This Amoeblog rates ten films with "American" in the title (most of which should be readily available on DVD at Amoeba). It seems that just having the word "American" in the title of a film is an instant attention grabber and gives said movie a certain cache or a slight air of importance.
Of course, the movie has to be worthy of this attention and not all "American" films are. Here's a random list of Top Ten "American" Movies -- by no means all inclusive or comprehensive, but ten that I have viewed and have opinions about. I've listed them in order of favoritism. Please feel free to add your favorite or most hated "American" movies in the COMMENTS below. And check back for a future Amoeblog on "American" Music -- songs or albums with "American" in the title.
1) American Psycho (2000)
Whether you consider this film dark comedy at its darkest or a just plain psycho violent movie, this is nonetheless a brilliant piece of work and, in my opinion, the greatest performance of Christian Bale's career. Directed by Mary Harron, it was adapted from Bret Easton Ellis's controversial novel of the same name. The film stars Bale as its materialistic central character, Patrick Bateman, who is supported by a strong cast that includes Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Justin Theroux, Bill Sage, Chloë Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon, Willem Dafoe, and Samantha Mathis.
Among my favorite scenes in the movie are the two in which Bale as the narcissistic Bateman character (which he plays to perfection -- perhaps tapping into his inner anger/violent issues) critically dissects the music of Phil Collins and Huey Lewis & The News. So graphic were the sex and violence in one scene of this film that for the edited DVD version and R-rated cinematic version of the film in the US a third of minute of footage was deleted.
2) American Movie (1999)
So obvious and so perfect a name for an American film, yet it took until 1999 before someone finally titled a film American Movie. And what a goodie it is! Produced by Sarah Price and directed by Chris Smith, American Movie is a documentary about a seemingly regular, every day American guy, Milwaukee filmmaker Mark Borchardt. He sets out to make a low budget, independent horror flick called Coven. It is also a bit about the making of his other film, Northwestern. Of course, making a film is never easy, especially when your budget is next to nothing, your experience is limited, and your planning minimal, but this documentary lovingly captures all the never ending challenges in the detailed filmmaking process, from script to screen, that the film maker meets along his uphill battle. American Movie is such a perfectly quirky documentary with an endearing cast of characters that it comes off almost like a mockumentary. But it ain't. It is just a film about someone setting out against all odds to achieve their dream of making a piece of art. American Movie was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.
3) American History X (1998)
This film stars Edward Norton as Derek Vinyard, who gets released from prison after 3 years only to discover to his shock that his younger brother Danny, played by Edward Furlong, is on the same destructive path of racism and hatred through the white power movement that led to him getting jail time. Edward Norton's character tries to instill the more liberal and enlightened views he learned during his time behind bars into his younger brother. The movie is intense but well worth the trip it takes you on.
4) American Beauty (1999)
Typically categorized as a "dramedy," in my opinion American Beauty is a lot more on the drama tip than the comedy end of the sphere. Directed by Sam Mendes, who also did this year's Oscar nominated Revolutionary Road -- another tale of masked suburban desperation -- American Beauty is excellent in telling its tale of suburban American lives which seem perfect on the surface but are in fact far from it. They are characters with screwed up minds, lives, and hearts, whose disfunctional tales are told with fabulous cinematography and excellent acting. The film won a total of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and one each for its stars, Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening. One of the insightful subplots of American Beauty is how it shows the ironic hypocrisy of homophobia. And one of the recurring images of the film is the red rose petals as part of how the Kevin Spacey character (Lester) fantasizes about his daughter's best friend Angela, played by Mena Suvari. The excellent cast also includes Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher, and Allison Janney.
5) American Splendor (2003)
The true story of Cleveland, OH born underground comic book writer/working class everyman Harvey Pekar and his less than glamorous life as a frustrated file clerk at the local VA hospital where he finds escapism and inspiration through his interactions with his cast of co-workers and also his home life. He lives in a funky little apartment filled with tons of books, comics, and jazz albums, where he spends his time when not out scouring yard sales. In fact, it is at a yard sale where he first encounters Robert Crumb, who would later become widely successful with his own underground comics -- something that directly influences Pekar to create comic books based on what he knows best, his own life, and which he titled American Splendor. Played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, with Hope Davis playing his understanding girlfriend/wife Joyce Barber, the film also mixes in some real life footage including Pekar's Letterman appearances. And there are are cameos in the movie by the real Harvey and Joyce. Although a gloomy tone surrounds its main character, American Splendor is essentially a heartwarming, moving tale and highly recommended.
6) American Gangster (2007)
Perhaps not as great as the hype that preceded it and its soundtrack, this is the real life gangster tale of still-living African American Harlem G Frank Lucas, effectively portrayed by Denzel Washington in this 2007 Ridley Scott directed gangsta flick. The film also stars Russell Crowe as his arch rival cop, Richie Roberts, a decent, honest cop who is constantly trying to bring down the O.G. (and his empire). The true story focuses on Lucas, who came up with the idea of smuggling heroin into the United States on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War. One of the numerous supporting cast members is Josh Brolin, who effectively plays a dirty cop determined to bring him down at any cost. Similar in structure to other gangster/mob films, it may not be as good as The Godfather or Scarface but it is nonetheless a pretty well structured tale -- all the better since it is based on a real story -- that is worth checking out. For additional related viewing I recommend checking out recent real life interviews with Frank Lucas, who got released from jail in 1991 and has some interesting things to say. You can find them on Youtube.
7) American Pie (1999)
This film is a good silly, fun teen comedy full of sexual inuendo and awkward-but-funny situations directed by Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz and written by Adam Herz. I would have liked this movie even more had it not morphed into a never ending franchise of increasingly worse sequels and spinoffs including American Pie 2 (2001), American Wedding (2003), American Pie Presents: Band Camp (2005), American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile (2006), and American Pie Presents: Beta House (2007). But the original American Pie remains a classic teen comedy with the storyline that focuses on four teenaged guys who make a pact with one another to lose their virginity before their high school graduation rolls around. As anyone who has seen the film will tell you, the title American Pie refers to a scene in the film in which one of the characters is caught in an embarrassingly intimate moment with a warm apple pie.
8) American Werewolf in London (1981)
This American-British horror-comedy is a good entertaining movie about two American tourists, student backpackers trekking round Europe, who, during their visit to England, are attacked by a werewolf who kills one and mauls the other. The surviving student soon discovers that that none of the locals will admit to the existence of the wolf, who has reverted to its human form. Then the surviving American student begins to have nightmares of being a werewolf and his murdered buddy and other recent victims of the werewolf appear to him, pressing him to help free them from the curse of being caught between worlds. Directed by John Landis and starring David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, and Jenny Agutter, the film was followed by a sequel of sorts in 1997, An American Werewolf in Paris, which featured a completely different cast and crew.
9) The American President (1995)
Directed by Rob Reiner and written by Aaron Sorkin, this romantic comedy all-star cast includes Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Richard Dreyfuss and Michael J. Fox. Douglas plays widower US President Andrew Shepherd, while Bening is an environmental lobbyist who recently moved to Washington DC. Not the greatest movie ever but not bad either.
10) American Crude (2007)
Bad is the word for American Crude. If you've never heard of this movie, there is good reason. It totally sucks! And yet it shouldn't since it had some of the makings of a good movie, namely a good cast including Ron Livingston. It is supposed to be one of those films where all the stories /characters neatly link up as the film progresses, as the paths of several eccentric and troubled strangers cross one night, but instead they just meander nowhere and the movie just never gets off the ground.