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Top Ten: Americana Films

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.

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Favorite Films, One Letter at a Time

I rarely organize my collections alphabetically, at least not as the major organizational tool, since the letter the title starts with is usually less meaningful than the year it was made or the genre that it’s in. But there’s a meme going around film blogs (starting with Blog Cabins) to choose one favorite film that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Forcing you to pick something from each letter is generating some interesting results, so I thought I’d give it a try. (Other entries I’ve seen include: Only the Cinema, Film Doctor, The House Next Door, and Spoutblog.)

Shameless self-promotion – this task was made a lot easier since I recently completed a full list of all the films I’ve ever seen over at my archive site. Still working on the ancillary lists organized by year and rating, but the by title one is done.

AThe Adventures of Robin Hood (1938; Michael Curtiz & William Keighley)
BBand of Outsiders (1964; Jean-Luc Godard)
CCity of Lost Children (1995; Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
DThe Double Life of Veronique (1993; Krzysztof Kieslowski)
EElection (1999; Alexander Payne)
FThe Fountain (2006; Darren Aronofsky)
GGentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953; Howard Hawks)
HA Hard Day’s Night (1964; Richard Lester)
IIn a Lonely Place (1951; Nicholas Ray)
JJFK (1991; Oliver Stone)
KKey Largo (1948; John Huston)
LLock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998; Guy Ritchie)
MMulholland Drive (2001; David Lynch)
NThe Naked Kiss (1964; Samuel Fuller)
OO Brother Where Art Thou (2000; Joel & Ethan Coen)
PPersona (1966; Ingmar Bergman)
QThe Quiet Man (1952; John Ford)
RRear Window (1954; Alfred Hitchcock)
SSunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927; F.W. Murnau)
TThe Thin Man (1934; W.S. Van Dyke)
UThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964; Jacques Demy)
VVertigo (1958; Alfred Hitchcock)
WThe Women (1939; George Cukor)
XX-Men (2000; Bryan Singer)
YYoung Frankenstein (1974; Mel Brooks)
ZZodiac (2007; David Fincher)

Anyone else reading this, please feel free to post your own. Consider yourself tagged.