Back to the Future
"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." And so "Back to the Future" ends with the greatest sequel teasing line of all time. This sci-fi comedy from 1985 has only improved over the years into what people do not feel ashamed to label as a masterpiece. "Back to the Future" is a fine example of just how good American storytelling can be, and shows off our ability to create smart genre benders (Tarantino wasn't the first one, apparently). It provides a great, finely detailed view of how this country changed from the 1950s to the 1980s, and we get to beat the Libyans. Plus, there are a few very good jabs that are still very relevant today. For example, the farmland being replaced with a shopping mall, and Marty McFly being mistaken for Calvin Klein because the brand name is written on his underwear. Great Scott, indeed.
Once Upon a Time in America
It's got the name of our home and native land right in the title. "Once Upon a Time in America" is a time commitment, and you may not have enough time to see it all and have a barbecue all in one day. But sit through it at least once in your life, it is well worth the four and a half hours of your time that must be invested in it. I include it above many other American gangster movies, even those that I believe are superior, because this one challenges everything that feels right about a film. Through its span, it chronicles the rise and fall of criminals, and the rising and falling cycle of America. I guess it took an Italian director to best capture this idea.
I talk about a lot of downers on this website, but "Rocky" deserves a spot on this list because it actually follows the basic premise of the American Dream: in America, if you work hard enough, you can become successful. However, it shows that success doesn't always come in the form of winning, something that underdog stories tend to forget. Call it a lot of blind optimism, but "Rocky" still has the power to make you want to run up the steepest staircase you can find.
This might be an odd choice. However, it follows the Fourth of July theme quite well. And what's more American than Baseball? After all, it is our national past time. Baseball is to America what Cricket is to England: it's a long, slow game with a lot of rules that don't make a lot of sense, yet people still love it. That is why I'm happy that this childhood classic is more about a group of kids trying to get their ball back from a supposedly monstrous dog. There's also a nice little Independence Day scene here, and a hilarious one involving chewing tobacco. Not to mention, Squints (Chauncey Leopardi) pulling the moves on a lifeguard by pretending to drown. This is a bold and admirable pickup line that no one should ever attempt to repeat.
Team America: World Police
It's hard to believe how overlooked this was when it first debuted in theaters. I think it was misunderstood as merely a gross-out picture, rather than the extremely sharp skewering of both bloated patriotism and apologetic liberalism that it is. It does so only in a way that "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker could, by going as far as possible and making no stops along the way. "Team America" has only gotten better with time. It is the perfect American satire, but it is also at its best when it is sending up the entire movie formula itself. Everyone remembers "America F**k Yeah" from its soundtrack, but the tracks "Montage" as well as "The End of an Act," which questions why "Pearl Harbor" was made, show that you can draw in seemingly irrelevant pop culture references without distracting from the story at hand.