‘American Hustle’ Continues Long Tradition of ‘American’ Movies

A ranking of the Top 10 ‘American _____’ movies. Francois Duhamel/Columbia Pictures

The December 18 release of American Hustle signals the addition of yet another film to the "American __________” pantheon, a category whose number has increased greatly in recent years. Here we rank our Top 10 "American ______" movies. Please note that "An American ______” movies, such as An American in Paris and An American Werewolf in London, though fondly recalled, are technically disqualified from our list.*

1. American Movie (1999) Winner, Grand Jury Prize, Documentary, Sundance Film Festival

An enthralling and often hilarious documentary about one man’s quest to make the horror film he has written to the screen. That the auteur, Mark Borchardt, cannot even correctly pronounce the title of his own movie -- Coven -- is just one of many gems here.

2. American Graffiti (1973) Nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Candy Clark) and Best Director (George Lucas)

A classic. One of those “And Look What Became of the Cast” films. Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford in a film directed by George Lucas and also featuring future 70s sitcom stars Ron Howard (Happy Days), Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley), Mackenzie Phillips (One Day at A Time), Susan Richardson (Eight is Enough) and Suzanne Somers (Three’s Company) as “Blonde in T-Bird.” The Dazed and Confused of the Seventies.

3. American Splendor (2003) Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay

Paul Giamatti is brilliant as Harvey Pekar, a real-life curmudgeon who creates a comic book based on his own mundane life to embrace his role as philosopher-preacher.

4. American Psycho (2000)

Christian Bale as a Wall Street broker by day and serial killer by night. Who else can wax philosophic on the brilliance of Huey Lewis and the News while satisfying his bloodlust with a chainsaw with this much elan?

5. American Beauty (1999) Winner of five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Kevin Spacey) and Best Director (Sam Mendes)

The lone Best Picture winner on the list, it introduced audiences to Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley and the existentialism of wafting plastic bags. It also capped an astoundingly strong run by Spacey, who from 1995 to here appeared in The Usual Suspects, Se7en, L.A. Confidential and this.

6. American Pie (1999) Winner of MTV Movie Awards Best Movie

“This one time, at band camp”…”Stiffler’s mother”… and raunchy pie sight gags, etc. The defining teen movie of the late 1990s that was never intended to be enjoyed by anyone over the age of 25

7. American History X (1998) Nominated for Best Actor (Edward Norton)

Often confused with Fight Club for its nihilistic themes and because it stars Edward Norton, but then we all know that “there is no Fight Club.” You will never walk past a curb the same way after seeing this film.

8. American Gigolo (1980)

Exactly a decade before arguably his signature role as a wealthy venture capitalist who enlists the companionship services of Julia Roberts, Richard Gere portrayed a Los Angeles-based male prostitute himself. This was Gere’s breakout role, with the luminous Lauren Hutton as the older client. You may not know a single scene, but you’ve certainly heard the soundtrack hit, Blondie’s “Call Me.”

9. American Anthem (1986) Nominated for One Razzie, Worst New Star

Oh, it’s horrible, as are the performances of U.S. Olympic gold medalist Mitch Gaylord and everyone’s mid-Eighties crush, Janet Jones (Wayne Gretzky eventually landed her). But so, so pretty to look at. Think Vision Quest on a pommel horse. 

10. American Flyers (1985)

Someone made a cycling film before anyone had ever heard of Lance Armstrong (and Greg Lemond was still four years shy of winning the Tour de France as well). Almost nobody had ever heard of the film’s star, Kevin Costner, at the time, either, as his one scene from The Big Chill had been cut.

*We haven’t seen American Hustle (2013), so we can’t rank it, but it sounds like a sweaty three-way between Goodfellas, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, which sounds good to us.