Great Movies You Might Have Missed From A-Z, Part One

When you search for the “best movie that starts with letter…” a lot of lists have similar names at the top.  The following movies aren’t on many lists except for mine.  A thru E.

A: If you ask people to name a movie that starts with the letter “A”, they’ll probably say movies like “Amadeus”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Alien”, “Aliens”, “American Beauty”, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”, “Apollo 13” and/or “The Apartment” (which is on my list of the best movies of all time – if you haven’t seen this best picture winner, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT).  There probably aren’t many people that will say this one:

Airheads (1994) – A struggling rock band tries to get some publicity by breaking into a popular radio station and forcing them to play their demo song.  When things don’t go as planned, they end up holding the entire radio staff hostage.

The band that breaks into the radio station – “The Lone Rangers” (as someone says in the movie “Can you pluralize that?”) – is Chazz (Brendan Fraser), Rex (Steve Buscemi), and Pip (Adam Sandler in one of his first leading roles).  The movie also includes Chris Farley (in one of his first movies), Michael McKean, David Arquette, Michael Richards (in one of the few movies he did while he was on “Seinfeld”), and Joe Mantegna.  

This movie is a funny depiction of the hard rock music scene in the 70s, 80s and early 90s on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood where dozens of hard rock bands were trying to hit it big like Van Halen or Guns N Roses.  The movie actually has scenes outside of the “Whiskey A Go Go” on Sunset Blvd where some famous bands first started performing.   

One of the only things bad about the movie is the song they want people to hear.  It is awful.  It would have never been a hit rock song.

I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

B: Most people will say movies like “Back to the Future” (and/or it’s sequels), “Blade Runner”, “Braveheart”, “Batman” (any of the Batman movies), “Beetlejuice”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, and/or “Beauty and the Beast” (either version) if you ask them to name movies that start with a “B”.  I’m guessing you won’t hear this movie named by many people:

The Big Picture (1989) – Award winning film school grad (Kevin Bacon) discovers the film business is more about business that it is about filmmaking.

The first movie directed by Christopher Guest who went on to direct more popular movies like “Waiting for Guffman”, “Best in Show”, and “A Mighty Wind”.  It was co-written by him, Michael McKean, and Michael Varhol (Christopher Guest and Michael McKean were writers on the hit “This is Spinal Tap” right before this movie).  Along with Kevin Bacon, this movie has some very funny performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh, J.T. Walsh, Teri Hatcher, and especially an uncredited Martin Short.  

Anyone who has ever wanted to make a movie should watch this movie.  Although it’s much easier to make a film now (you can make a movie with just a cellphone these days – back then they used film cameras and there were no visual effects available) the jokes about the “movie business” are just as accurate as they were back then.  Now there’s more companies looking for filmmakers (streaming sites, cable channels, etc.) but the details are pretty much the same.  They want something that will make them money.

The only downside is that this movie is dated.  The movie starts with short films made by film students which were very funny back when the movie was released (I saw similar movies when I was in film school) but now anyone can make a much better movie on a cellphone.

I give it 8 out of 10.

C: There are several movies that come to mind that start with a “C” including “Caddyshack”, “Casablanca”, “Cinderella”, “Citizen Kane”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Clerks”, “Cars”, and/or “Chinatown”.  Even if you ask someone who lives in Italy where this movie was made, they probably won’t mention this movie because it had a different name in that country. 

Cinema Paradiso (1988) – (aka “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” in other countries).  A filmmaker thinks back to the small village he grew up in where he first fell in love with the movies playing at the theater in the village and where he formed a deep friendship with the older projectionist of the theater.

The movie won several awards including the academy award for best foreign film.  Co-written and directed by Giuseppe Tonatore and starring Phillippe Noiret as the older projectionist.  The names aren’t so well known in the US, but Phillippe Noiret was in over 140 movies in France.

