I don't like films, I love them. If I don't love them, I don't watch. Thus I made a comprehensive list of films I consider the best, organized alphabetically—best to worst per letter. Plus, as a film snob, these kind of lists bolster street cred. I don't claim these films are better than others, and some great films aren't on this list; I either didn't like them or have not seen them. Some letters have more films, others fewer, but it balances out one way or another. I must apologize for my appallingly boring summaries, but after remembering well over a hundred films, ranking them, and formatting this article, my brain could only cough up the most mediocre of summaries. (Bonus points for knowing what film the first sentences reference).
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The definition of an epic, not to say the only art film to break into mainstream Hollywood. The pacing is unlike modern cinema, but the style, thematic material, and experience are almost unmatched.
The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups, 1959). It's difficult to describe this near-perfect film about a juvenile delinquent. One of the defining French New Wave films (according to Wikipedia).
7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964). A magical Chinese man brings a circus to a small western town. Somewhat dated, but I tear at the ending, and that alone deserves it a place on this list.
8 1/2 (1963). Classic Fellini, and everyone should see at least one of Fellini's works. Might as well be his most famous.
12 Angry Men (1957). If you haven't seen it, as an American reader, you are obliged to see it.
Apocalypse Now (1979). The greatest film ever made. It's a Vietnam War film, but I've never seen it as a war film at all, but a film about human insanity, morals, and the chaos of conflict. Based on Josef Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Did I mention this is my favorite film?
Amélie (2001). A shy waitress falls in love. Has never failed to cheer me up with its colorful detail and sweet characters.
Aguirre, Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, 1972). Imagine Apocalypse Now in German with Klaus Kinski and about Lope de Aguirre instead of Colonel Kurtz.
American Beauty (1999). Drama about midlife crisis, adulterous lust, and Kevin Spacey.
American Graffiti (1973). The best of George Lucas, and that may not be saying much these days.
The African Queen (1951). Humphrey Bogart adventure film.
Annie Hall (1977). If someone mentions Woody Allen, chances are Annie Hall comes up as well. A love story with wandering dialogue and narrative that nonetheless always characterize the relationship.
Brazil (1985). Take 1984, apply acid, a wonderful theme song, and Monty Python's animator, Terry Gilliam, as director.
Blade Runner (1982). The perfect neo-noir science fiction film. Of the too-many versions, I strongly suggest the Director's Cut or the Final Cut.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). Magical realism set deep within a Louisiana bayou. The nine-year-old lead actress was nominated for an Oscar. It's filled with Hollywood emotions, but it's a lovely tale nonetheless.
Blue is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d'Adéle – Chapitres 1 & 2, 2013). Do you want to get depressed? Might as well do it with this beautiful (un)romance film.
Blazing Saddles (1974). Do you want to be happy again? Might as well do it with the best of Mel Brooks humor.
The Big Lebowski (1998). German nihilists, the ultimate Californian slacker, competitive bowling, pornography, avant-garde artists, and, well, you know, that's just, like, the whole movie, man.
Breathless (1960). Probably the most influential of the French New Wave. Haven't seen it in a while, but I still remember it.
Battleship Potemkin (1925). A great Russian film. Might be the oldest on the list.
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Audrey Hepburn being Audrey Hepburn. The movie's only weakness is the Chinese character stereotyped by a white actor.
Bullitt (1968). One of the earliest and best car chases in cinema.
City of God (Cidade de Deus, 2002). Crime film with an excellent ensemble cast and fitting cinematography. Doesn't hurt to mention most of the cast were favela locals.
A Clockwork Orange (1971). I love Stanley Kubrick's work. This almost perfectly captures the novel with great stylistic flare and a touch of the old Ludwig van.
Citizen Kane (1941). It's considered the film, and it developed many cinematographic techniques used by everyone since. For that, it's a great, nearly perfect film. But it's not my favorite. Still one of the most important films in western cinema.
City of Lost Children (La cité des enfants perdus, 1995). Steampunk before steampunk, Ron Perlman acting in French, orphaned pickpockets, crazy evil scientist (with the most beautiful evil scientist face), cloned henchmen, and wackos.
