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The Thin Blue Line

Hands on a Hard Body

In Cold Blood

To Kill a Mockingbird



The Business of Fancydancing

Fires in the Mirror (if it counts)

Welcome to the Dollhouse


It may be argued these aren't true Westerns but my choices in that category would be Altman's "Buffalo Bill and the Indians" and "McCabe and Mrs. Miller".


Stagecoach better than The Searchers? Blasphemy indeed!

Of the John Wayne westerns, I might pick McClintock. It's got John being the big tough guy who's easily outclassed by Maureen O'Hara as the feisty wife.

The Heretik

A western?

Shane, where are you going? Shane!

Or what about The Seven Samurai? Okay, you think it's not a western and not american? Yeah, it was when it got remade into The Magnificent Seven. Cue the Marlboro theme. Which is the Magnificent Seven theme. Nothing more American than the strong silent type smoking himself to death. Cough, cough. Wheeze.

Or what about Little Big Man? You are a mule skinner.

Or not.

Red Tory

Well "High Noon" of course would be your western.

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" has to make it on that list someplace as well. It's an iconic flic that has resonated with young people for almost twenty years.


Ten Woody Allen movies. There!

harry near indy

why only ten movies? why set a limit?

one thing wrong with these things is the strict sticking to the format. only 10, no more -- stuff like that.

the older i get, the more frustrated i am with my fellow human beings for putting themselves into boxes when they don't have to.

i guess people are afraid to color outside the lines.

i may not be an artist, but i think like one.

it's the talented child who realized that rules can be followed, but also ingored, bent or broken.

calvinball, folks, calvinball.

btw, lance, you're on a roll regarding heroism and how u.s. movies show it. but i don't think it's either stagecoach or the searchers -- why not both, and more?

mac macgillicuddy

For westerns, I'd go with the Magnificent Seven, or The Good the Bad and the Ugly, although I'm not certain the latter is actually an AMERICAN movie. Isn't it one of the so called spaghetti westerns?

Blazing Saddles, too ;)


Easy Rider

the blonde

OK, I'm wasting time at work here, but here goes:

To Kill a Mockingbird
Do the Right Thing
The Godfather
Singin' in the Rain
Office Space
High Noon
Gone with the Wind

Kevin Wolf

Sounds like a fun exercise, Lance. I think I'll post something over my way later today. BTW: Stagecoach is much better than The Searchers both as movie and as western. So you get my vote there...


Lance, if you prefer "Stagecoach" to the "Searchers," put it on your list, because there are few Westerns that touch on more American themes than the former film. You have the regeneration of the drunkard (Doc Boone), the hooker with a heart of gold (Dallas), the self-sacrifice and redemption of the fallen Southern aristocrat (Gatewood, the gambler), the greed and hypocrisy (and the American fear of) "big business" (in the embezzling banker), the soft-but-persistent peddling of alcohol (Peacock, the whiskey drummer), the notion that there's the Law and there's what's right and that what's right trumps the law (the marshall who gives Ringo time to settle the score), and, most importantly, the redemption and revenge of the devoted son, a man who exemplifies dearly held American notions about courage, self-sacrifice, and defiance of hypocritical laws (Ringo, of course; John Wayne's character). Racism and race mixing also plays a large role in the film, if less pointedly than in The Searchers. There's more, but you see my point: Stagecoach is a comprehensive catalogue of American preoccupations of 1939--and, in large measure, of today.


The Heartbreak Kid

The Magnificent Ambersons


The Mad Songs of Ferdinanda Hussein

A Face in the Crowd

The Crowd

The Best Years of Our Lives

Murder by Contract

Sullivan's Travels

Western: Dead Man

Exiled in NJ

Not necessarily my favorite movies, and I am avoiding any artsy-fartsy ones that make me sound pretentious:

Scarface, Shame of a Nation: Every European's view of the USA

Best Years of Our Lives: no explanation needed

Mildred Pierce: you have to have some James Cain, and this one, while not as good as Indemnity or Postman, sums up the Sammie Glick spirit of America

Shane: but someone put a mute on Brandon deWilde. Westerns are difficult; my favorites Clementine & Unforgiven say little about our country to foreigners.