Unfortunately, this movie wasn’t seen by many people in the US because it didn’t play in many theaters.  It was a foreign film with subtitles, so it only played in art house movie theaters in some larger cities.  However, if you ask anyone that has seen it, they’ll probably agree with me that it’s THE BEST MOVIE about movie theaters.

The only downside is – of course – the subtitles.  It’s hard to pay attention to what’s happening on screen if you keep looking at the bottom of the screen to read what people are saying.  Also, there’s a longer version of the movie available on DVD but I’d skip that version.  It just adds more scenes to the love story sub-plot of the movie.  I don’t think it adds much to the story.

I give it 8 out of 10.

D: When you think of a movie that begins with the letter “D” there’s quite a few movies that may come to mind such as “Die Hard” (or any of its sequels), “Dirty Harry”, “Deliverance”, the first James Bond movie “Dr No”, “Dazed and Confused”, “Dances with Wolves”, and/or “The Departed”.  Although I know a couple people who might name this movie, I don’t think that many other people will.

Defending Your Life (1991) – After you die, the first stop for some people is “Judgement City” – a place that is made to look like Earth – where your life is examined to see if you should move on or be returned to where you came from.

This is the funniest of all the movies writer/director Albert Brooks has made (which also includes “Lost in America”, “Mother”, and “The Muse”).  Albert Brooks stars as Daniel Miller who gets killed in a car crash.  When he wakes up, he’s the afterlife in a city that resembles Earth (because the movie was filmed in Los Angeles) where he meets Bob Diamond (Rip Torn) who explains to him that he’s there to review 9 days of his life.  He also meets Julia (he never finds out her last name) played by Meryl Streep.

I like all of writer/director Albert Brooks movies but this one is the best by far.  Mainly because of Meryl Streep.  He often manages to get a big name to co-star in his movies like Debbie Reynolds (in “Mother”) or Sharon Stone (in “The Muse”) but I think the best is Meryl Streep in one of the first comedy movies she ever did.

There are some very funny jokes in this movie such as a very funny cameo by Shirley MacLaine playing herself, but there are also some jokes that fall flat or are dated including a visit to a sushi restaurant.

I give it a 7 out of 10

E: Compared to the other letters, there aren’t that many movies that start with an “E”.  I can only think of a few including “E.T.”, “The Exorcist”, Erin Brockovich”, and “Elisabeth”.  Unless you’re speaking to someone who is a fan of surfing, I don’t think anyone will say my choice for this letter which is a documentary.

The Endless Summer (1965) – A documentary about two surfers travelling to cities in the southern hemisphere where the summer is in November, December, and January.

Written, directed, and narrated by Bruce Brown who was known for his great documentaries. At first glance, this just looks like a surfing documentary so it’s not worth watching if you don’t like surfing.  While there is a lot of surfing in this movie, it’s also part travel film showing several cities in Africa, Australia, and New Zealand (this was filmed in the 60s – now there are several movies filmed in those countries) and part comedy as the two surfers negotiate with people who don’t speak the same language and have never seen someone surfing before.

This documentary has got beautiful cinematography.  A lot of it is surfing but there are also shots of beautiful beaches, countryside, and animals.  It also has some very funny scenes thanks to the narrator who throws in the occasional joke.  It’s remarkable that, except for a couple scenes staged for a joke, everything shown in the film really happened the way it’s shown.  The pair travel to beaches that NO ONE has ever been to before.  To get to one beach they travel through a jungle, and another one has 3 MILES of sand before they reach it.  It’s also interesting to see the people they meet.  One man decides to drive them over 1000 miles across Africa.

The only bad thing about this movie it was filmed in 1965.  There is a little bit of racist jokes when the movie makes fun of other cultures they meet, and a bit of sexism when they talk about women surfers.  Also, it’s sort of weird when they complain that gas is very expensive at $1 a gallon.

I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

I hope to continue this list with the other letters in the alphabet later.  First, I’ll have to find some more movies that start with the letter “Q” or “Z”.