Chungking Express (1994). It's two love stories almost entirely unrelated to each other, played out in a serene—almost dreamlike—Hong Kong setting.
The Conformist (Il Conformista, 1970). Beautifully shot Italian film with an interesting theme of, you guessed it, conformity.
Cool Hand Luke (1967). It's cool, and it's Paul Newman.
Casablanca (1942). Humphrey Bogart at his best. Here's to you.
Coraline (2009). Stop motion adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel.
Dead Man (1995). At the top because too many don't know this film. It's Johnny Depp before Pirates of the Caribbean came along. Plus Neil Young providing the soundtrack.
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Or just call it Dr. Strangelove. Classic Cold War humor, well-acted, and a top-notch ending.
Dark Star (1974). I love this film. John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon before either decided to switch to horror. Imagine a beachball with claws, painted to look like an alien; a cryogenically frozen dead captain; and bombs that talk and can contemplate their own existence.
Drive (2011). Ryan Gosling, an atmospheric soundtrack, and wonderful neo-noir cinematography.
Das Boot (1981). One of the best WWII films out there. Takes place almost entirely on a German submarine.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Al Pacino and John Cazale try to rob a bank.
Il Divo (2008). Italian biographical drama about Giulio Andreotti. Toni Servillo's acting alone sells it.
Downfall (Der Untergang, 2004). The final days of WWII in Hitler's bunker. Based on the accounts of his actual secretary.
The Double (2013). Take Dostoyevsky and add Jesse Eisenberg. Might sound like an odd combination, but the music and gloomy style pushes it all the way.
Dead Man's Shoes (2004). This is the 'badass seeks revenge' movie to see. More chilling than Taken and, I dare say, more real.
Doctor Zhivago (1965). One of the necessary epics. First time I watched it, on DVD, I accidentally played the second half first (it was a double-sided disc!). . . . It still made sense.
The Deer Hunter (1978). An unconventional Vietnam War movie, to say the least.
The Drop (2014). A bartender, a dog, and the pressure of organized crime.
Delicatessen (1991). Absurd post-apocalyptic comedy featuring a musical saw and interesting faces.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) The last of Kubrick. Sexual frustration, cult orgies, and Venetian masks.
Easy Rider (1969). If there's one Dennis Hopper film to watch, this is it. All-American road movie.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Relationships don't always work out. Sometimes you just want to forget the person and everything about them. Completely.
Eastern Promises (2007). Russian gangsters in England. I learned a lot about Russian mafia tattoos.
Full Metal Jacket (1987). Yet another war film? Yes. Yet another Kubrick film? Yes. Worth it? Yes.
Fiddler on the Roof (1971). If I were a rich man, daidle deedle daidle. . . .
Fight Club (1999). I was hesitant to put this on the list, since it's almost too popular for its own good. But still a fun film to watch. (The machismo becomes a bit heavy-handed.)
Fantastic Planet (La Planète sauvage, 1973). Surreal stop motion cut-out animated science fiction film.
Fargo (1996). Essential Cohen brothers.
Fallen Angels (1995). Hong Kong drama split in two stories. Zany.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Clint Eastwood, spaghetti western.
F for Fake (1973). An Orson Welles documentary about a forger, forgery, trickery, and a little magic. As much a film about films as it is a regular film.
The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza, 2013). What wonder! Toni Servillo as an aged author living an unfulfilled life. Beautiful cinematography, editing, and pacing. I find it a perfect film to watch alone.
Godfather (1972). Watch parts I and II. Those are great.
The German Doctor (Wakolda, 2013). Josef Mengele befriends a family and takes interest in a pair of newborn twins.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). Clint Eastwood, spaghetti western, guns. If you need to watch one western, this is it (or High Noon, down a few).
The Graduate (1967). A graduate sleeps with his crush's mother. Man, if I were paid to give boring one-line summaries I'd be making a fortune off this post. It's a great movie, trust me.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Wacky, witty, colorful, symmetric, and stacked with powerful actors.
The Great Escape (1963). American POWs try to escape a German prison. Germans try to catch them.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967). Good ol' American racism. A woman brings her black boyfriend to dinner. Guess who didn't know her boyfriend was black?
