Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Best Movies for Each Letter of the Alphabet – Part 3: R to Z, Plus Some Observations and a Link

Note: For an explanation of my ground rules for this, as well as my picks for letters A to H, plus numbers, click here.  For my picks for letters I to Q, click here.

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


I only have a single five star “R” film and it’s a great one.  Raiders of the Lost Ark brought the thrilling style of the movie serial to a modern audience and created a truly iconic character in Indiana Jones.  I could probably count on two hands the number of movies I saw in a movie theater before I was 18, but this was one of them.  And no, the title will never be “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” no matter how much the studio tries to market the box set that way.

Best Film – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)


And here we go with a truly difficult one again.  Of course, “S” is a very common letter to start a word with, so I suppose this isn’t too surprising.  I’ve got five star ratings for – Schindler’s List (1993), Serenity (2005), Seven Samurai (1954), Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and Spartacus (1960).  You can also toss in the animated shorts from Schoolhouse Rock which is the best thing ever put on TV for children, even better than Sesame Street.  They put learning to music, which is a great way to retain information.  To this day (forty years later) I can still recite the Preamble to the Constitution from memory because of Schoolhouse Rock.

Anyway, what about the movies, right?  This is probably the single hardest letter for me because the only one I can eliminate pretty easily is Slumdog Millionaire.  (I actually changed my choice for Best “S” film twice as I was writing this.) 

I consider Schindler’s List the third best Best Picture winner ever, but it’s not the kind of movie you’d re-watch too often.  Serenity is extremely rewatchable, but in this category I’ve got to call it too new.  Spartacus is the best film Kubrick ever did, and that’s saying something, but again, this category is just too stacked.

That leaves Seven Samurai, Shakespeare in Love, and The Silence of the Lambs.  It’s quite fashionable to dump on Shakespeare in Love, but I’ve never been one to follow fashions.  In this case, though, I consider it the second best Best Picture winner of the 1990s, behind Schindler’s List.  And since I’ve already eliminated that film, Shakespeare in Love has to go, too.

The Silence of the Lambs is one of only three films to win all five major Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay).  I saw it in the movie theater when it came out, and the section where Clarice is in the dark cellar scared the bejeezus out of me.  And Hannibal Lecter is the most magnetic villain ever put on film.  I’m still going to eliminate this one.

I consider Seven Samurai to be the greatest non-English language film ever made.  It’s got action.  It’s got drama.  It’s got social commentary.  It’s got martial arts.  It’s got romance.  And despite being over three hours long there is not one second of it that I would remove.  I’ve watched it multiple times and I’ve stayed riveted on the movie each time.  Not once did my attention wander from it.

Best Film – Seven Samurai (1954)


This is another tough one.  T is also a common letter and I’ve got seven choices here – the Thorn Birds TV miniseries, Throne of Blood (1957), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), To Sir, with Love (1967), Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

Throne of Blood may well be the best Shakespeare adaptation I have seen.  It’s certainly the best non-traditional one.  To Kill a Mockingbird has the best presentation of what it means to be “a good man”.  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre has Humphrey Bogart’s best acting performance.

This may be heresy, but I’m picking a recent, animated film over all of them.  Toy Story 3 is the best film to come from Pixar, which is saying something.  Even more amazing is that it’s not just a sequel, but the third one in the series.  It made me laugh, had me on the edge of my seat, and made me cry for real – not a single tear that’s easily and surreptitiously wiped away; real, grown man tears.  Any film that can generate such diverse emotions is one that deserves to be on top.

Best Film – Toy Story 3 (2010)


In a strange coincidence, the only two “U” films I’ve rated five stars are not only from the same year, but they have similar titles – Up (2009) and Up in the Air (2009).  Up in the Air was a pleasant surprise for me.  I didn’t expect much from it and it more than delivered.  It can’t compete with Up, though.  The short, almost silent, 5-10 minute sequence near the beginning of Up would almost be enough right there to win.  But after that the film goes on to be greatly entertaining both with humor and with adventure.  This means I have picked two animated films in a row.  So much for the idea that animated movies are just for kids.

Best Film – Up (2009)


For the letter V I have no five star or 4.5 star films.  Dropping down to four stars I have the following – A Very Long Engagement (2004), The Visitor (2007), Veronica Mars (2014), V for Vendetta (2005), and Volver (2006).  No, I didn’t forget Vertigo.  It’s a good movie, but it’s insane how many critics have started to say it’s the best film of all time (*cough* Sight and Sound Poll *cough*).  It’s not even the best Hitchcock film, let alone the best movie of all time.

Volver probably has the best performance I’ve seen from Penelope Cruz, and The Visitor allows character actor Richard Jenkins to finally shine.  V for Vendetta has some great visuals and caused a lot of discussion about whether you could identify with what amounts to a terrorist.  Veronica Mars probably only appeals to fans of the original TV show, of which I am one.

That leaves A Very Long Engagement, the follow-up to Amelie from director Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet and actress Audrey Tautou (see also the letter “A”).  While not quite as entertaining, and more serious, it is still a very good movie and it includes an excellent supporting turn from Marion Cotillard.


I wouldn’t think “W” would have many films, yet I have five choices here – The Wages of Fear (1953), The Way We Get By (2009), Whale Rider (2002), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and animated short The Wrong Trousers (1993).