Young Mr. Lincoln: how can we not have Henry Fonda?

Reds: I was going to put Seven Days in May, but feared I'd forecast the future.

Love Affair: you need a weeper, a chick flick, and this one is far better than the McCarey's more bloated remake.

Tin Men: what the rest of the country is doing; a perfect period piece

The Trip to Bountiful: yes, it is a stage play. So sue me.

Tie: Chinatown, Singing in the Rain. The first is obvious, and we have to have a musical. I prefer Cabaret but except for Minelli and Fosse, everything in it is English or German.

Looking at the lists, I see no Some Like It Hot. or Titanics for that matter [hooray], All About Eve or Sunset Boulevard.


I like the Blonde's list. Of course, I AM her evil twin. But here's mine:

The Searchers
The Godfather
Taxi Driver
Meet John Doe
Sunset Boulevard
Citizen Kane

Is this too dark? It's all about corruption. OK, so then...

Singin' in the Rain
To Kill a Mockingbird


let's see....
Used Cars
Ruggles of Red Gap
Lone Star
Ulee's Gold
Tin Cup
LA Confidential
Repo Man
Moscow on the Hudson
Red Rock West
Elvis Meets Nixon
Richard Pryor:Live in Concert.

alienation and wild humor are
both forms of non-violent resistance.


I actually meant bull durham, not tin cup.


State of the Union
A Face in the Crowd
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Last Hurrah
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Fort Apache
Sergeant York
The Grapes of Wrath

I'm really torn between the Unforgiven and The Godfather (2), but The Unforgiven has a lot in common with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and I can't give up a John Ford movie, so on balance I think I have to go with the Godfather (2)


The Great Dictator
Ice Storm
American Psycho


Here my semi-random

- Dr. Strangelove
- Maltese Falcon
- Little Big Man (western/comedy)
- The Ox-Bow Incident (also a western but not really about westerns)
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
- Night of the Living Dead
- Horse Feathers
- Ed Wood
- Full Metal Jacket

Exiled in NJ

So odd, no Wizard of Oz, no Gone With The Wind~~after our last discussion no one has the balls to name it~~none of the MGM or Astaire-Rogers musicals, but so far, no Lost in Translation. Gnash your teeth, Lance.



The blonde has GWTW on her list. Lost in Translation isn't going to be on mine because I don't think it says anything specific about America except that there must be something magical in the water here for us to have produced the likes of Scarlett Johansson. If I was going to put a movie with Scarlett on my list it'd be Ghost World.


Full Metal Jacket to explain US foreign policy. Especially the line: "Inside every [add racial slur here] is an American waiting to get out."

Ted Raicer

10 films to explain America? In the Bush years I'm not sure American CAN be explained, but here goes (in no order):

Citizen Kane


The Godfather II

Seven Days in May

Inherit the Wind

And Justice for All


Mister Roberts

Ed Wood

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Gray Lensman

So you people think Hollywood has ever made a film that reflects anything but Hollywood's view of the USofA? To sell tickets and popcorn, the powers-that-be in the Biz are only interested in showing Americans the America they want to see.

Read the book.


gray lensman, 1126am-
which book are you talking about,
or is that a rhetorical suggestion?

Words Have Power

Great stuff! I'm amazed at the quality of films selected by others and the fact that so many less well known films have been nominated. I'm take a shot at 10 Films That Explain America, and I'll do it with the handicap that they will all be in black and white.

1. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - I was knocked out to see others put this John Ford classic on their list. "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

2. They Were Expendable - Sticking with Ford. This is the story of America's defeat in the Philippines at the start of WWII. "You and I are professionals. If the manager says sacrifice, we lay down the bunt and let somebody else hit the home run. That's what we were trained for and that's what we'll do."

