The Alphabet Meme

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

OK, so Piper tagged me for this meme started by Fletch at Blog Cabins. The meme’s simple concept is to pick a favorite film for each letter of the alphabet. Simple for some letters, of course, like “X,” not so easy for others. In order to whittle down my choices, I set myself a few rules, the first of which I broke because it was simply unavoidable:

1. Exclude films I have reviewed on this site.
2. Choose films that I truly enjoy viewing over and over again.
3. Use English title translations unless the title was a proper name or the term had become common in the English lexicon.

What I found by being honest with myself and sticking with these rules is that a lot of the films I greatly admire, the ones that would assure my cred as an astute cinephile with impeccable taste, didn’t make the list. This is a very personal list that includes, I think, some very fine films that even the snobbiest cinephile would approve, and others that maybe nobody but I can enjoy repeatedly.

Note: This list has been revised to be more accurate, changing “A” and “J”. I have included the original entries at the bottom of the list.

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American Graffiti (1973). It’s hard to believe I forgot this classic from Francis Ford Coppola. Like The Outsiders listed below, it’s an archetypal teen story with a load of actors who would later become household names. The soundtrack is one of the greatest ever.

Bossa Nova (2000). I love the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, and this romantic Brazilian film that was a gift of its director Bruno Barreto to his then-wife Amy Irving is chockful of it. Wouldn’t you love to have a man woo you by making a beautiful tangerine blouse for you?

Crossing Delancey (1988). Another Amy Irving film, I watch it again and again mainly for the evocation of Jewish life in New York and the pretensions of the literary crowd it skewers. Interestingly, Amy is also wooed in this film with a garment (“Vat is voo?”).

Dark Victory (1939). I’m a sucker for this film of a caustic society girl (Bette Davis) who finds love only after she learns she’s dying. Great last scene that always delivers no matter how many times I see it.

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El (1953). This isn’t Luis Buñuel’s best film, but it is, for me, his most memorable. Arturo de Córdova is perfectly ridiculous as the obsessed buffoon who actually plots to sew his wife’s vagina closed to keep her from straying. Yowza!

Funny Face (1957). Fashion, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, and Paris. Need I say more?

Gregory’s Girl (1981). This was the first Bill Forsyth film I ever saw, and it’s still my favorite. Will Gregory get the most popular girl in school—who’s also the best soccer player on the school team—to go out with him? Will spelling “Caracas” correctly on their homemade sign help Andy and Eric hitch a ride to Venezuela? Will the kid in the penguin costume ever find the right room?

High Noon (1952). A savage study in hypocrisy filled with suspense and dread, this is my all-time favorite Western. Gary Cooper was never better.

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Ikiru (1952). Akira Kurosawa’s moving film about an ineffectual bureaucrat who decides to make a difference only when he learns he is dying gives a deep and persuasive look at what life really means.

Jour de Fête (1949). The first film by Jacques Tati I ever saw on the big screen, its silent-film qualities, including a Ben Turpin lookalike, won me over and made me a rabid Tati fan.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955). The ultimate film noir for the nuclear age, I never get tired of watching Velda open her Pandora’s Box or of Cloris Leachman darting in front of a car, her thin arms raised high to get the driver to stop.

Lolita (1962). Stanley Kubrick’s wry and worldly comic adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s study of, basically, a pedophile and the nymphet who does know her own strength is the work of a cinematic dream team composed of James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, and wonderful newcomer Sue Lyon. Oh, and Nabokov wrote the screenplay.

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Monsieur Verdoux (1947). A late Chaplin film has amusement and passion in equal doses. When Charlie hooks up with Martha Raye as one of his long line of wives murdered for their money, you really can’t wait for it to happen.

New Leaf, A (1971). Simply the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. Elaine May is as strong a director as she (always) is a comic lead opposite one of the best comic actors in the business, Walter Matthau. Now that I found a copy of it, it’s a regular in the VCR.

Outsiders, The (1983). I’m a relative newcomer to this teen classic, yet it hooked me right away, and watching so many of the next generation of A-list actors near the start of their careers is a lot of fun.

Pandora’s Box (1929). Fritz Wedekind’s mesmerizing story of the amoral Lulu inspired an opera by Alban Berg. But it was G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film that made Lulu an icon through the abandon of the beautiful Louise Brooks.

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Quiet Man, The (1952). I’m not a big John Wayne fan and have mixed feelings about John Ford, but this American in Ireland tale shows off a comedic side of the Duke in a way only Ford could have captured. And it has the lovely, red-haired colleen Maureen O’Hara to add fire to the fuel.

Romeo & Juliet (1968). A story filmed many times, Italian Franco Zeffirelli’s version found the passion in this tale set in his home country and cast the most attractive, charismatic star-crossed lovers by far in film history—Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Flawless.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957). A terrific, highly quotable screenplay by Clifford Odets (“In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me.”) gives Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster lots to work with as an ambitious flak and the New York gossip columnist he wants to replace.

