Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Americans

Adding American Ultra to my spreadsheet of movies reminded me how many movies I've seen whose titles conform to the following format: American _______. Sometimes they're The American _______ or on rare occasions even An American _______. In any case, there are a lot of them. American Ultra makes the 24th.

I could write a post about this any old time. In fact, if I waited six weeks, July 4th might be the perfect time. Or, it probably won't be that long until I see an even 25. But there's another timely reason I'm curious about it. A few weeks back we recorded a podcast on Captain America: Civil War, and at the end of the episode, we each shared our favorite three movies with the word "America" in the title. As it happened, none of my three fit into that format -- something I found curious just because I knew how many I'd seen that did. They were, in order from worst to best: Transamerica, Coming to America and Once Upon a Time in America. According to Flickchart, of course.

It was an easy topic for us simply because there are so many movies with the word "America" in the title. If the only criterion is that the word "America" must appear somewhere in the title, it nearly doubles my total to 46. Which is probably only a fraction of the total number of movies that have "America" in the title. I wouldn't be surprised if there were over a thousand.

Might as well write a post in which I rank them, right?

Just to make it easier on you, though, I'll halve that list. I'll exclude all that ones that don't conform to the format listed in the opening paragraph, and then just to make the halving even, I'll also exclude American Ultra. There's a good reason to do that, actually -- I have a policy of waiting a month before adding a film to Flickchart, just to give my impression of each film a chance to settle in my mind before ranking it. That way, I'll know it's as correct as I can make it, and not overly influenced by the radically positive or negative emotions of the viewing. According to these rules, I won't be ready to add American Ultra to my Flickchart until the 22nd of June. (Since I'm so behind in adding films, it will realistically be more like September or October.)

Anyway, shall we begin? Let's start with best and go to worst. All Flickchart rankings are out of a total of 4289 movies I've ranked on my chart. (Remember, I'm behind.)

1. American Movie (1999, Chris Smith) - Flickchart ranking: #403

A funny, eccentric and touching documentary on one redneck's American dream -- to make a horror movie called Coven (rhymes with "woven") in the Minnesota winter, with only the help of his stoner best friend and a senile financier. A splendid example of Americana, and of the documentary form.

2. The American President (1995, Rob Reiner) - Flickchart ranking: #568

Pretty much the last in Rob Reiner's decade-plus run of masterpieces, The American President probably doesn't quite earn the "m" word, but it is a really solid populist romantic comedy about the president falling in love. Would make a good double feature with Ivan Reitman's Dave.

3. American Psycho (2000, Mary Herron) - Flickchart ranking: #582

Twisted and delicious. Although it's about a creep who murders women -- the awesome Christian Bale -- you don't have to worry too much about liking it because a) it was directed by a woman, and b) he kills more guys than women anyway. The sequence with the business cards alone makes this a glorious satire of capitalism. Murders and executions? Mergers and acquisitions? Perhaps they are the same thing.

4. American Pie (1999, Chris Weitz) - Flickchart ranking: #583

Consecutively ranked with American Psycho but nowhere near as good, American Pie is still a landmark coming of age gross-out comedy that sent mainstream comedy down new paths -- for better or for worse. The original is still a delight, I would imagine, and I'd be able to confirm if I had seen it at any point in the last 15 years.

5. American Beauty (1999, Sam Mendes) - Flickchart ranking: #703

I don't like the 1999 best picture winner as much as some people do, but I did have it in my top ten that year, and was not displeased with it winning. I imagine it would not age particularly well and have dutifully avoided it since then.

6. American Splendor (2003, Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini) - Flickchart ranking: #1272

I think of myself as liking this movie more than this, which means it's probably ranked too low. One of Paul Giamatti's better roles and better performances, as he plays Harvey Pekar, the graphic novelist. Would really like to see this one again.

7. An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis) - Flickchart ranking: #1567

A trailblazing horror comedy and one of the best uses of practical effects you will see on film, I nonetheless don't love this movie because I saw it at the wrong age (sometime in my late twenties I think). If I'd seen it as a teenager, it could be a thousand spots higher on my chart.

8. The American Astronaut (2001, Cory McAbee) - Flickchart ranking: #1718

A truly oddball black and white indie comedy that seems to take its inspiration from Dadaism, this cult movie traveled around the country in specially hosted screenings that were attended by the director, or so I understand. An Australian friend attended one of these screenings, bought the movie, and loaned it to me about two years ago. It's a gas.

