/Answers: The Most American Movies

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. This week's edition asks "What is the most American movie?" Each writer was allowed to interpret that question any way they pleased. As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team.

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If you'd like to share your pick for the most American movie, please send your thoughts to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com for a chance to be featured on the site. Find our choices below!

Hoai-Tran Bui: An American Tail

A surprisingly dark parable about a persecuted family of Russian-Jewish mice who travel to America in the 1880s on the promises of a country with no cats, An American Tail is an age-old story of the American immigrant's story — as told through mice.

The 1986 animated movie directed by Don Bluth followed the story of the 7-year-old son of the family, Fievel, who gets separated from the rest of his family when a thunderstorm strikes their ship. He encounters all the touchstones of 19th century America: corrupt crime bosses, sweatshops, immigrant uprisings — you know, the usual things you find in a family film. Like I said, surprisingly dark. (The '80s were an interesting time of upheaval for animation, with Disney wavering in its monopoly of the industry and darker, subversive elements being introduced by small-studio films, but I can get into that another time.)

However, American Tail had an unfailing optimism at the heart of it that perfectly captures the spirit of America, and there's no scene that demonstrates it better than the bittersweet rendition of "Somewhere Out There." The scene, in which, Fievel and his sister Tanya sing a wistful duet about believing they can reunite, is the most iconic of the entire film and for good reason: it will never fail to make you tear up a bit. And what's more American than crying over singing mice?

Peter Sciretta: American Movie

Yes, I decided to go with the cheeky pick for this week's /Answers, but honestly, American Movie is the first movie that came to mind. It's also a film that not many people have seen, so I like to spread the word. Chris Smith's 1999 documentary follows Mark Borchardt, an aspiring filmmaker who attempts to finance a low-budget horror film he abandoned years before. The setting for the film is Wisconsin, giving us a slice of life look at middle America and the fascinating characters that inhabit Mark's world. It's a movie about the American dream, about independent artists and the struggles and fun of low budget filmmaking.

If I didn't choose American Movie, my pick would have been another documentary, Michael Moore's 2002 film Bowling for Columbine. Say what you will about the man behind (and in front) of the camera, but I recently revisited this film and it's surprisingly relevant in today's times, with the culture of fear we live in and the problematic obsession our country has with firearms.

Jacob Hall: Independence Day

Independence Day is loud. It's flashy. It's glossy. It's often mindless and doesn't display a particularly nuanced view of the world (or even the universe). You may even recall the marketing campaign leading up to its release back in 1996, a barrage of trailers and advertisements that set a new standard for how movies would be sold to the public. And it worked. It was an enormous hit. Everyone saw Independence Day. Capitalism, baby.

And I could just leave it there as a perfect example of an "American" movie, but that would be a little too cynical. It's easy to complain and despair about the United States every single day (and the current presidential administration makes it especially easy) and to think we're all just a bunch of morons who like big explosions and lots of shiny objects, both which Independence Day showcases in spades. But there's something more to Roland Emmerich's goofy alien invasion flick: it has so much heart and you won't find a shred of irony within that heart. This is, above all else, an earnest movie that truly believes in its message of humanity rallying together for the greater good. Its soul is in the right place, even as the exterior is all about meticulously crafted special effects. That's why Independence Day remains so entertaining decades later and that's why it can't help but reflect the USA I personally know. Even when we're morons, most of us mean well.

Ethan Anderton: Idiocracy

Though writer/director Mike Judge gave us the benefit of the doubt by setting the sci-fi comedy Idiocracy in the year 2505, just 12 year later, we're sitting in a version of the United States of America that is only a few steps removed from the fictional future that Luke Wilson finds himself in. Anti-intellectual, consumed by stupidity, government in shambles...this version of the future feels more tangible every sing day as our president continues to behave like the petulant reality television star, corrupt businessman and inexperienced politician that he is. Unfolding in a world where misguided people except falsities at face value and laugh at people getting hit in the balls instead of questioning their fearless (brainless) leader, Idiocracy is undoubtedly the most American movie.

Ben Pearson: Top Gun

Fast jets, hot bods, motorcycles, epic guitar instrumentals, a catchy theme song, fist-pumping action, and a young movie star with a thousand-watt smile...what could be more American than Top Gun? The 1986 classic was produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, two names synonymous with action movies in the 1980s, which is a decade that this country still fetishizes to this day. The film was emblematic of a borderline-jingoistic type of rah-rah support that resulted in a reported increase of 500% when it came to people joining the Navy to become fighter pilots. But even if that seemingly-unlikely statistic is true, many people saw the film as a pure wish-fulfillment scenario: they wanted to be like Maverick, blasting bad guys out of the sky and bedding his flight instructor. With its unforgettable one-liners, sun-kissed cinematography, and flashy editing, you could make a case that Top Gun was one of the essential films of the '80s, and in my mind, it's one of the most American movies ever made.

Christopher Stipp: The Right Stuff

When you think about what kind of individual it initially took to look at a massive cylindrical tube filled with rocket fuel pointed at 90 degrees and think that strapping yourself, literally, to it would be a sensible thing to do it almost becomes unbelievable. Not having read Tom Wolfe's book I cannot speak with any great authority of what facts were presented, what truths were stretched for dramatic purposes, but I can say that The Right Stuff is about as hopeful about the American spirit and what it meant to be part of the nation's burgeoning space program. Further, this movie delves deep into what it meant to an American public to have these men be part of the zeitgeist of the time. It's almost too much to think that even a fraction of these things are true but with all the things that are blown up for the sake of good melodrama (Lyndon Johnson is painted with, perhaps, too wide a comedic brush, with dozens of characters that are kept track of like little satellites whose orbits need to be tracked so that one never interferes with another, this film extols all that is right and hopeful about what Americans can do even if it does come at the cost of the lives we never knew sacrificed themselves for the greater good. A masterwork in storytelling and a lesson that even at over three hours you are absolutely riveted all the way through, The Right Stuff is an accomplishment of cinema and for the American way.

Idiocracy Returning to Theaters

What do you think of our picks? What is the most America movie? Talk about it in the comments below or email your personal answer (a paragraph or more) to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com with the subject title "Most American Movie." Our favorite responses will be featured on the site in a future post!

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