3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - I was shocked that this wasn't on anyone's list. An idealist crushed by the corrupt political system. Smith is done until he makes a personal appeal to the one man who can save him. "All you people don't know about the lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason that any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule: 'Love thy neighbor.' And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine."

4. It's a Wonderful Life - Sticking with Capra. This film is dark and disturbing. George Bailey throws himself off a bridge and, instead of death, finds out that his small town life was indeed important. Some considered this film subversive, including the FBI. "Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings, Love Clarence."

5. Dr. Strangelove - This is Cold War America. This is the military industrial complex at full throttle. "But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."

6. To Kill A Mockingbird - Still the most powerful exploration of racial hatred and human decency. "Stand up your fathers passin'."

7. Lillies of the Field - Decency, commitment, faith. God works in mysterous ways and small miracles happen. "I'm gonna' build me a chapel."

8. Stalag 17 - Not in the same league as The Grand Illusion, but this is Americans under stress. Things aren't very noble and motives tend to be mixed. "Only in a democracy can a poor guy get his keister shot off with a rich guy.

9. His Gal Friday - The MSM like is was and still is. Howard Hawks' remake of the Front Page. Political corruption, greed, and the "gentlemen" of the press. "I wouldn't cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up!"

10. Casablance - The film only has one American in it, Richard Blaine aka Rick, and he is on the run for some unspecified reason. In the end, Rick does the right thing and that's what we hope all Americans will do. "I stick my neck out for nobody"


Lone Star
Breaking Away
Friendly Persuasion
Tender Mercies
Malcolm X
The Joy Luck Club
Moscow on the Hudson
Ledgends of the Fall
Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

This is so unfair. I need at least ten more choices.


harold and Kumar! Excellent idea. People need to know about White Castle.

I will also copy someone else's suggest of The Blues Brothers - conmen thinking that they are on a mission from god!

Dr. Strangelove
Apocoplys Now
That's all I can think of while I am watching football.

Earl Bockenfeld

Thelma & Louise
Breaking Away
The Godfather
Mister Roberts
High Noon
Twelve O'Clock High
Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf
The Candidate
MASH with Donald Sutherland

That's the best I can do for now, I tried to pick some good movies that other people hadn't already chosen. I now have to start getting in shape to help the Bears win tomorrow.


In retrospect, I'm stunned I missed A Soldier's Story and Judgment at Nuremberg.


These are not all good movies but they are worth watching. I broke the rules and provided two lists. They are not complete, it is doing a disservice to American culture to think you can begin to define it with 10 movies but, on the other hand, that we can define it so well with movies is kind'a disturbing. The lists are meant more as a paradigm for studying America through movies. The first list is meant to be an example of what types of movies served to help synthesize American culture. That is the movies that became American culture i.e., what Americans believe about thereselves. The second list are a rare breed which try to make us look at American culture for what it is i.e., the deomposition of American culture.

Cultural Synthesis:
Dances With Wolves
Gone with the Wind
Glass Bottom Boat
High Noon
Seven Days in May
Grapes of Wrath

Cultural Decomposition:
Office Space
Dr. Strangelove
Smoke Signals
Catch 22
Tales from the Hood
Apocolypse Now
Tin Men
Any Woody Allen Movie
Any Altman film
The Unforgiven


joaquin 141am-
i take your point, but with a caveat:
i have seen too many w/allen & r/altman
movies that drowned in bs, pretension and
could i ask you to narrow down your allen
and altman movies to a favored few?

Neil Belsky

The President's Analyst
Wrong is Right
Sullivan's Travels
The Time of Their Lives
How the West Was Won
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (even thought they didn't get away with it)
The Power
Wag the Dog
Radio Days

And because I can't stop:

A Christmas Story

The Producers didn't make it because Bialystock and Bloom got caught. In the current U.S. they'd have been given free memberships in the Republican party.

