The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Musings on film recommendations

with 32 comments

Do you recommend a lot of films to your friends? And do you follow the recommendations your friends give to you?

In this post I’m going to write a bit about recommendations and what value they have or don’t have.

Against film recommendations
I recently got into a discussion on this topic, when a Swedish science fiction fan I know since many years argued against the value of giving or receiving recommendations of books and films.

He compared it to the fights you could have as a teenager, arguing about which rock band was the best one. According to him, this is a rather pointless thing to do, since it’s a matter of taste anyway, and the same goes with movies. He asked rhetorically in which way a book experience becomes better because someone turns out to like what you’ve recommended to them. Isn’t it even a case of piggybacking, where you steal a bit of the glory from the author (or film maker) since you were the one who “discovered” and recommended it?

From recommending science fiction books to everyone he knew in his youth, my friend has gone so far as not to recommend anything to anyone. Occasionally he writes articles where he celebrates Virginia Wolf, because he’s such a fan boy, but he doesn’t give a damned about if his friends read her or not. Equally he never gets anything recommended to himself. He doesn’t read reviews and he’s so sensitive for spoilers that he doesn’t read cover texts. His priority list is composed out of his own mind, based on previous experiences and general knowledge.

Creating a bond
My response to this was that I think book and film recommendations can be like putty, which brings people together. It can build or reinforce a friend or love relationship, depending on how it’s given. Of course this is on the condition that it’s not just a dogmatic statement that you throw out to any person you meet, regardless of age and preferences: “You have to watch movie X, because it’s the best in the world”. But assuming that you give your recommendation with afterthought, after considering what kind of movie that person probably would like, it’s something that I’d regard as a gift. It’s not quite as a mixed tape, but almost.

And how wonderful isn’t it if it turns out that someone else shares your love for that odd little movie that no one else seems to like? The bond that is forged by this gives at least me a nice and cosy feeling in the stomach.  Someone linked me a quote that is supposed to come from Edith Nesbit in the book The Wonderful Garden:

There is no bond like having read and liked the same books”.

Of course it doesn’t mean that the entire friendship should be based on that you like the same book or film. But it’s quite a nice door opener.

Movies as a filter
Some people take this very far though, using movies as a tool to decide who they want to befriend. Like this comment that I found about the movie High Strung  (which most of you probably never have heard of; it’s the favourite of one of the members of the Filmspotting community, unfortunately he had troubles finding someone else who shared this love.):

“This film is very revealing. If you enjoy it, you’ll know what I mean… you’ll have shared it with dozens of friends- some will get it, some just wont. This is a roll-on-the-floor-laughing film for me, and for those close friends who share my sense of humor. For those who just can’t find the humor in it, good night and good bye. Also, you might try this one out as a “filter” of sorts for people you’re dating… don’t want to consider getting serious with someone who just doesn’t share your spice for life and all things satirical.”

Speaking for myself, I can’t think of any movie or book that is so important to me that it would be a deal breaker for a friendship. But on the other hand I don’t frown upon suggestions from other people about movies to watch. Actually it’s one of the reasons why engaging yourself in the blogging community is so rewarding. What is it if not a big, glorious party where we trade our best recommendations with each other?

Looking for recommendations
If you after reading my blog for a while have an idea about a movie you think I should watch, please go ahead and tell me. My to-watch-list is certainly frightening long already, but you never know when an opportunity turns up and it would be a shame to pass on an excellent movie out of ignorance about its existence.

Right now I’m especially looking for recommendations for up-beat films. I’ve got a terrible cold and I could need something to make life feel a bit easier. What movies do you watch when you need revitalization?  Please share it over a cup of coffee. I promise I’ll not sneeze on you.

Written by Jessica

November 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

32 Responses

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  1. I’m just confused about the world in which no recommendations exist. Is it a world where we must blindly wander the artistic landscape grasping randomly at things in hope of finding something of value? I suppose once you’ve found something you like (an author/director or a genre) you can start to recommend things to yourself and start being a little less random. Ultimately though, having people say this or that is something they liked can help us. Similar to the fine-tuning done on one’s own, we become more aware of what other people like and it makes the recommendation process more accurate. Still, without outside pressures getting you to try new things, one might not realize that their tastes aren’t as limited as they initially thought.

