Monday, April 27, 2015

The Best Movies for Each Letter of the Alphabet – Part 1: A to H, Plus Numbers

Note: this was too long to do in a single post.  I will break this up into three pieces and then include links to each one as I go along.

From time to time I’ve seen people attempt to name what they feel are the best films that happen to start with each letter of the alphabet.  (If you have done this, let me know and I will include a link to your post when I am done.)  I find these interesting to read, but I had never tackled it myself because I have an aversion to trying to rank “the greatest ever”.  That is mostly due to the fact that I may have a different choice a month later simply because I am in a different mood.

It’s always been in the back of my mind, though, and it’s not as if this is set in stone.  I’ve done posts on the Top 10 films every year I’ve been running this site.  And I think for all of these I have later seen at least one movie that would have made my Top 10 if I had seen it before I had made those posts.

To start I figured I would need some ground rules.  The movie name would be what it was most commonly known as in the U.S., not necessarily its title in its home country (i.e. Children of Paradise not Les enfants du paradis).  Titles with an article (a, an, the) at the beginning get alphabetized by the first word following it.  The exception here is a foreign title such as Das Boot, which is left as is since it is a non-English title.  Finally, numbers are their own category and not included under the letter they would begin with if spelled out.

I don’t have ranked lists of movies I maintain (see the earlier comment on aversions to these), but I do have a Letterboxd account with easily searchable ratings.  I am stingy with five star ratings (only about 1% of the films I’ve seen have received one), so any movie that got five stars from me was an immediate candidate.

Not surprisingly, there were eight letters where I had no five star films (E, K, N, Q, V, X, Y, Z).  For these I went down to 4.5 stars, and if I still had no candidates, then down to four stars.  On the other hand, there are some letters where I have a relatively large number of five star movies, which makes picking the best quite difficult.

For those films I have reviewed, I have made their titles clickable to take you to them, if you are interested. Maybe you're wondering, "Why the heck does he think so highly of that film?"  My review will shed some light on it.

Without further ado, here are my choices:


This one is relatively easy since I only had two choices, 12 Angry Men (1957) and 3 Idiots (2009), and 12 Angry Men has stood the test of time.

Best Film – 12 Angry Men (1957)


Well that didn’t take long to get difficult.  I have no less than seven “A” films that I’ve ranked five stars – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Amelie (2001), And Then There Were None (1945), The Artist (2011), The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), and The Avengers (2012).

All Quiet on the Western Front is a true classic and one of the very best war films ever made.  I’m surprising myself by not picking it (maybe this will be one I’ll feel differently about in a month), but Amelie is such a great combination of story, character, presentation, and joy that I cannot ignore it.

Best Film – Amelie (2001)


Here’s an easy one, because I only have one five star “B” movie (not “B-movie”).

Best Film – Back to the Future (1985)


And once again we swing back the other way with ten “C” movies I’ve rated five stars – Cabaret (1972), Casablanca (1942), Children of Men (2006), Children of Paradise (1945), Chinatown (1974), Cinema Paradiso (1988), Citizen Kane (1941), City of God (2002), Contact (1997), and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).  Now how the heck am I supposed to pick only one from among those?

Citizen Kane is often named as the best film of all time, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it lived up to the hype for the most part, but I’m not picking it here.  I’m going to go with another all-time classic that just about everyone, even non-movie people, knows.

Best Film – Casablanca (1942)


This one is easier because I have only four (five if you count internet serial Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) to pick from.  They are Das Boot (1981), The Day After (1983), Death at a Funeral (2007), and Dial M for Murder (1954).

The Day After was a TV movie that scared the shit out of Americans because it showed what would happen if the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. started a nuclear war with each other – something that Reagan and Brezhnev seemed likely to do just about any day of the week.  It had a huge impact, but that was only for a specific period of time.  Someone watching it now would not perceive it the same way.  Eliminating that leaves what may be the best war film ever made, as well as one of the two best German movies ever made.

Best Film – Das Boot (1981)


This is the first letter where I had no five star films.  I didn’t even have a 4.5 star film.  I had to go down to 4 stars and there I had eight – Easy A (2010), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Election (1999), Elmer Gantry (1960), Empire of the Sun (1987), Enchanted April (1991), Ever After (1998), and Eve’s Bayou (1997).  (Note: I consider The Empire Strikes Back to start with "Star Wars Episode V", so that would put it in the "S" category.)

Elmer Gantry has a great performance from Burt Lancaster as a con artist with a silver tongue who may have discovered his greatest con of all – revival preaching.  Eve’s Bayou is something everyone should see if only to learn that Samuel L. Jackson can do more than shout and be angry.  It probably has his best acting performance in it.

Those are both movies with great performances, but for a better overall film I’m going with Empire of the Sun.  This was Spielberg trying out a more serious kind of presentation, something he would perfect with Schindler’s List.


Back to being relatively easy, with only two choices – Field of Dreams (1989) and A Fish Called Wanda (1988).  I laughed my ass off at the latter, but Field of Dreams really resonated with me, especially where I had lost my own father a few years before it came out.  He and I used to play catch when I was little.

Best Film – Field of Dreams (1989)


Even easier, with only one five star film – Gimme Shelter (1970).  This was one of the best discoveries from doing the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.  (See also the letter “Q”.)  It’s a documentary of the Rolling Stones, culminating in the tragic events at Altamont.  What makes it so effective is that it was shot as things were happening and we see the reactions of the band members as they are viewing raw footage of the events.

Best Film – Gimme Shelter (1970)


I’ve got three “H” films I’ve rated five stars – Hero (2002), Hoop Dreams (1994), and Hugo (2012).  Hero is, if possible, even better than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in regards to bringing both beauty and gravitas to the martial arts genre.  For this letter, though, I’ve got to go with the best documentary ever made, one that is far more than just about two kids that want to play basketball.

Best Film – Hoop Dreams (1994)

That’s all for now.  Next up are the letters I through Q.  You can go to that post by clicking here.


  1. I agree with a lot of these picks. The only one I would take issue with is, surprisingly, Das Boot. Don't get me wrong--I love Das Boot. I just list it under the "Bs" since "Das" means "the" in German.

    Other than that, I can't argue with any of your choices.

    1. I had a paragraph where I went over my ground rules, including how I was handing articles in foreign languages. But you skipped over the broccoli and went right for the dessert, didn't you? :-)

      You did a post like this, didn't you? If so, if you give me the link here I will include it in my final post tomorrow.

    2. No, I ate the broccoli. I just do things differently. For me, Les Diaboliques would be a D, not an L.

      Your site, your way, man.

    3. When I started making lists I did put ALL articles at the end, even foreign ones. I then found out it was very difficult to bump my list up against others, against stock in stores, and against sites like Amazon because everyone treated foreign titles as pure text even when English titles still moved the articles to the end. Even the index in the 1001 Movies books does this. In fact, the only list I've ever seen that did put foreign articles at the end was the TSPDT one.

      That made me and my lists the ones out of sync, so I ended up redoing them with the foreign titles as is (Das Boot, La Haine, Il Postino, etc.)

  2. No argument from me with your choices.

    1. Thanks. You've got 12 Angry Men coming up sometime in the next year, right?