- High Noon
- Jules and Jim (french)
- Smiles of a Summer Night (swedish)
- Yi Yi (chinese)
- Gandhi (long)
- Babette's Feast (danish)
- La Strada (italian)
- The Navigator (silent but hilarious)
- Ikiru (japanese)
- A Man for All Seasons
- Spirited Away (japanese)
- M (german)
- Michael Clayton
- The 400 Blows (french)
- The Lives of Others (german)
- Annie Hall
- Breakfast at Tiffany's
Other things that, because they have dark subject matter or are unusually deep or very long, are difficult to get into, but are frequently greater films than the above. I'll list a quick blurb after these, because they're worth it:
The Last Emperor (extremely long) — The last emperor of China is deposed while still a child. We follow him into adulthood as he tries to find his place in the world. (based on fact)
Stalker (the one directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, russian) — A scientist and novelist are lead into a quarantined paranormal zone by a "stalker" who knows how to find a room where your heart's deepest desire comes true. Extremely profound.
Seven Samurai (japanese, extremely long) — A village hires seven samurai to protect it from raiding bandits. Consistently listed among the greatest films ever made.
Andrei Rublev (russian, extremely long) — We follow a famous icon painter through adulthood into old age as he struggles with his skill, other people, and his faith. Unquestionably one of the greatest films ever. (based on fact)
Lawrence of Arabia (extremely long) — A nerdy and eccentric british officer leads an army of camel-riding Arabs during WWI. Very psychological, one of the greatest films ever made.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — A professor and his wife invite a young professor and his wife over for an after party. The first pair engage in vicious psychological attacks on each other and their guests, masked as a series of "games". Intense, but amazing acting from Richard Burton and Liz Taylor.
Wild Strawberries (swedish) — An old doctor goes on a road trip to receive an honorary degree, and reassesses his life along the way.
Lost in Translation — A young philosophy grad (Yale!) meets a burned out movie star at a Tokyo hotel and they become friends. Good when you're lonely.
The Conversation — Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert plagued with fears about the intentions of his latest client. It's unnerving and it's got a great Jazz soundtrack.
Cries and Whispers (swedish, psychologically disturbing) — We watch a woman struggle through her last days with cancer through the eyes of her two sisters and the maid. Very intense, potentially upsetting, nonetheless some of the best directorial work ever done. The film hits hard on questions of faith, suffering, psychology, love, generosity, and self-loathing.