Wikipedia defines “Americana” as “artifacts related to the history, geography, folklore, and cultural heritage of the United States,” with “patriotism and nostalgia playing a defining role in the subject.” Since we’re coming up on the American Independence Day this week, I thought it would be a good time to look at some movies that celebrate American history and culture. My instant reaction on hearing the term Americana is to think of sentimental, somewhat simplistic and possibly jingoistic stories or art that glorify a past and a culture that doesn’t necessarily deserve it, so I was glad to see that I really do love the top ten films labeled Americana on my Flickchart.
Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.
10 – Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
To me, Meet Me in St. Louis is practically the definition of Americana. It’s certainly got the nostalgia part of it down pat, with its look at turn-of-the-century St. Louis and the hosting of the World’s Fair. It’s chock-full of little details, like an ice wagon going on its rounds, difficult calls on an early model telephone, old-fashioned Halloween rituals, trolley rides, and reminders of simpler times where the biggest worry was that the boy next door won’t like you. To be fair, the main conflict of the possibility of having to move for the father’s job is still relevant. There’s a sentimentality to the film, for sure, but the more serious issues and the weirdness of some of Tootie’s subplots keep it from being totally schmaltzy.
9 – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
From John Steinbeck’s classic Dust Bowl novel, John Ford’s film takes the story of Okies traveling west to seek a brighter future in California and makes it resonate on both the level of the individual family and the whole generation. This could be a very depressing film, and I put off watching it for quite a while because of that (and because I feared it would be kind of boring), but I was pleasantly surprised by how watchable it is. It certainly has some gut-punching moments, but thanks to a crime subplot, moody cinematography from Gregg Toland, and charismatic performances, it remains engrossing and ultimately inspirational in the good way.