    On the other hand, it is always dangerous to offer recommendations with preconditions such as saying a relationship is on the line. Even though everyone else is so dreadfully wrong about High Strung, genius comedy that it is, that some of my closest filmwatching friends not only didn’t love it but downright hated it didn’t diminish the friendship. I hate too many of the things they love to start playing that game and would find it a lonely world indeed.


    November 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    • Bondo, I’m glad you could get through the High Strung crizis without ruining your friendship with the filmspotting buddies! And as you say, the more I think of it, the weirder does a world without recommendations seem. As a matter of fact I suspect strongly that my friend is cheating on his own idea, even if he’s not aware of it.


      November 13, 2011 at 11:18 am

  2. You’ve covering a lot of interesting issues here. First of all, I really enjoy getting recommendations for movies, books, music, restaurants, etc. Obviously, I have to consider the source when considering how close to believe them. For example, when an older co-worker who’s not that into movies said Larry Crowne was the best movie she’d seen this year, I didn’t run out to see it. However, it’s still interesting to find out what people recommend, regardless of how good the end product actually is. It tells you a lot about a person, especially acquaintances who I don’t feel that much of a connection with at times. This leads into your discussion about friendships or relationships being connected to liking certain things for some people. It’s always nice to find something in common with a friend or significant other, but it also can be fun to disagree about a movie. Life gets pretty boring if there’s too much consensus. Excellent post.

    Dan Heaton

    November 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    • Thank you Dan! Yes, I must admit that I too sometimes put together an image of a person from what books or films they like. That’s why sneakingly looking in other peoples shelves of films and books is so intriguing!
      Of course that kind of judgement can be a bit too quick sometimes. You never know why a person has a certain film for instance. Perhaps it was given to him/her and he/she actually hates it?

      But yes, I think talking about what movies and books you like can be quite of an icebreaker in a conversation with someone you don’t know particularly well, opening up for further discussions on other topics.


      November 13, 2011 at 11:14 am

  3. I find recommendation to be a tricky game. There are some movies I feel confident recommending to almost anyone. That’s not to say that everyone will like it, just that there is a higher likelihood, and in the case that they don’t like it they probably won’t hate me for recommending it. A good example of that was Slumdog Millionaire. I saw that film at TIFF in 2008 and I recommended it to ever single person who would listen. The opposite of that would be Funny Games, which I don’t think I could recommend to anyone unless they already like Haneke, or maybe if they’re cinephiles just looking for more stuff to watch.

    Then there’s the problem of knowing another person’s taste. I can almost always recommend the right movies to my mom. I know her tastes, and I know that she’s open enough to different kinds of movies that I can easily recommend stuff to her (and tell her to avoid certain movies). My dad is the opposite. He’s a lot more open to different “genres” but he’s also a lot less tolerant of stuff that’s a bit more “out there”. The problem is, it’s always hard to tell what exactly he will take to. For example, he loved the movie The Cell, which is a pretty weird movie, but he thought (500) Days of Summer was too weird. Yeah. I have no idea how to recommend movies to my dad.

    Also, High Strung is terrible. Bondo is a crazy person.

    Corey Atad

    November 11, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    • yeah, there are some movies that are so broad that I’d recommend it widely. Like Inception. I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t recommend it to actually. But the more cinephilic a movie gets the less prone will I be to recommend it without really taking into consideration the person I’m speaking to.

      Re: Bondo. He is. And so are you. I’m glad you’re still on speaking terms with each other after the High Strung incident. 🙂


      November 13, 2011 at 11:25 am

  4. Recommendations is how I decide which movie to watch, game to play and books to read. There are thousands of these and I have only so little time, the only way to save time is to see what critics thought of it and follow their advice. If I liked their advised books I’ll go and follow their advice more and more and else, I’ll just find other people who’s advice I can follow.

