Choosing the Best American Movies

Choosing the Best American Movies

Today, the BBC posted the results of its poll of film critics who answered its call to weigh in on the greatest American films of all time. (Here’s the Top 100 that it generated.) I’m one of the voters who took part, an opportunity I relished not least because I found the premise fun to think about—the editor who organized the poll, Christian Blauvelt, specified that he hoped that voters would respond personally, with an eye not to historical greatness but to their personal feelings about movies.

I don’t believe that I ever make lists—or, for that matter, write—on any other basis. Yet I took the suggestion in a practical, even utilitarian way, and thought of movies that I watch, more or less, to kick back, in a familiar and even a familial sense. Several of the movies on the list are ones that I’ve watched with my family many times over; others are ones that I’ve watched so many times over the years that they’re a part of my cinematic and even personal reflexes.

That’s the value of the poll’s other, albeit justifiably contentious, premise—the restriction to American movies. It’s certainly true that movies from the rest of the world are in far greater need of attention here than the domestic product, and I hope that another poll, other polls, will work toward that end. But there’s something that spurred my interest in the limitation of the field of this poll, with its emotional and personal underpinning, to American movies: they formed the primal basis of my cinematic experience. (That’s so in part because English was my first language; I’d very much like to read about the experience of writers who grew up here with another cinematic culture—and how it inflected their viewing of American movies.)

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