/Answers: The Most American Movies

independence day

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.

/Film is experimenting with a daily podcast (you can subscribe to /Film Daily on iTunes, Google Play, Overcast and rss). On today’s podcast we are bringing you an audio version of /Answers: The Most American Movies. Subscribe now or listen below to hear us talk about the most American movies of all time!

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.

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