Gettysburg (1993). Civil War epic. I grew up on this film.
La Haine (1995). Powerful film about poverty in the French Banlieues. Shot in black and white, it packs a punch.
He Died with a Felafel in His Hand (2001). Daniel, a depressed "writer," passes through shared households avoiding real work. Involves druggies, a communist, cultists, skinheads, drama-queens, tax collectors, cops, Penthouse magazine, and a typewriter.
Harry Potter (2001–2010). I grew up with the books and the movies. How could I not include them?
High Noon (1952). Classic Western, classic shootouts, not more to be said.
The Hustler (1961). Paul Newman hustling billiards.
Inherent Vice (2014). I loved the book (by Thomas Pynchon), and the movie manages a damn good representation. A stoner private eye hunts for his ex-old girl and a whole crime organization amidst good vibes, righteous music, and 1960s California.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). I visited the bridge featured in the movie; I didn't jump off. Watch this at Christmas or New Years and everything will feel better.
if.... (1968). Malcolm McDowell leads an insurrection at a British boys' boarding school. Also features a Latin mass sung by an African boys choir.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). A pseudo-biographical drama with great folk music and fittingly desaturated style.
In the Mood for Love (2000). Saturated in warm colors, this Hong Kong drama is worth it simply for the art-like mise-en-scène. Characters are often framed by doorways, objects, windows, but the claustrophobic feel never becomes too uncomfortable.
Infernal Affairs (2002). The original Hong Kong crime thriller about undercover cops, undercover gang members, catching each other, and one good climax. Hollywood made a shitty remake (as usual).
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011). I watched this when I wanted to appreciate great cooking.
Jaws (1975). Shark eats boat. People scared of sharks.
The Killing Fields (1984). I don't particularly love the Vietnam War, it's just that it produced some great films. This one focuses on the Khmer Rouge.
Leon the Professional (1994). Natalie Portman's breakout role, and damn could she act. Reverse the roles in Lolita and add a hitman.
Locke (2013). Tom Hardy talking on the phone. Sounds boring, but the film that showed me Tom Hardy was more than just a tough guy and handsome face.
The Lobster (2015). If you're single for 45 days, you will be turned into an animal of your choosing. Your partner and you must share a commonality—a limp, maybe, nearsightedness, a bleeding nose.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962). The epic of epics. Title explains it all.
La Dolce Vita (1960). Another Fellini worth a watch. One of the greatest Italian directors, and one of the greatest directors of the mid 1900s.
Memories of Murder (2003). Something about Korean New Wave crime films makes them more powerful than their American equivalents. Maybe because the actors aren't all supermodels, or they lack a gun culture, or simply better storytelling.
Mary Poppins (1964). I tear up at the ending. Every time.
The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta, 2004). My favorite road movie, showing young Che Guevara transforming into the revolutionary we know today.
Midnight in Paris (2011). Magical realism in Paris featuring Hemingway, Dali, F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you love Paris and the 1920s, watch this.
M (1931). Fritz Lang film about a child murderer.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Two children fall in love, adults get in the way, Bruce Willis saves the day.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Perfecting my boring one-line summaries: a two-hour car chase. But I've seen it three times and loved every viewing. Saturated colors, zany characters, and real crashes.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). What is the name of your favorite movie?
Midnight Cowboy (1969). Male prostitution, Dustin Hoffman, and a wonderful character relationship.
The Master (2012). A modern epic. At first I hated it, then it stuck with me. A lost hot-head joins a religious cult, character development, music, blablabla just watch it.
Naked Lunch (1991). If you think the movie is weird, try reading the book.
New World (2013). Korean organized crime film with a twist that makes it more interesting than the mass of organized crime films.
Nostalghia (1983). If you're easily bored, don't watch it. It's Tarkovsky, which means long shots (one lasts ten minutes). But if any movie could be compared to poetry, it's this one.
Natural Born Killers (1994). It deconstructs crime films, seemingly glorifies serial killers, and jabs at America's infatuation with violence. Appropriate for all ages.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Jack Nicholson's finest performance. A criminal fakes insanity to get out of prison, befriends crazy people, and deals with the most evil nurse in cinema.