    And only yesterday I was discussing South Korean movies with a friend. I advised him to watch the really good movie, I saw the devil. And he gave me a few recommendations (The third man). Knowing his tastes a bit I can see which movies that he probably will like.

    As for some upbeat recommendations:
    -The whole Hornblower series, they always make me happy after seeing them and are absolutely brilliant.
    -Juno, back to the future, shrek, stand by me and groundhog day all make me happy but you’ve probably seen them all.


    November 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    • Juno, back to the future, Shrek, Stand by me, Groundhog day – they all make me happy! I don’t have most of them in my shelf, but thinking about them makes me in a better mood. 🙂

      As of Hornblower, I’ve never seen it. Thanks for the idea! I’ll see what I can do to find it.


      November 13, 2011 at 11:05 am

  5. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of recommendations, partly due to just the sheer amount of media out there. I like games, but amI capable of keeping up with every game released across four platforms every day? No. Recommendations are often how I’ve found titles I’ve not heard about or manged to kip over, some of which have become very hug influences to me.

    I found a certain pig tailed gnome with an odd pink hue to it due to a recommendation after I explained to someone I enjoyed Alamo the druid.

    I’ll never turn down a recommendation, it’s just more options, what I do though is rate peoples recommendations to my tastes. Totalbiscuit for example, has very similar tastes to me so when he recommends a game I haven’t tried yet or haven’t heard of, I’m likely to listen. Jesse Cox on the other hand has very differing tastes, and while I find him very entertaining, we just don’t click tastewise, so I would be less likely to take a recommendation from him.

    I usually recommend things I think people may have not heard of, or that are unique in some way I think appeals to them. My greatest joy is giving someone a recommendation in a field they’re fairly sure they don’t like, and have them enjoy it. Ie: someone fairly sure they hate anime, but love horror may enjoy Requiem from the Darkness ( with it’s sunique art style and lovely macabre feel.

    I do also enjoy recommending things which are important to me, simply because they’re a good insight into me. I recommend Boys Don’t Cry because it is a good expression of a part of my life I have difficulties talking about. You may not enjoy the movie but you’ll know more about me.

    Anyway for an upbeat title for you….I’d recommend Duck Soup with the Marx Brothers. But what do I watch to cheer up? Muppet Treasure Island or Treasure Planet.


    November 11, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    • The Marx brothers! Oh, I haven’t watched them in years and years. And the same with the muppets. Thanks for the ideas!

      I think you have a very valid point about how a film or book recommendation can say somthing about yourself. Like the movie you mentioned. If that movie is important to you on a personal level and you recommend it to someone telling giving the reasons, it’s certainly something that can bring you closer and deepen your friendship.


      November 13, 2011 at 11:09 am

  6. I like recommendations… why else would I read blogs and write a blog? It’s so nice to talk with friends and recommend or get recommendations, I mean… it’s a big part of many of my friendships. And then you can talk about the films or books afterwards and compare your opinions.

    Mette M. K. (@Limette9)

    November 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    • Yeah, it’s a little funny that my friend who doesn’t give or read recommendations actually runs a movie blog. You might wonder for what purpose… 🙂


      November 13, 2011 at 11:03 am

  7. I do give less recomendations IRL nowadays than I used to do. It might have to do with me having a very specific taste liking both really commercial films and narrower arty stuff. I do listen to some recommendations but I’m allergic to hype and tend to wait with films, books etc that get overhyped.

    When it comes to our project I do recommend Midnight Run since its a really light hearted film that should get your mood back on track even though you are having a cold.

    Joel Burman

    November 12, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    • I’m dying to see Midnight Run Joel! Can I borrow a copy from you?


      November 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

      • Definitively, I’ll try to find it today and send it in the mail tomorrow.

        Joel Burman

        November 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm

  8. If I have discovered something I like, it is quite natural for me to want to share this with other people. In the (hopefully) mutual appreciation one can discover whole new dimensions. Also, it would be much to exhausting to try and live a recommendation-free life. Imagine, you would have to be on your guard constantly 😉

    OT: Really nice to see that Nesbit is not forgotten! If I remember correctly the quote concerns the scene where the Three Cs get acquainted over Dickens.