Then there's the alternate universe that I have been trying to shift into for years, with almost everything by Frank Capra
The Hudsucker Proxy
Almost anything by Preston Sturges

Oh darn!
I forgot the most important one of all:

One, Two, Three!


I always said you could do it in one: The Wizard of Oz. But it's a great question, and I will ponder a post on it.

Just posted a tribute to Shelley Winters over at my place. I think a lot of her movies say a lot about the country, too. A Place in the Sun is one of the saddest explorations of American class consciousness I've ever seen.


My first list had 20 films on it, so I deleted all that had already been mentioned in the comments to this post. Here's what I had left:

Five Easy Pieces
Hoop Dreams
Glengarry Glenn Ross
The Wild Bunch
Modern Times
Bonnie and Clyde
The Civil War (Ken Burns)
Raging Bull
Rebel Without a Cause


Wow, Lance - thanks for the link - and I am absolutely loving all of the additions here from your commenters. Terrific suggestions!!


1) Do the Right Thing -- the best film about the nature of racism in America.
2) Nashville -- just as insightful in post 9/11 America as it was in post-Watergate America.
3) Rivers Edge -- an updated and darker version of teen angst than Rebel Without a Cause.
4) Breaking Away -- the tensions in a "normal" white American family with some interesting observations on class.
5) Network -- a prescient view of today's television.
6) A Face in the Crowd -- how facism will come to America.
7) El Norte -- the economic refugee experience.
8) The Right Stuff -- an irreverant at times, but in the end, positive view of who we think we are.
9) The Apostle -- a sympathic view of fundamentalism.
10) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence -- a meditation on the the myth of the Western.

If I could expand this number, I would include both Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter (another vision of the the sense of community like Nashville and NOT as a Vietnam War movie), Three Kings, Wall Street or Risky Business, Unforgiven (another meditation the Western myth), The Conversation, The Last Picture Show, Easy Rider.

Denny Lynch

10 movies about america, in no particular order

The Wind and the Lion
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek
Duck Dodgers in the 24th and 1/2 Century
Midnight Cowboy
Dr. Strangelove
The Sweet Smell of Success
To Kill a Mockingbird
King Kong (parts of all 3 versions)


I think The People vs. Larry Flynt would have to be in there somewhere...


Also an underdog sports film. Your choice of Rudy, Rocky, or The Karate Kid.

And, separately, Caddyshack, which expresses the American ideals of (1) being a big success without selling out, and (2) mocking snobs.

Jim 7

How about as seen though the eyes of one person?

The Natural
The Candidate
All the President's Men
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Three Days of the Condor
Downhill Racer
The Electric Horseman
The Great Gatsby
The Way We Were
Jeremiah Johnson

and as a director

Quiz Show
Ordinary People
A River Runs Through It
The Milagro Beanfield War

Words Have Power

The Wind and the Lion - great choice. "Pedicaris alive or Raisuli dead!" TR and the 1st Age of Empire.


Sheesh. Off the top of my head I would the following are under-represented:

True West
Bunuel's "Land Without Bread"
The President's Analyst
David Holtzman's Diary
True Stories
Bob Roberts
Harold and Maude
Bergman's "Serpent's Egg"
Blue Velvet


Hey -- Thanks for picking up on this question! It started over at my blog, actually, in the comments for this post:

Happy to see it's generated so much discussion!


Taking a page from Gaijin Biker, above, here are ten that will stand up to analysis:

Godfather II
To Kill a Mockingbird
Apocalypse Now
Tender Mercies
Sling Blade
The Apostle
Gods and Generals
Lonesome Dove
The Handmaid's Tale

You've got war, the West, crime, corporate greed, sexuality, race, women's issues. mental health, fundamentalist religion......and Robert Duvall, wall to wall.

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