O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000). 1930s America, folk and blues music, and the KKK singing "eenie, meenie, miney, moe."
On the Waterfront (1954). Classic Marlon Brando film. Are you even reading these?
Oldboy (2003). A twisted revenge-crime film. Almost double-revenge actually. But that would be spoiling things.
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982). Yes, the musical-surreal film that accompanies the album. I should point out I also love the album.
Pulp Fiction (1994). Quentin Tarantino's best is yet to come, but this is up there.
Il Postino (1994). A sweet film about poetry, the art of language, communism, and the Italian coast.
Planet of the Apes (1968). The original film, not the shitty remakes.
Psycho (1960). We all know it.
I googled "movies starting with q." Of the list I've only seen Quantum of Solace, and I refuse to put it down.
Ratatouille (2007). I made the fancy ratatouille from the end of this movie once. It takes four hours and tastes delicious.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). A truly messed-up family. Don't let me ruin it with a bad summary.
Reservoir Dogs (1992). The film that made Quentin Tarantino famous.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955). James Dean only acted in five films and became a cultural icon for a good reason.
Run Lola Run (Lola rennt, 1998). There's lots of running in this film and alternate timelines.
Raging Bull (1980). Haven't seen it in ages, but it's one of the better boxing films out there.
Rear Window (1954). James Stewart, the Hollywood sweetheart, sees a crime out his window.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Cops need a cannibal to hunt a serial killer. Note: cannibals are creepier than serial killers.
The Shining (1980). The only horror film to make the list. Took me years to build the courage for this movie, and only one scene truly creeped me out. One of Jack Nicholson's best performances, and he's not the only outstanding actor in the film.
Le Samouraï (1967). The original handsome assassin.
Stalker (1979). Nothing to do with stalking. Another Tarkovsky film. This one, running around 160 minutes, has only about 150 shots. Might be too slow for modern tastes.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005). Part of a trilogy after Oldboy, but I suggest watching it as a standalone. Artistic cinematography atop a solid story. Two versions exist: one is fully in color, the other fades into black and white.
Song of the Sea (2014). A beautifully animated film with a great soundtrack that should have won the Oscars.
Scarface (1983). American crime film with shootouts and crime stuff. Also features a chainsaw.
Show Boat (1951). I watched this once and it still sticks with me, and my back hurts from staring and typing and staring and typing.
The Third Man (1949). The best noir film ever made. Also teaches you the Dutch (or oblique) angle very well. Orson Welles and great lighting. Also, the zither plays a haunting theme song.
Trainspotting (1996). I'm watching this film right now. Teaches rudimentary Scottish through heroin addicts, alcoholics, and a good-spirited atmosphere.
Taxi Driver (1976). Not as much of a good-spirited atmosphere, but shows how great Robert De Niro once was as an actor.
El Topo (1970). If you want a surreal Western, this is the one for you.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). It's the novel with Gregory Peck. About as classic as the novel too.
The Usual Suspects (1995). The only film I'm glad I didn't have spoiled before I watched it. An excellent crime film by itself, just don't read the synopsis before watching it (and this coming from a guy who regularly reads summaries before watching films).
Vertigo (1958). My favorite Hitchcock film. Pay attention to the color green.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). I'm not wild for Leonardo DiCaprio's current acting, but this was one hell of a breakout performance.
West Side Story (1961). Romeo and Juliet meets Leonard Bernstein and NYC gangs.
Ex Machina (2015). I needed something for this letter. One of the better films discussing human–AI relationships, the Turing test, and what separates us from an "intelligent" computer.
Young Frankenstein (1974). Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, and Igor. What could possibly go wrong?
Y Tu Mamá También (2001). Youthful romance road movie. Known for some explicit depiction of sex, and also being a good movie.
Zorba the Greek (1964). American business man tries to succeed in Greece. Ends up dancing.
Zulu (1964). African warriors sing a battle cry, and Michael Caine and a few British soldiers sing "Men of Harlech" and it's awesome.
I made it, almost burnt out, but I made it. Maybe next time I'll add pictures so you're enticed to actually look through the whole list.