9. American History X (1998, Tony Kaye) - Flickchart ranking: #1853

This movie contains one of the most unforgettable scenes of violence I will probably ever see in a film. The rest of it is okay. Actually, I think the first half of this film is grim and uncompromising ... and then the second half is entirely too compromising. Perhaps Tony Kaye agreed as he disavows the cut of the film we've seen and tried to have his name removed from the credits.

10. American Gigolo (1980, Paul Schrader) - Flickchart ranking: #1862

I enjoyed this film a fair amount but ultimately only give it a mixed endorsement. As a snapshot of the era, it's fantastic. As a story, I remember having found it lacking. Though it has been more than 15 years since I've seen it, so I don't remember it all that well.

11. American Hustle (2013, David O. Russell) - Flickchart ranking: #1926

Overrated. Does some interesting things in the first half, then becomes sort of a mess.

12. American Graffiti (1973, George Lucas) - Flickchart ranking: #2002

Probably most in need of a rewatch on this list. In fact, both this and Dazed and Confused need a rewatch, so maybe it's just that I don't appreciate films like this as much as I think I do.

Okay, we're halfway.

13. American Gangster (2007, Ridley Scott) - Flickchart ranking: #2093

I actually kind of hated this movie the first time I saw it. I had the occasion to watch it again and ended up liking it a lot better. I still have a big problem with the change in the last 15 minutes, and with Denzel Washington saying "My man" every time he's about to kill somebody.

14. American Pimp (1999, Allen & Albert Hughes) - Flickchart ranking: #2162

Pretty good documentary about pimps that has probably slipped farther on my chart than it should. I remember thinking the filmmaking wasn't very aesthetically appealing. However, this film does have an interesting place in my viewing history. It was the 1500th film I'd ever seen, and I chose that occasion to start keeping track of the order in which I watched movies. So it's the first on a list that now contains an additional 3,021 titles.

15. American Teen (2008, Nanette Burstein) - Flickchart ranking: #2269

Another documentary that deserves a better ranking than this. It looks at a cross-section of teens in one midwestern American town, and gets a pretty good level of intimacy as well as doing some pretty interesting things from a visual standpoint. Ultimately sort of forgettable though.

16. American Dream (1992, Barbara Kopple) - Flickchart ranking: #2481

Third straight documentary. Kopple actually spoke at my college and showed this film not long after its release. You'd think that alone would launch it higher. But especially nowadays it suffers in comparison to Kopple's masterpiece, Harlan County U.S.A., which I saw about five years ago.

17. An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli) - Flickchart ranking: #2510

And this one may be too high. I've gotten ever more evidence over the years that I don't really like Vincente Minnelli, but this was where it started. Just not a fan of this one.

18. American Pie 2 (2001, J.B. Rogers) - Flickchart ranking: #2633

First (and only) sequel. American Pie 2 is fine.

19. American Outlaws (2001, Les Mayfield) - Flickchart ranking: #3412

Big jump here of nearly 800 spots. I actually kind of like this movie, probably more than the ranking suggests. But it was definitely one of those "better than expected" movies, as it was roundly rebuffed by critics and audiences upon its release.

20. American Dreamz (2006, Paul Weitz) - Flickchart ranking: #3765

Just weird enough to be an interesting failure. A spoof of American Idol that goes to some odd places and makes some disastrous tonal choices. But I would probably watch it again.

21. American Buffalo (1996, Michael Corrente) - Flickchart ranking: #3785

Least likely film to be this low on the list. But David Mamet adaptations have a history of being disastrous if not done correctly (most often when Mamet himself is adapting them). Corrente's adaptation, starring Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz, is dime-store and ugly.

22. An American Haunting (2006, Courtney Solomon) - Flickchart ranking: #4077

The movie I thought would be last, but as it turns out, there's one worse. Can't wait to see what it is. It's a laughably ridiculous period horror movie, and requires no further discussion of its merits (or lack thereof).

23. An American Carol (2008, David Zucker) - Flickchart ranking: #4226

Oh yeah, right. This awful, mean-spirited, right-wing parody of Michael Moore movies was my lowest ranked movie of 2008.

If pressed, I'd tell you that American Ultra would probably slot in between American Gigolo and American Hustle, making it my new #11 on this list. I love the filmmaking and it does some things very right, but some other questionable choices -- mostly tonal -- kept it from rising higher in my estimation. Still, interesting idea for a spy movie, one I haven't quite seen. It might have been better off being ten percent more conventional, actually.

Shit, now what will I write for 4th of July ... well, good thing I live in Australia, where the 4th of July is known as "Monday."

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