Published on July 4th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
Top Five: “American” Movies
As we celebrate America’s sweet-237 today, it seems like a perfect time to take a look at the best flicks that are so damned American, they put it in the title! This countdown is limited only to movies with the word “American” in the title, so you won’t see titles like Coming to America or Captain America on the list. Also, you’ll notice four of these films were released between 1998-2000, which either shows my age and/or the fad of throwing that word in your title at that time. Here are Overdue Review’s Top Five “American” Movies:
#5: American Psycho 
Director Mary Harron’s shocking adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s classic novel of excess is possibly the best ’80s movie made in the ’90s. Christian Bale’s intense performance as über-narcissist Patrick Bateman made him a legitimate leading man five years before he became Batman. American Psycho is a tough pill to swallow on the first viewing, especially with its cryptic ending–but the film is so bizzarre you can’t help but be intrigued. Also, I can now never hear Phil Collins’s “Sussudio” without looking at myself in the nearest mirror and flexing…just ask my wife.
#4: American Movie 
If you’ve ever entertained the idea of making your own movie, you have to watch American Movie. This 1999 indie-doc follows Milwaukee man Mark Borchardt as he attempts to finish his homemade horror film Coven. Borchardt and his close friend Mike Schank (who provided Coven‘s score) became somewhat famous after American Movie won the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries at Sundance. Director Chris Smith could have easily made fun of these guys with his film but instead treats his subjects with the utmost respect, making a film that is a legitimate underdog story. American Movie is hilarious, touching, and provides great insight on the task of amateur filmmaking–it’s a modern classic.
#3: American History X 
Unquestionably one of the hardest films to watch, American History X is confrontational cinema that forces us to look at the ugly racist fabric of this country. Like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, this film points the cannon back at the audience and asks if its characters are so distant from ourselves. Edward Norton’s Derek Vineyard is a tortured soul who finds prison to be a fresh start and upon his release, looks to protect his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) against the hateful influences they’ve surrounded themselves with. At its heart, this is a picture about nature vs. nurture, as director Tony Kaye forces us to eat our vegetables. This film is loaded with images that will stick with you long after its over.
#2: American Graffiti 
A much more positive look at the U.S. of A.–it doesn’t get much more apple pie than George Lucas’s classic tale of teenage heroics on a small town summer night. Effectively kicking off the ’50s-nostalgia craze of the 1970s, American Graffiti also heavily influenced teen flicks like Dazed and Confused and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The cars, the tunes, and Mel’s Drive-In make for a film that make you want to watch it over and over again. The young cast includes burgeoning stars like Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, and Suzanne Somers–most making their onscreen debuts.
#1: American Beauty 
Simply one of the best films to come out of Hollywood in the last thirty years, American Beauty never leaves you. Director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball combine for a quintessential tale of life in suburban hell. Every performance is spotless but its Kevin Spacey as the Phoenix-like Lester Burnham and Annette Bening as his repressed wife Carolyn that carry the film. For viewers who like endless onscreen symbolism and visual metaphors, American Beauty has miles of room for interpretation and so many of the film’s images find amazing beauty in simple objects–most notably roses. If there’s been a better “American” movie, I’ve yet to see it.
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