Trouble with Angels, The (1966). Hayley Mills was the Hillary Duff of my generation, and she was never better than in this exceptional movie about girlhood pranks, friendship, and the dawning of maturity, all set in a convent school. Scathingly brilliant. Ida Lupino directs.

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Universal Horror (1998). Film scholar Kevin Brownlow directed the must-see documentary for anyone who loves the classic horror films made at Universal Studios.

Vera Drake (2004). This is a pretty depressing film, yet it fascinates me, depicting as it does the era of the illegal abortion in Britain and the abortionist who doesn’t see it as a crime to help girls in trouble.

Written on the Wind (1956). When is a model of an oil well not a model of an oil well? When Dorothy Malone runs her hands up and down it. THE women’s film from Douglas Sirk.

X-Men 2: X-Men United (2003). I imagine if you’re at all a fan of the X-Men films, this would have to be in your meme as one of the few films that starts with “x”. Even so, this second entry in the franchise is truly exciting, suspenseful, and unpredictable, and Jean Grey is a terrific character well realized by Famke Janssen.

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Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). I’ve watched this flag-waving musical more times than I can remember, but I never get tired of James Cagney singing and dancing in this, his only Oscar-winning performance.

Zoolander (2001). A model named Hansel. Male models frolicking with pump hoses in slow motion in a gas station and then lighting a cigarette. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Replaced from my first draft of this post:
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Afterlife (1998). An intriguing, gently humorous look at what happens to us after we die is a film like no other from a Japanese director, Hirozaku Kore-eda, whose films are touched by grace.

Juliet of the Spirits (1965). My love of Fellini has grown exponentially over the years, and when I finally saw this film, I knew I’d found my favorite. The love triangle of the film involving Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina and his lover Sandra Milo is another case of art imitating life in a Fellini film.
As usual, I’m not tagging anyone. l

  • Rick spoke:
    10th/11/2008 to 10:23 am

    What a great list, Marilyn, and I agree about the second X-men (and chose it over at my version of the meme). I think Ikiru is about the best Kurosawa, but although I like “Juliet of the Spirits” I think I like “Nights of Cabiria” better, even though I didn’t put it on my list. (too many ‘Ns.)

  • Marilyn spoke:
    10th/11/2008 to 10:55 am

    Thanks, Rick.
    I like Nights of Cabiria a lot, but there was no way it would oust A New Leaf. La Dolce Vita almost ousted Lolita. I had a tough time with “G,” and almost favored Gigi. If I had to do it over, I probably would swap out Written on the Wind for Wings of Desire. I had a lot of “C” movies, like Cure and Cabin in the Sky, but when push comes to shove, Crossing Delancey was the one I pop in the DVD the most.

  • Reel Whore spoke:
    10th/11/2008 to 12:44 pm

    I don’t think I’ve seen but a few of your picks. Thanks for the recap of each one, makes me want to add more than a few to the NFQ.
    I did select X-Men 2 over the other two, definitely the best of the bunch.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    10th/11/2008 to 1:08 pm

    RW – I’ve seen X2 on a lot of the alphabet lists. Yes, it’s hard to find a film that starts with “x,” but the large number of cinephiles from all walks and filmic persuasions picking it confirms for me its superiority in its genre.

  • bill spoke:
    10th/11/2008 to 4:06 pm

    Great list. I’m pretty sure I’d have a really hard time with this one. I’d have a bunch of “M” and “S” titles, and no “J”, “F” or “P”. It would be a train wreck.
    One of my brothers is a big fan of Crossing Delancey, but I’ve never seen it. I do like Peter Reigert, though, so I should probably seek it out.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    10th/11/2008 to 4:13 pm

    Hi, Bill. This wasn’t easy. You can see I did a revision after I published – I couldn’t believe I forgot American Graffiti!
    Crossing Delancey is just a nice romantic comedy. I never had a grandmother, so I really enjoy seeing Amy Irving and her “bubbie” together. It’s really sweet.

  • MovieMan0283 spoke:
    11th/11/2008 to 10:35 am

    Here’s mine.
    We have one overlap (“There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!” Though actually Garbo’s on my list too, which has more to do with the paucity of “Q”-titled films, enjoyability of Queen Christina aside.)
    Good calls on Funny Face and Lolita though – I wrote up Funny Face a month or so ago.

  • bill r. spoke:
    11th/11/2008 to 6:37 pm

    And another thing: Sellers’s monologue on the patio in Lolita is one of my favorite scenes of all time. Hilarious.
    I’ve never seen Universal Horror. That simply makes no sense. Thanks for pushing it to the forefront of my brain.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    12th/11/2008 to 6:53 am

    Bill – TCM shows Universal Horror from time to time (I think they produced it). That’s why it’s easy for me to watch it again and again. I don’t know if it’s available on DVD. Hope it is.

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