Ten Best Lists - American films by American Directors

 Auteur Americain






An odd thing struck me when looking through the Ten Best lists Filmycks had complied of each decade, that many brilliant 'American' films were directed by foreigners. Given the central place America has carved for itself in terms of film history, this is simply the collateral effect of establishing the de facto world centre for movies in Hollywood for so long, a by-word for film, attracting talent from around the world as surely as Lady Liberty's beacon pulled immigrants to New York. This anomaly is also partly explained by America's big hearted (if utilitarian) attitude to migrants, and its generosity of spirit to judge performance on merit.  I wondered how a list for each decade of sound film would look if I purely admitted American born directors only, and found explicable patterns when I did.

The '30s and '40s were overloaded with choices, as the first wave of Hollywood originals like Ford and Hawks still produced fine films, but the choices got skinny once the migrants came to prominence in the '50s and '60s. The American Renaissance re-invigorated American films when the first generation of Film School graduates, besotted with the genius of the Nouvelle Vague,  got behind the cameras, and the '70s is too bountiful to believe, so I chose a shadow Top 10 in tribute, equally as credible. The '80s got lean, more a reflection of the problems on the money side of the business rather than the talent, but once those models were worked through the '90s saw another bountiful harvest. The 21st century has seen steady, if not astounding output in terms of quality, and America has now found an equilibrium with many other countries in terms of identity and quality, no longer as dominant, but still as relevant.

* The criteria obviously leaves out genius filmmakers like Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock, no Fritz Lang, William Wyler or Otto Preminger or any other Europeans who fled the Nazi's in the 1930's. No Christopher Nolan or Peter Jackson in the 2000's. On the flip side the Yanks still get to claim Stanley Kubrick, Terry Gilliam, Jules Dassin and Joseph Losey in return. 
NB - Frank Capra was born in Italy, but raised in America from the age of 5, so he gets an exception. 

* And of course I cheated, 10 films is never enough, so I included a bonus title... a baker's ten in the lists I cooked up! 

So here it is, for better or worse, Auteur Americain. 
enjoy, debate... but watch some! - Michael R


Ten Best American Films of the 1930's

1. Stagecoach - John Ford
2. Only Angels Have Wings - Howard Hawks
3. Shanghai Express - Josef Von Sternberg
4. Morocco - Josef Von Sterberg
5. The Bitter Tea of General Yen - Frank Capra
6. Young Mister Lincoln - John Ford 
7.  The Roaring Twenties - Raoul Walsh
8. Gone With The Wind - Victor Fleming, George Gukor
9. Freaks - Tod Browning 
10. Gunga Din - George Stevens
= 10. It Happened One Night - Frank Capra 

Ten Best American Films of the 1940's

1. Citizen Kane - Orson Welles
2. The Grapes of Wrath - John Ford
3. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - John Huston
4. Red River - Howard Hawks
5. High Sierra - Raoul Walsh
6. The Lady Eve - Preston Sturges
7. The Ox-Box Incident - William Wellman
8. Body and Soul - Robert Rossen
9. My Darling Clementine - John Ford
10. They Were Expendable - John Ford
 = 10 His Girl Friday - Howard Hawks

Ten Best American Films of the 1950's

1. The Searchers - John Ford (Did I mention I like John Ford???)
2. On The Waterfront - Elia Kazan
3. Touch of Evil - Orson Welles
4. Shane - George Stevens
5. The Asphalt Jungle - John Huston
6. Paths of Glory - Stanley Kubrick
7. Johnny Guitar - Nicholas Ray
8. Rififi - Jules Dassin
9. The Naked Spur - Anthony Mann
10. A Streetcar Named Desire - Elia Kazan
= 10. The Gunfighter - Henry King

Ten Best American Films of the 1960's

1. Bonnie and Clyde - Arthur Penn
2. 2001 A Space Odyssy - Stanley Kubrick
3. In Cold Blood - Richard Brooks
4. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - George Roy Hill
5. The Pawnbroker - Sidney Lumet
6. The Manchurian Candidate - John Frankenheimer
7. To Kill a Mockingbird - Norman Jewison
8. Dr Strangelove - Stanley Kubrick
9. Cool Hand Luke  - Stuart Rosenberg
10. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - John Ford
= 10. King and Country - Joseph Losey


Ten Best American Films of the 1970's (and shadow list)

1. The Godfather II - Francis Ford Coppola                                   1. A Clockwork Orange - Stanley Kubrick
2. The Last Picture Show - Peter Bogdanovich                             2. The Godfather - Francis Ford Coppola
3. Nashville - Robert Altman                                                                 3. Days of Heaven - Terrence Malick
4. The Exorcist - William Friedkin                                                     4.  The Getaway - Sam Peckinpah
5. Five Easy Pieces - Bob Rafelson                                                      5. 3 Women - Robert Altman
6. Badlands - Terrence Malick                                                              6. THX1138 - George Lucas
7. The Conversation - Francis Ford Coppola                                 7. The Deer Hunter - Michael Cimino
8. Dog Day Afternoon - Sidney Lumet                                              8. Jaws - Stephen Spielberg
9. Annie Hall - Woody Allen                                                                  9. Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola
10. McCabe and Mrs Miller - Robert Altman                                   10. Jeremiah Johnson - Sydney Pollack
= 10. Two Lane Blacktop - Monte Hellman                                      = 10. Taxi Driver - Martin Scorsese   = = 10. Wise Blood - John Huston

Ten Best American Films of the 1980's

1. Raging Bull - Martin Scorsese
2. The Elephant Man - David Lynch
3. The Empire Strikes Back - Irvin Kershner
4. The Purple Rose of Cairo - Woody Allen
5. Blue Velvet - David Lynch
6. Blow Out - Brian DePalma
7. The Right Stuff - Philip Kaufman
8. Body Heat - Lawrence Kasdan
9. Full Metal Jacket - Stanley Kubrick
10. Brazil  - Terry Gilliam
= 10. Matewan - John Sayles

 Ten Best American Films of the 1990's

1. Goodfellas - Martin Scorsese
2. Groundhog Day - Harold Ramis
3. Being John Malkovich - Spike Jonze
4. Magnolia - Paul Thomas Anderson
5. Heat - Michael Mann
6. Fight Club - David Fincher
7. Unforgiven - Clint Eastwood
8. The Thin Red Line - Terrence Malick
9. Pulp Fiction - Quinten Tarantino
10. Fargo - Joel and Ethan Coen
= 10.  JFK - Oliver Stone

 Ten Best American Films of the 2000's

1. There Will Be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson
2. No Country for Old Men - Joel and Ethan Coen
3. The Royal Tenenbaums - Wes Anderson
4. Mulholland Drive- David Lynch  = 4. 
Synecdoche New York - Charlie Kaufman
5. Traffic - Stephen Soderberg
6. Gosford Park - Robert Altman
7. Zodiac - David Fincher
8. Good Night and Good Luck - George Clooney
9. Flags of our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima - Clint Eastwood
10. 25th Hour - Spike Lee
= 10. O Brother Where Art Thou? - Joel and Ethan Coen

Ten Best American Films of the 2010's (subject to change)

1. Blue Valentine - Derek Cianfrance
2. Never Let Me Go - Mark Romanek
3. True Grit - Joel and Ethan Coen
4. The Master - Paul Thomas Anderson
5. Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen
6. The Social Network - David Fincher
7. Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson
8. Tree of Life - Terrence Malick
9. Inside Llewyn Davis - Joel and Ethan Coen
10. Django Unchained - Quentin Tarantino
= 10. Lincoln - Stephen Spielberg