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skimpole

What 10 films define America?

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Here is a question that Lance Manion once asked:

 

"You have to explain America to someone from not here, but you can only use ten movies to do it. Which ten do you choose?

 

The idea is not to give them a history lesson, so you don't have to start with The New World and end with Jarhead.

 

What you're trying to do is give them a sense of who we are---your take on our dreams, our attitudes, our idioms, what we think we are, what we are afraid we are, what we really might be."

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I think that by merely nominating the most American of films, one automatically establishes a standard against which all others must be measured, thereby making the other nine rather irrelevant.

 

As such, I think that the Billy Wilder-Walter Newman-Lesser Samuels ACE IN THE HOLE is the quintessential American movie in that it states categorically and fearlessly that everything previously said about the very society that created it is a lie.

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Michael Moore's documentaries

AMERICAN PIE

PORKY'S

SCARFACE (1983)

TAXI DRIVER

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER

INHERIT THE WIND

WALL STREET

RAMBO series

THE GREEN BERETS

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Anyway here are my ten:

 

1. A Birth of a Nation--particularly American with its combination of considerable technique with gross sentimality, also American in its desire for compromise and reconcilliation combined with a remarkable incapacity for empathy.

 

2. The Age of Innocence-arguably the best movie about Gilded Age America, and a striking contrast with "The Gangs of New York" (which is essentially, "let's make a feel good movie about immigrant triumph--oh wait, there's also this war about slavery going on at the same time.") Here the slightly over lush background corresponds very well to the basically nouveau riche nature of the New York elite at that time, which they compensate with the "Innocence" of the title.

 

3. The Godfather Part II-"We're both in the same business Senator, but don't ever think that it applies to my family." But that's not true, as Michael Corleone finds out the hard way.

 

4. Casablanca-Bogart and Wilson are the only Americans in the cast, and the film, of course, takes place in Morocco. But no other film gets the aspect of Americans being cool. It's not that all, or even most Americans are, but this charisma is a vital aspect of its appeal.

 

5. Killer of Sheep--American films have problems dealing with their own history, and nowhere is this more obvious than the treatment of slavery. There are not many films that actually look at African-Americans from their own perspective, and of the few that do, this is the best.

 

6. Badlands--There are many movies that deal with America's fascination with crime and rebellion, and this is the best one.

 

7. The Last Picture Show-Much of American political culture is built on contempt for the crowded "cosmopolitan" metropolises. Here is the one film that looks at small town America, and the class and gender tensions people have to face.

 

8. McCabe and Mrs. Miller-Westerns are said to define America's identity (why don't people make Southerns or Easterns or Northerns?) and this one, in my view, is the best one.

 

9. Fantasia-Perhaps the most imaginative of the Disney movies, a delirious confrontation of high culture with popular vitality, both solemn and preposterous.

 

10. Magnolia-No other movie in the past two decades tries to present such a wide snapshot of American society, and do it without being didactic, obvious, manipulative or meretricious.

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I love many of your choices, particularly *Birth of a Nation*, *Killer of Sheep* and *McCabe and Mrs. Miller*.

 

For me personally, I could narrow it to two works:

 

*The Best Years of Our Lives* (1946) for a idealist/optimistic view.

 

*The Sweet Smell of Success* (1957) for a cynical/realist view.

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I have to borrow some of the choices.

 

*Birth of a Nation* (1915)

*Greed* (1924)

*His Girl Friday* (1940)

*Citizen Kane* (1941)

*Stars in My Crown* (1950)

*America, America* (1963)

*Shock Corridor* (1963)

*Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb* (1964)

*Once Upon a Time in the West* (1968)

*Killer of Sheep* (1977)

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Mr Smith Goes to Washington

The Roaring Twenties

Casablanca

My Darling Clementine

Thieves Highway

Pick Up on South Street

On The Waterfront

Rear Window

The Godfather

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

 

Edited by: SkipMcCoy on Nov 28, 2009 1:36 PM

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I'm going to go with GONE WITH THE WIND as the label. The story of a crucial and pivotal era. And a movie that, itself, appealed to Americans of all backgrounds. Maybe it brought us together. Who knows? Let's throw in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE for the same reason. On the opposite side of the scale, THE GRAPES OF WRATH shows us in a sad situation, but pulling together to get through it. RED RIVER gives us the magnificent west and the men who conquered it. STAR WARS does the same. Only a lot farther west! CASABLANCA has us falling in love and going to war. And we love our crime stories. MALTESE FALCON is the best and most influential. This is as good a list as I can think of.

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Not in any specific order. but a good cross section of American film-making about America.

 

1. The Grapes of Wrath

2. The Last Picture Show

3. American Graffiti

4. The Wizard of Oz

5. It's a Wonderful Life

6. To Kill a Mockingbird

7. Gone With the Wind

8. Singin' in the Rain

9. The Talk of the Town

10. The Best Years of Our Lives

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> {quote:title=ChiO wrote:}{quote}

> I have to borrow some of the choices.