    November 13, 2011 at 12:01 am

    • Actually I have my doubts if my friend is as recommencation-free as he imagines himself to be. I think you get and give more influences than you might be aware of.

      I read several Nesbit novels as a child. Not that particular one, but The House of Arden was a favourite!


      November 13, 2011 at 10:58 am

      • The House of Arden is a nice one but my favourite has always been The Magic City.


        November 16, 2011 at 9:27 pm

  9. I often find myself recommending films to friends. Often I am asked what is worth seeing at the cinema, or a good example of a chosen genre. I work at a cinema too, and it’s amazing how many people come in to see a film without knowing what they want to see or what any of them are about. I am asked to give a quick summary (and review – lucky I do what I do, I say) and recommend a film in a lot of instances. It’s risky because you have to quickly assess what their film interests are and whether they will enjoy it. It’s different to recommending a DVD to a friend (it costs a couple of dollars) because its a cinema ticket and it’s expensive.

    As for taking recommendations – I have been doing it a lot this year. Mostly from other bloggers (James Blake Ewing is the main culprit). That’s why I often leave my intended blogging agendas (the Godard marathon last month for example) and watch films I have been recommended. I’m always willing to give a film a shot – unless I have heard disastrous things about the film – and the recommendation doesn’t convince me otherwise. Nice post Jessica.

    Andrew Buckle

    November 13, 2011 at 12:02 am

    • Thanks Andrew!
      I can imagine it’s a tricky thing to give personal recommendations as a professional. You really don’t want unhappy customers. And if you look at the user ratings at IMDb you can certainly see how different opinions there can be about one and the same movie. Very well articulated, opinions that make equal sense, but from different points of view, where I sometimes can understand the rating from the one who gave it 10 as well as 1. It’s just a matter of perspective.

      It’s nice to hear how you get inspiration to watch movies from other bloggers. I’m just the same, not the least when it comes from a blogger who I think is fairly close to myself in preferences.


      November 13, 2011 at 11:01 am

  10. It’s interesting that you talk about the more communal aspects. For me, recommendations tend to be more about the individual engagement, trying to get a feel for what a person might like and then recommending something that might push the boundaries a bit and challenge their conceptions.

    At least for me, that’s what intrigues me about checking out other people’s recommendation. It’s a chance to broaden my own horizons and also get insights into what other people find compelling and interesting about film.

    James Blake Ewing

    November 13, 2011 at 7:03 am

    • I love your angle here James. Not only to give people suggestions about what you know they’re like, playing the safe cards, but actually giving them something that might push the boundaries a bit. It’s really a gift.


      November 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

  11. Hi, nice post. I agree with the two comments above. I really enjoy giving recommendations that people enjoy, it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to have accurately judged another person’s taste and led them to something (usually a film) that they’ve enjoyed.
    I don’t often seek advice from other people, because I come across enough things I want to watch, read and listen to by myself, but if someone strongly recommends something I will always seek it out, even if I think I won’t like it. Often I’m right (Con Air) but sometimes I’m very pleasantly surprised (Enchanted)

    In answe to your question, my feel-better-films are: Bande A Part, Enchanted, My Neighbour Totoro.
    Solo x


    November 13, 2011 at 7:52 am

    • Hi there! Thank you for your kind words and your suggestions. I’ve seen Enchanted many years ago with my kids and I remember it as a little silly but actually much better than I had expected. Bande A Part and My Neighbour Totoro are movies I have yet-to-see.


      November 13, 2011 at 11:15 am

  12. Wow – great discussion you’ve sparked here! I get asked for recommendations a lot given the amount of films I see, and I usually try to take the person requesting into consideration before suggesting. If they are a person who likes the very highbrow, or very lowbrow, then there’s no point in trying to nudge them into something outside of their comfort zone. Instead, I’ll try to think of something recent that plays to their strength and suggest that. Keeps people friendly.