The Wages of Fear may have the single tensest series of scenes in film history.  I consider The Way We Get By to be the second best documentary ever made.  The Wizard of Oz is an all-time classic.  And The Wrong Trousers is the best of the Wallace and Gromit presentations.

I’ve got to put them all behind a little movie from New Zealand that starred no one most anyone had ever heard of, and that ended up earning at the time, by far the youngest nomination for Best Actress in Oscar history.  I have watched it at least four times and it has gotten me every time.  And I never even heard of it until I picked it off the shelf of the video rental store back in 2003.  That’s how little fanfare it got in the U.S.  I’ve used a quote from it as my signature on IMDB for more than ten years now.

Best Film – Whale Rider (2002)


As you might imagine, I have no five star or 4.5 star ratings for a film beginning with the letter “X”.  Dropping down to four stars it just becomes a matter of which X-Men movie I like the best – X2: X-Men United (2003), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), or X-Men: First Class (2011).

Perhaps it looks better in comparison to the somewhat disappointing first film that preceded it, but X2: X-Men United seemed like everything finally gelled into a great presentation of what has been the most popular of comic books for decades.  While it was great to see the mixing of old and new X-Men in the most recent Days of Future Past, I’ve got to go with the earlier one.

Best Film – X2: X-Men United (2003)


I also have no five star or 4.5 star films that start with “Y”.  For ones with four stars I have – Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), You Instead (2011), Young Frankenstein (1974), Your Sister’s Sister (2011), and Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001).

This really comes down to classics Yankee Doodle Dandy and Young Frankenstein.  The latter is filled with quotable lines, and the more familiar you are with the original Frankenstein movies the better it gets.  I’ve got to go with Yankee Doodle Dandy, though.  Despite being known more for playing gangsters, James Cagney simply owns the part of real life song and dance man George M. Cohan.  He is magnetic on screen and the entire film rests on his performance.  If ever there was a situation of “a role he was born to play” it’s James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Best Film – Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)


Like “Q” and “X” there are not many films that start with the letter “Z”.  Consequently, I have no five star or 4.5 star films.  I do have two I have rated four stars – Zero Effect (1998) and Zombieland (2009).

While Zero Effect is a fun take on the Sherlock Holmes type of character, Zombieland is the clear winner.  In addition to starring four current or future Oscar nominees (five if you count the cameo), it has some great humor with the whole concept of life after a zombie apocalypse. 

Best Film – Zombieland (2009)

To summarize, here are my selections: 12 Angry Men (1957), Amelie (2001), Back to the Future (1985), Casablanca (1942), Das Boot (1981), Empire of the Sun (1987), Field of Dreams (1989), Gimme Shelter (1970), Hoop Dreams (1994), Ikiru (1952), Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring (1986), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Matrix (1999), North by Northwest (1959), Once Were Warriors (1994), The Princess Bride (1987), Queen Christina (1933), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Seven Samurai (1954), Toy Story 3 (2010), Up (2009), A Very Long Engagement (2004), Whale Rider (2002), X2: X-Men United (2003), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Zombieland (2009).

Some observations:
·        The oldest film is Queen Christina from 1933
·        The newest is Toy Story 3 from 2010
·        The decades break down as: 1930s (1), 1940s (2), 1950s (4), 1960s (1), 1970s (1), 1980s (7), 1990s (3), 2000s (7), and 2010s (1)
·        There are six foreign language films (nearly one quarter of the total) – Amelie (French), Das Boot (German), Ikiru (Japanese), Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring (French), Seven Samurai (Japanese), and A Very Long Engagement (French)
·        There are two documentaries – Gimme Shelter and Hoop Dreams
·        There are two animated films – Toy Story 3 and Up
·        Nine of the films can be considered either science fiction or fantasy – Back to the Future, Field of Dreams, The Matrix, The Princess Bride, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Toy Story 3, Up, X2: X-Men United, and Zombieland.
·        Of the remaining 16 non-documentaries, 13 are dramas – 12 Angry Men, Casablanca, Das Boot, Empire of the Sun, Ikiru, Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring, Lawrence of Arabia, North by Northwest, Once Were Warriors, Queen Christina, Seven Samurai, A Very Long Engagement, and Whale Rider.
·        I don’t really consider myself a fan of war films, but five of those thirteen dramas are set during wars and are impacted by them – Casablanca (WWII), Das Boot (WWII), Empire of the Sun (WWII), Lawrence of Arabia (WWI), and A Very Long Engagement (WWI).
·        After the nine SF/Fantasies, two documentaries, and thirteen dramas, the remaining three films consist of a romance – Amelie; an action comedy – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; and a musical – Yankee Doodle Dandy.
·        Four directors appear more than once: Stephen Spielberg (Empire of the Sun and Raiders of the Lost Ark); Michael Curtiz (Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy – both in 1942; heck of a year); Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie and A Very Long Engagement); and Akira Kurosawa (Ikiru and Seven Samurai)

I only got one person giving me a link to a similar kind of post.  Steve at 1001plus had some fun with it.  He wrote haikus for each letter and the reader gets to see if they can guess the film (answers are provided in the comments).  You can see his post by clicking here.


  1. Just for the record, the haikus were my favorite movies (at that moment) specifically from the 1001 Movies list.

    1. You had said that in your post itself, so I didn't repeat it here. I can edit this post to include that explanation, if you feel it would be better?

    2. Nah. It's not that big of a deal to me.