George Lucas’ American Graffiti is as fine an encapsulation of pop bubble gum American nostalgia as I’ve seen. Set entirely during one summer night in ‘62, the film is a series of vignettes that capture a time and place exquisitely. Never dated, never dull. Where were you in ‘62?
American Gigolo (1980)
After a narcissistic, materialist gigolo (Richard Gere, in the quintessential Richard Gere performance) becomes the chief suspect in a murder, he fights to defend himself against his own lifestyle. American Gigolo is one of the best films Paul Schrader has ever made, equipped with the director’s iconic cynicism and wit. A must see for Gere and/or Schrader fans.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Two American friends embark on a backpacking trip in England and are ultimately attacked by a werewolf. One friend dies, while the other slowly morphs into a werewolf (and is subsequently haunted and annoyed by the ghost of his dead friend). John Landis’ film is a classic horror/comedy, with Oscar-winning make-up effects to boot. The kind of film only a guy like Landis could pull off.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
I always love when a foreigner paints such a memorable portrait of past American life. And that is exactly what Italian master Sergio Leone did with his final film, Once Upon a Time in America. This grand epic takes nearly four hours to span nearly 50 years and not a single minute of it is misspent. As iconic as “American” movies get.
The American President (1995)
Perhaps the most carefree film on this list, Rob Reiner’s The American President carries a rare distinction: whenever it’s on television (which is All. The. Time. in the U.S.) I can watch some or all of it with perfect contentment. I never grow tired of Aaron Sorkin’s witty script, or Michael Douglas’ sardonic president. It’s just a damn fun movie, you know?
American History X (1998)
To shift to a far darker tone, Tony Kaye’s American History X is a raw and unflinching examination of the lengths at which men go to please other men. A son remembers his racist father by committing horrible acts of violence. A brother remembers his brother by pretending to believe in the rhetoric. And on and on. If anything, American History X proves how unrelenting the cycle of racism can be, and how it will never be broken, unless.
American Beauty (1999)
It seems as though the older I get, the more shit American Beauty gets. It’s a movie people love to hate. I remember Entertainment Weekly once listing it as the worst film to ever win Best Picture. I mean… really? Anyway, both then and now, I have always been infatuated with this gorgeous, emotionally brutal, and all around remarkable film. You have no idea what I’m talking about, but don’t worry, you will someday.
American Psycho (2000)
There are some fine films on this list. Damn fine. But my favorite, it must be said, is easily Mary Harron’s faithful adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial novel, American Psycho. As the title character, Christian Bale has simply never been better. Patrick Bateman is a hilarious, misguided, narcissistic psychopath whose lust for violence creates some of the most ironically hilarious moments I’ve ever seen. As far as I’m concerned, American Psycho is as perfect as satires get.
In America (2003)
I’m sad that Jim Sheridan’s magnificent and personal film, In America didn’t “make it.” Despite being a critical success upon its release, and earning a few Oscar nominations, the film doesn’t seem to have cemented itself into the brains of most contemporary movie audiences. That’s a shame. Me? I have never forgotten its honest power. I highly recommend this sentimental masterwork.
The American (2010)
I know damn well why Anton Corbijn’s perfect film, The American, failed to retain an audience in the U.S. Simply put, despite its title, the film was released in the wrong country. The only thing American about it is star George Clooney, who delivers a slow, methodical performance as slow and methodical as the film itself. It’s unlike any character Clooney has ever played, and the film is unlike any modern American film I’ve ever seen. Works for me.
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