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Our Favorite Movies from the AFI Top 100 List

It's #IndependenceDay, and, as you could guess, we'll be celebrating by watching some of our favorite American-made films. It took us over a decade, but we watched all 100 films on the AFI Top 100 List (we used the 10th anniversary edition from 2007). Some of these films were total surprises--we weren't expecting much, but then they blew us away. Meanwhile, others were a little rough to get through. We personally struggled with the radically disproportionate amount of movies from the 70's (AFI's list spans 110 years, yet 20% of its films are from one decade), the entire omission of even one singular woman-directed film, and the fact that the list only includes two BIPOC directors. All of that being said, we mostly enjoyed the process of crossing off every film on the list. Keep reading for our top three favorite American-made movies from the AFI Top 100 list.

top three favorite american made movies

1) Sunset Boulevard (1950)

This is one of our favorite films of all time. Even if you're not familiar with the movie, you've probably heard its most famous line, often misquoted as “I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille" (the actual line addresses Mr. DeMille first). This noir film follows Joe Gillis, a struggling writer, as he works in the home of an obsolete silent film star. Part of the absolute brilliance of this film comes from director Billy Wilder's choice to cast a plethora of actual silent film era filmmakers. Gloria Swanson plays the aging silent film actress, director Erich Von Stroheim plays her butler, and Cecil B. DeMille plays himself. Sunset Boulevard was released during the Hays Code, so, as was the case in almost all Noirs of the time, many of the film's plot points had to be alluded to, and never explicitly stated. Things like why the main character, Joe, is being paid by a rich, older woman. Spoiler alert: it’s not for his writing skills. The Hays Code forced writers to be creative, and we adore the way this script was written. Sunset Boulevard won three Academy Awards and is often included among the best films of all time.

2) Pulp Fiction (1994)

We know Quentin Tarantino isn't everyone's favorite, but there's no denying the brilliance of this film. And if Tarantino is one of your faves, you probably already know why we chose to include Pulp Fiction in our top three American-made movies list. One of the things we love about this film is its non-linear plot. Four pretty chaotic stories intertwine and unravel as the movie progresses. As more characters join the story and the film's universe fleshes out, it's almost impossible not to be pulled into the whirlwind. Pulp Fiction is widely referred to as Tarantino's magnum opus and has proven to be one of the most influential films of modern cinema. The film itself incorporates homages to classic Hollywood and borrows on a wide variety of aesthetics and techniques. As is true of all Tarantino's projects, however, this film is not for the faint of heart. If you're squeamish with blood and some explicit content, this one isn't for you. Regardless, Pulp Fiction pulls out all the stops and is truly in a genre of its own, winning one Academy Award and receiving six other nominations.

3) Citizen Kane (1941)

This choice may sound like a cop-out, but we absolutely mean it. There's a reason this film is #1 on both iterations of AFI's list. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Nearly every camera trick you see in this movie was literally pioneered for this film. Director Orson Welles and his production team were true visionaries all around, managing to develop practical effects that still hold up to today's standards. And, of course, this film is not just a visual and cinematic masterpiece. Citizen Kane tells a story that still resonates with today's political and economical landscape. In its day, the film was pretty transparently an attack on the infamous William Randolph Hearst (contemporary newspaper tycoon, whose company Hearst Corporation is still around today). The not-so-subtle satire nearly got Welles blacklisted, starting a public feud as Hearst and his employees threatened to end the studio and anyone involved in the making of the film. While the studio refused to cancel its release, Welles agreed to cut a total of three minutes from the film to get Hearst's lawyers off his back. Over 80 years later, Citizen Kane is considered the greatest film of all time.


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