    The other thing I like to do is turn the question around and ask “What do you feel like seeing?” and then work with their mood. Sometimes they are willing to just take me at my word and go to whatever I suggest, other times they specifically say “Something light”, “Something heavy”, “Something twisted”, etc. It narrow down the recommendation from “Where should I have lunch?” to “Do you know any good Italian places for lunch?’

    But you bring up a great point about judging people on their reaction to your recommendations. There *are* certain films that I would silently judge a person on (“You didn’t like PSYCHO? Really???”) but when it comes to films that are more nuanced (TREE OF LIFE, TAKE SHELTER, A SERIOUS MAN) I might discuss why someone didn’t like it…better to be agreeable.

    *great* post Jessica

    Ryan McNeil

    November 13, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    • I think your comparsion to restaurant recommendations is a good one. In that case you often have money to take into account as well. You adjust your suggestions to how much the person is prepared to put into their dinner. Movies are usually more or less the same. Everything costs the same at the video store.

      By the way this brings us to another interesting question: what if you payed different sums for different movies. Would it affect your watching? I guess the added cost for 3d is a trial in that direction, but not particularly successful. But what if you payed for something else… Exclusivity and quality versus cheap blockbusters? It probably wouldn’t work as a business model, but why?

      I guess I’m a bit off the topic now. But your comment sparked some further thoughts. Thank you for contributing and for your kind words!


      November 13, 2011 at 6:17 pm

  13. Interestingly, I rarely recommend any films to my friends unless they ask me for an opinion. Of course, as a film critic, a world without film recommendation would leave me with very little to do. But, and this is the reason I don’t generally recommend films to friends, is that those that read my reviews do so because they choose to.


    November 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    • I don’t think any of my friends from my ordinary life, outside the film blogosphere, reads my blog to be honest. I’m open about its existence but it’s just not any interesting to them I’m afraid. Maybe the best people to recommend films to are other film buffs since they’re receptive about it.


      November 14, 2011 at 10:24 pm

  14. Recommending movies is always great and it has opened many doors to the type of movies I wouldn’t always pick out myself. It has broadened my movie tastes and there are specific bloggers who I know have about the same taste as I do, if they like a movie I’ll also try to watch it.


    November 15, 2011 at 8:28 pm

  15. I am spending this year teaching my daughter to write reviews (not necessarily film). One of the things I have her do is make a recommendation. But not just a general “recommendation”, but what kind of person might like the film/book/game. I’m trying to train her to think of recommendations as a means to understand other people. If we only think about a film, all we can say is what we like. But knowing my father is an action film buff, I won’t be recommending Babette’s Feast to him (which is what my mother did, to disastrous results).

    Oh, I’m also teaching my daughter ancient Greek. But I’m not making her write reviews in it.

    Steve Kimes

    November 16, 2011 at 8:28 am

  16. First off, I can’t quite get in the headspace of your sci-fi friend at all. I guess if he just means that he’s not pushing people to read or enjoy the same stuff he does, then yeah. I love Virginia Woolf, but I don’t care if other people don’t. But not giving recommendations at all is like saying “I read or watched this thing that I love a whole lot and even though I think you might like it too I’m going to keep it ALLLLL to myself and not ever let you know it exists.” I guess that’s an extreme case, because you might find out about it another way, but there are tons of times that I wouldn’t have known about an obscure film or author unless someone told me that they thought I might like it, and my life would’ve been worse off. It seems selfish in a way not to tell people about things that you think they might enjoy. Obviously if it tips into the range of “you HAVE to like this” then it’s too far, but that’s now how I see recommendations.

    A lot of people do ask me for recommendations on movies because they know I’m a fanatic, have seen a bunch, and write a blog, but I often find it difficult to make them unless I know the person really well. Once in a while I’ll see questions like “what’s a movie you think everyone should see” and I absolutely cannot answer that question. Recommendations have to be tailored to the individual or their worthless. Similarly, I accept recommendations graciously from anyone, but I only actually follow through on ones from people whose taste I trust. 🙂


    November 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    • That’s an interesting angle, that keeping your gems to yourself, not telling anyone about them, actually is a bit selfish. I think you have a point.


      November 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm

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