There are a couple of things that are really important in understanding "real" American culture today, and any movie that is going to project an understanding of America needs to have at least one of the following elements, and explore it in a way that really reflects how Americans feel about it.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but a couple of trends I've noticed over the past several decades.
- Suburban culture. The suburbs have been an important part of American society since the 1950s and represent half of the American population. Early on, they were seen as a sign of promise. Now, as more people move back to the city, they are seen as a place of complacency, and for some, desperation. While people can be very comfortable there and live the "American dream," for younger people they represent a trap, loneliness, alienation, and a place to escape.
- American family dynamics. American families have become increasingly nuclear, isolated, and closed over the past several decades. It's common for American children to move out at age eighteen, and for the parents to "convert the bedroom to an office or painting space." American parents don't rely on their children to care for them in their old age; at the same time, an increasing divorce rate and blended families, as well as the legalization of gay marriage in some states, combined with the influx of adopted children from Asian countries, have significantly altered the American family dynamic.
- Integration of immigrants into American society. Immigrants are accepted into American society; they have been since the start of the country, and seeing someone from Romania or Uganda doesn't surprise most people, at least in urban areas. However, they are still different than Americans, and this clash of cultures, especially for children of immigrants, presents a conflicting dichotomy.
- Corporate Culture. American corporate culture is made up of people who work hard and who want to reach the top, sometimes at any cost. It's also made up of people who sit in cubicles every day wondering if they're wasting their lives.
- Use of medication. The increased use of medication for new diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, and ADD has seen increased attention in American society. Included in this bucket is plastic surgery. There are many people who debate its benefits, and just as many who wholeheartedly subscribe to the medicines.
- American optimism and can-do attitude. Americans as individuals have a different philosophy than most other nationals in the world simply because of America's history of going at it alone and achieving alone. The individual is valued just as much as, or even more than the family at certain times, and success stories of individuals overcoming great odds are celebrated.
- Ability to laugh at ourselves- Americans love humor and satire, and never pass up a chance at self-examination.
With those things in mind, here are the movies that represent at least one of these categories extremely well, in no particular order.
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