Monday, January 5, 2009

The 13 Best Movies Made in the USA

Inspired by a New York Times list published today, which puzzled me a bit, and definitely seemed to be the product of an old man with his heart in the forties, here are my picks for best movies made in America. Ever. He did 10, then added 10 more right at the end; I stuck to 13, in no particular order:

- Sherlock, Jr. (1924, Buster Keaton) -- Best of the silents, hands down. Sorry, Charlie! Amazing stunts, clever comedy, still as entertaining as ever--which is hard to say for most of them and, yes, I’ve watched most of them.

- Five Easy Pieces (1970, Bob Rafelson) -- The best study of a fundamentally-conflicted man ever made. Written by a woman. Go figure. Easily Jack Nicholson’s best role, and that’s saying a lot.

- Carnal Knowledge (1971, Mike Nichols) -- Nobody but Mike Nichols would have guessed it, but sweet-as-pie Art Garfunkel plays the perfect foil to Jack Nicholson’s howling wolf. This 'filmed theater' is a masterpiece of form and function; Nichols' minimalist style allows the raw emotion to leap off the screen as he artfully exploring the ins and outs of friendship, romance, and lust, from college to old age.

- Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese) -- Anatomy of a psychopath, told with warmth, understanding, and, above all, patience. An exercise in letting an actor act, and a story speak for itself. Every frame of this movie breathes with life.

- Last Picture Show (1971, Peter Bogdanovich) -- A pitch-perfect tale of small town American decay, wrapped in a raw, heartbreaking coming-of-age story. Cybill Shepherd will destroy you just as she did Bogdanovich--you have been warned.

- The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder) -- Chose this over Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity, two Billy Wilder favorites of mine, because this one is just too perfect. It is effortlessly what every romantic comedy aspires to be--touching, romantic, realistic, humorous, tragic...a study of two people, the city they live in, and the capitalist feudal system we all pretend does not exist. Jack Lemmon, Shirley Maclaine, fantastic dialogue, twists and turns, and an ending that is at once tragic, happy, inconclusive, and satisfying.

- Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger) -- Small-town rube devoured by big city, his worst enemy becomes his best friend, cathartic rebirth--a veritable X-rated opera that won one of the most deserved, yet surprising, Best Picture Oscars. Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman disappear into their roles with uncanny grace; defines the buddy film.

- Shawshank Redemption (1994, Frank Darabont) -- One of the only movies that I can always watch; it is nearly impossible to change the channel when it comes on TV. Morgan Freeman's disembodied narration in this movie has more range and emotion than most actors' faces, and the script is about as perfect as it gets.

- McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971, Robert Altman) -- My favorite Warren Beatty movie (Splendor in the Grass is a close second) and my favorite Robert Altman movie (The Long Goodbye a close second). A loving and honest tale of life on the frontier. Julie Christie as an opium-addled madame in the snowy 19th century Pacific Northwest? Slay me! Also gets props for the greatest coat ever to appear on film.

- Manhattan (1979, Woody Allen) -- The master of the intellectual relationship movie--comedy, tragedy, loving, cheating, statutory rape...but this one does it better than all the rest. Gordon Willis’ achingly beautiful cinematography, the Gershwin soundtrack, Diane Keaton, and Woody at his best; how can you go wrong?

- His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks) -- Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell show actors everywhere how it’s done. The chemistry is palpable, the dialogue razor sharp, the pacing perfect. A great way to get your 1940’s fedora/taxicab/newspaper/sexism/steamer trunk fix.

- Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino) -- Reminded everybody, with style, that comedy always has a place, even in a gritty movie about unapologetic hitmen, gimps, and drugs. Inspired 14 years worth (so far) of shitty, derivative knock-offs the world over. Which I guess isn’t a good thing, but shows how influential a great movie can be. Only problem with this movie is that it revived John Travolta’s flatlined career; loved him in this movie, hate him in everything since, hate him as a person.

- The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola) -- I guess I had to include this. It’s a pretty good movie.

Evidently, I am a young man stuck in the seventies. Which is...better? I don't know. You tell me. Or maybe our perspectives are all harmoniously complementary and the world needs us all...


Jessica said...

Pretty thorough; I would swap Annie Hall for Manhattan, but you knew that.
But wait: no Hitchcock? Really? No Jimmy Stewart anywhere? Or Antonioni? Or Thelma and Louise? Or Jules et Jim?

I need to think about this.

Goodtime Charlie said...

Antonioni movies and "Jules et Jim" are foreign. Disqualified.

Thought about "Bringing Up Baby," which would've gotten you Jimmy Stewart. But it didn't make the cut. Sorry!

Not a huge Hitchcock fan, although I respect him and think his movies are pretty good. Not really my jam like these 13 are.

"Thelma and Louise?"

What would your Top 13 be? GIMME!

Jessica said...

Oops. I forgot the American caveat. So I will continue to ignore it.
Off the cuff, in no particular order:
1. Stand By Me
2. All About Eve
3. The Royal Tennenbaums
4. Thelma and Louise (virtually the only female buddy movie)
5. It's a Wonderful Life
6. Lost in Translation
7. Citizen Kane (you gotta)
8. Blow Up (top three)
9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
10. Breakfast at Tiffany's
11. Do the Right Thing
12. Annie Hall
13. The Decalogue (does that count?)

And Rear Window. And probably Rope. Does Hitchcock count as American? Definitive list to come...

Goodtime Charlie said...

"Blow Up" is British. Disqualified.

Hitchcock's British films would not count, but his American ones would (1940+).

Many iconic Hollywood directors were not American (Billy Wilder=Polish, Ernst Lubitsch=German, William Wyler=German, etc) but once they came to Hollywood, we claimed them...

"Decalogue"=Polish and TV, so I would disqualify that, as well.

The rest are good. Hurry up with that definitive list. The world needs to know!

Jessica said...

Yeah, yeah. Off the cuff, and disregarding the "Best American" shit, remember?

Jessica said...

After sleeping (poorly) on it, here are the Desert Island American 15:
1. The Graduate
2. The Royal Tenenbaums
3. Casablanca
4. The Big Lebowski
5. Stand by Me
6. Deliverance
7. Annie Hall
8. All About Eve
9. Rear Window
10. The Shop Around the Corner
11. Magnolia
12. Thelma and Louise
13. Do the Right Thing
14. Citizen Kane
15. It's a Wonderful Life

This is hard.

Goodtime Charlie said...


Darwin said...

I prefer The General

Jambone said...

I'm one of those people who has to do one of his own, upon seeing a top 10 (or, in this case, top 13) list, so here goes, in no particular order..

The Last Picture Show
Rear Window
12 Angry Men
The Shawshank Redemption
Midnight Cowboy
Singin in the Rain
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Godfather
To Kill a Mockingbird
Dog Day Afternoon
Dr. Strangelove
Pulp Fiction

Thus concludes today's contribution to the rampant oversimplification of film criticism that is suffocating our media and killing our children.

Goodtime Charlie said...

well done, sr. jambone
you have just killed 13 children
as a result of your list
i hope it was worth it

Karl said...

I can't believe that in all these lists that you and your readers have contributed, not one person has listed a SINGLE porno!!!


Goodtime Charlie said...

Well, rest assured "Inside Lydia's Ass" and the rest of the Anal Adventurer series rounds out the Top 20.