As I throttle down for Thanksgiving week and a much-anticipated break from this busy semester (which I regret has allowed so little time for blogging), viruses are much on my mind: I await with some nervousness the onset of one of those academic-calendar colds that conveniently hold off until I’m done teaching. But other kinds of replicative infection are creeping into my life, today in the form of the Alphabet Meme, passed on to me by Chris Cagle of Category D, who caught it from Thom at Film of the Year. (I never realized how similar blogging and sex are: evidently when you link to someone, you link to everyone he or she has linked to.) Anyway, the goal of the exercise is a 26-item list of “Best Films,” corresponding to the letters of the alphabet. I’ll be forthright in acknowledging that my list has nothing to do with “bestness” and everything to do with love — simply put, the movies that mean the most to me. I’m a little too conscious of and skeptical about canonicity to nominate best-ofs; what is canon, anyway, but a kind of ubervirus, replicating within our taste hierarchies and the IPOs of cultural capital? The primary difference between irrational, irreducible favoritism and the stolid edifice of “the best that has been thought and said” (or in this case, filmed) is, it seems to me, one of authorship: the former is idiosyncratic, individual, owned, while the latter circulates unmoored in a kind of terrible immanence, its promiscuous power deriving precisely from its anonymity.

Or maybe I’m just feeling defensive. The list below, larded with science fiction and pop pleasures, nakedly exposes me as a cinematic philistine, a clear case of arrested development. How I reconcile this with my own day job of reproducing the canon (teaching Citizen Kane and Il Conformista semester after semester), I don’t know. But with turkey and stuffing on the horizon, I choose to leave the soul-searching to another day.

Before sharing my list, I believe I’m supposed to spread the meme to five other victims, er, friends. Let’s see: how about valued contributors Michael Duffy and MDR; Dan North at Spectacular Attractions; Nina Busse of Ephemeral Traces; and Tim Burke of Easily Distracted?


Battle Beyond the Stars
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Die Hard
The Exorcist
Forbidden Planet
Groundhog Day
Harold and Maude
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Jacob’s Ladder
King Kong (1933)
Logan’s Run
Miracle Mile
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The Parallax View
The Quiet Earth
Run Lola Run
Superman (1978)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Ugetsu Monogatari
The Vanishing
The Wizard of Oz
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
Young Frankenstein

9 thoughts on “A-Z

  1. Jon, thanks, and of course I should have thought to “tag” you — glad you put up your own, very interesting list of films, and glad too to see that we both like the 1988 version of The Vanishing. It’s quite the chiller, isn’t it?

  2. the American version blows, but the original one is really eerie. Thanks for helping me with J for Jacob’s Ladder, too. I’m gonna post a TV version soon, I figure

  3. Re: the first Vanishing, we agree completely (as we do on many such matters of form; kudos to you on the smart collapsing of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, which clearly merit Best Of & Favorite status but due to their transmedial nature do not fit neatly into the traditional categories of such lists). An equivalent list for TV is a fantastic idea, though I fear I will need internet help to keep up. Here’s the thing: I am watching the DVD extras on BORAT and thinking I may need to insert this profoundly brilliant and troubling film in place of my B entry (Battle Beyond the Stars). Maybe I’m just momentarily enraptured by the anarchic spirit this movie invites — what do you think? Before you reply, take a look at Cohen’s appearance with Martha Stewart on Jay Leno — talk about your paratexts!

  4. I’ve deliberately mutated the meme. Instead of 26 films, here are 26 superlative categories of films:

    A: favorite ANDERSEN & Murray films (Life Aquatic WSZ, Rushmore)
    B: favorite adaptations of the BARD (Hamlet [Branagh], Romeo + Juliet)
    C: favorite COEN bros film (Miller’s Crossing)
    D: favorite DENIRO & Scorsese film (Taxi Driver)
    E: most EGREGIOUS crime against the cinematic medium (Doom Generation)
    F: favorite FOUR-letter FANDOM FRANCHISES (LOTR, POTC)
    G: favorite GILLIAM film (Brazil)
    H: best film that is beloved by HIPSTER douchebags (Big Lebowski)
    I: favorite INKSTUD adaptation (Ghost World)
    J: favorite film starring JACK (Chinatown)
    K: favorite KUBRICK film (Clockwork Orange)
    L: favorite LYNCH film (Blue Velvet)
    M: favorite MONTY Python films (Holy Grail, Life of Brian)
    N: favorite NAUTICAL film (Master & Commander)
    O: most amusingly OBSCENE (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
    P: favorite PUNK-soundtracked comedy (Repo Man)
    Q: favorite film starting with Q (Quest for Fire)
    R: favorite RAUNCHY R-rated comedy (Animal House)
    S: favorite SCOTT film (Blade Runner)
    T: favorite films featuring der TEUFEL (Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Omen)
    U: most UNSETTLING at age when viewed (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Eraserhead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers ’78)
    V: VARIOUS sf films that I liked but won’t show up on anybody else’s list, I bet (A Boy and his Dog, Darkstar, Liquid Sky, Serenity)
    X: assorted XENOPHILIA (Au Bout de Souffle, Das Boot, Dolce Vita, Fitzcarraldo, Pan’s Labyrinth, Ran, Road Warrior, Santa Sangre)
    W: most unexpectedly enjoyable WESTERN (Tombstone)
    Y: YUCKIEST (Pink Flamingos)
    Z: ZANIEST screwball comedy(Some Like It Hot)

  5. There is actually a serious subtext to my mutations. The spread of ideas can be usefully compared to the spread of viruses, but I reject the idea that this goes beyond metaphor. My understanding of the “meme” theory as expounded by R. Dawkins and others is that memes and viruses are both “replicators”, i.e., that they are *literally* the same kind of thing, and their spread can be accurately described by a single set of deterministic laws. I hold that the spread of ideas, unlike the spread of viruses, cannot be accurately described without taking into account human consciousness and agency, which is not deterministic. Hence, Bob, you changed the meme from “best of” to “best loved”, and I changed it even more. (And besides, how the heck could I decide between Blade Runner, Brazil, or Big Lebowski for my “B” pick? I had to find a way to get them all on the list.)

  6. “I never realized how similar blogging and sex are: evidently when you link to someone, you link to everyone he or she has linked to.”

    Again, this is why I stopped renting DVDs… 😉

    I know what you did here, including my name, trying to jump-start me into finally getting into my own academically-themed blog that I keep mentioning, and haven’t yet begun… Well, here is my way to include myself in this debate without including it on my own blog (a la Dan North’s “breaking his own promise”) 😉 My philosophy here is also train of thought-ish, I will be singling out the films which retain my most indelible memory of each letter, often the first ones that come into my head, as they remain on my psyche. I don’t care for lists, either, but for what it’s worth, here is mine:

    Ashes of Time
    Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The
    Dark City (1998)
    Enter The Dragon
    400 Blows, The
    Ghost In The Shell
    Heavenly Creatures/Highlander (my one cheating tie!)
    In The Name Of The Father
    Killers, The
    Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The
    M. Hulot’s Holiday
    Passion of Joan of Arc, The
    Quiet American, The (2002)
    Rabbit-Proof Fence
    Superman (78)
    Third Man, The
    Wicker Man, The
    X-Files: I Want To Believe
    You Can Count On Me
    Zentropa (U.S. title for Lars Von Trier’s “Europa”, my one other cheat!)

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