25 Films to Represent America

When U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently visited with President Barack Obama at the White House, the two dignitaries customarily exchanged gifts. Brown gave Obama a pen holder made from wood from the anti-slave ship HMS Gannet. Neat. Obama gave Brown a custom box set of 25 DVDs that best represent American cinema. Nice idea. But lest you think Obama picked the films out himself, you should know that he had the American Film Institute pick the films for him. And unsurprisingly, the 25 they came up with conspicuously mirrored the AFI’s top 25 films from their 2007 “best American films” list. Borrrring.

If I were to compile a box set of 25 films that say the most about America, my list would be very different (though not totally different). Actually, I think it’s an interesting project: to think of what 25 films are the most interesting and profound “American” films. That is: films made by American directors, about American things, ideas, mythologies, dreams, paradoxes, etc. Thus, I present my list. A great gift idea for anyone…

The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928) The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940) Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) Shane (George Stevens, 1953) The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959) Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1971) Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1972) Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978) Down By Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986) Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991) A River Runs Through It (Robert Redford, 1992) Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992) Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson, 1996) The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998) Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998) The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998) American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999) George Washington (David Gordon Green, 2000) Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002) The New World (Terrence Malick, 2006) I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007) There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)