Majiksthe tagged me with one of the web chain letters. I tend to blow these off, but this one's film-related so I'll give it a whirl:
"The challenge is:
Explain America to someone from somewhere else by giving them 10 movies to watch.
The idea is not to give them a history lesson, so you don't have to start with The New World and end with Jarhead.
What you're trying to do is give them a sense of who we are -- your take on our dreams, our attitudes, our idioms, what we think we are, what we are afraid we are, what we really might be."
I'm not sure my choices are exactly in that style; I'm more the "here's the spirit of things, draw your own conclusions" guy. Also, there seesm to be a tendency in the lists to favor "proper" films over "disposable" films -- while I think "disposable" films are often a truer, less considered showcase of our real culture. That is, THEM! probably gives you a better sense of what the '50's were like -- and the people of the '50's were like -- than Far from Heaven. Also, I'd vary up small and big films, trading some slice o' life with the big thematic bastards. Indeed, one ofthe factors that should be taken into account is that you're not only giving this hypothetical human a window into America with the films' subject matters, but the production dates of the movies illustrate how America's perception of itself has changed, which is also valuable cultural information.
So, in almost completely random order:
1.) The Searchers (1956): Although Rio Bravo (1959) is my pick for the platonic ideal of the Western (ignoring, for a moment, its odd lack of ... vista), The Searchers has bonus points for so explicitly exploring race, family, and America's odd quirk of idolizing the Outsider. Those landscapes clinch the deal. When America dreams its dreams of the West, John Ford's slinging the lens.
2.) Mad Hot Ballroom (2005): I've seen very few movies which so perfectly caught the sense of chaotic joy I felt while living in New York City. And too few films show what it's like to just live in a Great American City without the character of that City being somehow the point of the movie.
3.) Boyz n the Hood (1991): There are other, grittier entries in this genre, but this is a good starting point. Film classicists might instead go for Imitation of Life (1959) or Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).
4.) Sands of Iwo Jima (1949): as has been noted before, the perfect propoganda film. More importantly, this is the image of righteous conflict that most people carry in their head as they discss the Greatest Generation vs. current warfare. You can't undestand why America acts the way it does now without understanding that this is what we think of ourselves as still. I'm fairly sure Chris Matthews and his ilk masturbate to this film. This movie, however, is on a mandatory (and I'm not kidding, they are bound at the hip) double feature with --
5.) Apocalypse Now (1979): Much like Sands is the bright shining dream version of World War II, Apocalypse is the opiate nightmare version of Vietnam. Neither is really what the war was like, yet both are somehow ... right. If you struck Sands off the list for any reason, I'd default this spot to a dogfight between the overly-clinical Full Metal Jacket (1987) and the overly-wrought Platoon (1986)
6.) Longtime Companion (1990): Again, I'm not the guy to pick the perfect representation of America's relationship with one of its minorities. But this movie makes me cry my guts out every time.
7.) The Thin Man (1934): Pre-World War II, the shiny drunken fun-desperate days of the '30's, not to mention the trendsetter for every idealized male-female film partnership (and therefore cultural model) for the rest of the century. Some people would argue that title belongs to It Happened One Night (1934). Those people would be high.
8.) The Graduate (1967): Oooo, how I'd love to give this to The Apartment (1960) or Sweet Smell of Success (1957) -- and the fact that those are the three films battling for this slot probably says more about me than I like. This is primarily a guilt pick; a film I never really cared for, but one that both discusses the breakdown/acknowledgment of the "classless" class system and does so in such a particularly "60's" style. Seeing as I'm short-changing that element of American culture pretty hard, I probably have to stick to this one.
9.) Risky Business (1983): Fuck Wall Street (1987) and its sappy ending. This is the '80's. Tangerine Dream, people. An interesting one-two with The Graduate.
10.) Norma Rae (1979): You need this or Matewan (1987) on the list. I personally prefer Matewan, but I'm pretty light on representations of women in American cinema, so Norma edges out.
Special Bonus Pick:
11.) The Forty Year Old Virgin (2005): Wow. Okay, I know: what the fuck is this doing here in Nashville's spot? Well, first off, I wanted another comedy -- what a culture laughs at is as revealing about it, more revealing about it than almost anything else. Second, unlike Annie Hall, this movie doesn't require a specific combination of cultural types, intellectual attitudes and geography to work. Annie Hall not in New York isn't Annie Hall; the mall in Virgin exists in every mid-size and up city in America. Virgin hits on male friendship in a way that's almost never been done; our peculiarly American obsession with/fear of sex; the bizarre political/cultural combo of the last generation that's allowed for an extended adolescence; but at the same time doesn't laud the moral superiority of "growing up". The ways Virgin deals with families is also fascinating -- every type of fractured American family is on screen, not to mention that Andy's friends essentially become the brothers he never had. Friends as replacement/support for the oddly reconfiguring, geographically splintered American nuclear family is something worth understanding.
Call 40 Year Old Virgin my wildcard, screw-you pick. But I bet you ten years from now, it'll still be on a lot of Top Ten Comedies list.
Adding the twist of self-critique in the latest variant of the chain-letter, what's missing from my list?:
-- wish there weren't two John Wayne movies in here. I'd trade a John Wayne for his urban archetype opposite number, Humphrey Bogart.
-- pretty testosterone-driven list. There aren't a lot of great women's issues/politics films on even my long, first draft elimination list. My failing as a viewer, a thinker, or indiciative of the film world?
-- there should be a sci-fi film in there. America perfected sci-fi, and that alternating dread of/utopian vision of the future is an integral part of American culture. On the other hand, most of the truly great sci-fi films are laden with cynicism. I can't think of one that nails what I'm looking for in one slot.
-- there should be a children's movie, or a Spielberg floating in there.
-- religion belongs in there. Inherit the Wind (1960) should probably nab Ballroom's spot, but it's so damn mannered. Maybe Duvall's The Apostle? No, no, there's got to be a more positive portrayal of faith in America kicking about, but none comes to mind right away.
I'm not tagging anyone. If this really is a meme, it will self-propogate. Which is something I've really been meaning to write about ...