>

> *Birth of a Nation* (1915)

> *Greed* (1924)

> *His Girl Friday* (1940)

> *Citizen Kane* (1941)

> *Stars in My Crown* (1950)

> *America, America* (1963)

> *Shock Corridor* (1963)

> *Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb* (1964)

> *Once Upon a Time in the West* (1968)

> *Killer of Sheep* (1977)

 

 

Or you could just list *Citizen Kane* and have done. After all, the original title was American !

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In no special order:

The Searchers

Fury

Citizen Kane

The Sweet Smell of Success

Fort Apache

The Grapes of Wrath

Our Vines Have Tender grapes

The Best Years of Our Lives

The Last Hurrah

The Ox - Bow Incident

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While I agree with many of the posts I notice that the selections are as diverse as the American population itself. I guess these films show how we see ourselves or wish to be seen

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In no particular order:

 

Grapes of Wrath

The Right Stuff

Red River

Picnic

The Best Years of Our Lives

American Graffiti

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Drums Along the Mohawk

Meet John Doe

Peyton Place

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1. APOLLO 13 - The American technological ideal at its best or most, well, Apollonian. The ultimate film about how American men work in groups. I can't think of an equally good or representative film about men and women working together.

 

2. A FACE IN THE CROWD - How politics and the media work in America.

 

3. THE BAD NEWS BEARS or HOOSIERS or some other similar film - The fact that this sports story is made over and over again shows how important it is to Americans. If you don't include a sports movie, you're missing something vital about America. Underdog stories are also part of our mythology. (I don't care for this kind of film, but that's a minority view.)

 

4. THE MALTESE FALCON - The cynical but honest private detective is one of our favorite images of ourselves.

 

5. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN - Isn't this film an American view of heaven?

 

6. SHANE - Everything about this film is mythic, and in a specifically American way. American boyhood and innocence, American silent hero, fragile American community in a spectacular landscape.

 

7. GONE WITH THE WIND - Scarlett O'Hara is probably the most famous character in American cinema. A great film about the limited options for women in earlier society, a film that shows how earlier generations believed in and rebelled against the importance of being ladies and gentlemen. America is about energy, and Scarlett O'Hara has plenty of that.

 

8. SINCE YOU WENT AWAY - Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, and Shirley Temple show us a great deal about what American women are and are supposed to be.

 

9. HIS GIRL FRIDAY or ADAM'S RIB - The intelligent woman makes her way in the workplace and finds her ideal match.

 

10. THE SEARCHERS - An American hero in an American landscape who finally rises above his prejudices.

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Faces

Stagecoach

Sunset Blvd

Rear Window

In a Lonely Place

Rebel Without a Cause

Band Wagon

The Wild Bunch

Sweet Smell of Success

The Searchers

 

Or maybe I want a do-over. I don't know, to be honest lol.

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In no order (and a few more than 10):

 

Tol'able David

Sullivan's Travels

One Froggy Evening

Woodstock

Mean Streets

1776

All The President's Men

Network

American Hot Wax

Do the Right Thing

Dazed and Confused

Wall Street

No Country For Old Men

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I am so glad that No Country For Old Men in no way defines America (USA,) otherwise, I'd have to move to Canada, or something! I did like the film, though...

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1. *Birth of a Nation*

 

2. *The Iron Horse*

 

3. *Wild Boys of the Road*

 

4. *Stagecoach*

 

5. *Double Indemnity*

 

6. *Best Years of Our Lives*

 

7. *The Searchers*

 

8. *To Kill a Mockingbird*

 

9. *The Godfather*

 

10, *The Godfather II*

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While it is difficult to compare statistics between countries because their definitions of certain crimes vary, Canada and the United States share a similar definition of "homicide", with the United States clearly "winning". The rate of homicides in the U.S., according to the U.N. (as published on National Master.com) is nearly three times that of Canada.

 

The drug violence between Mexico and the U.S., particularly in border towns, is also well documented.

 

I think most of the Coen's movies do reflect the United States. I'll sub *No Country* for *Fargo* or even *Hudsucker Proxy*. (I would have gone with *Barton Fink*, but then everyone might think the U.S. were peopled by a plethora of fish mongers.)

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We cannot discount The Godfather series. Whether we like it or not, the gangsters were prevalent in the early years of establishing the America we know now.

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> {quote:title=michiganj wrote:}{quote}

 

> I think most of the Coen's movies do reflect the United States. I'll sub *No Country* for *Fargo* or even *Hudsucker Proxy*. (I would have gone with *Barton Fink*, but then everyone might think the U.S. were peopled by a plethora of fish mongers.)

 

I love the Coens' work, but fortunately we don't have too many unstoppable killing machines loose in the US, for all the real violence we do have. But, I agree, their work is very much rooted in, and about, the US.

 

If I were to pick a film of theirs that best represents the US, well, Fargo wouldn't be bad, but I think my pick would be Raising Arizona, or The Big Lebowski. But of course, that is just my opinion, and you are as entitled to yours as I am to mine.

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No particular order...

 

1. Gone With The Wind

 

2. Mr Smith Goes To Washington

 

3. The Searchers

 

4. Grapes of Wrath

 

5. Die Hard

 

6. Rocky

 

7. Dirty Harry

 

8. The Untouchables

 

9. The Godfather I and II

 

10. Network

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