We head to the coast on the last stop of our cinematic road trip, as we select one film that best represents each of the 50 states
Every day this week, we'll be taking a cinematic road trip through all 50 states of America – what are the clichés, the archetypes, and the shining examples that represent each state's individualistic character? We split the US into five regions (the Pacific, the Southwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Atlantic). So hop in the car for the United States of Cinema.
If you were to choose a film for each American state – one that best describes the character of the place – trends start to emerge. There are the obvious clichés (horse films in Kentucky), and the inconspicuous (coming-of-age dramas in Illinois). Surveying the Wikipedia listings of which films were set in which states, we combed through to pick the best films that represent each of their respective states.
ALASKA - The simple life vs industrialisation
LIMBO (1999) – JOHN SAYLES
Indie filmmaker John Sayles inspired outrage amongst film-goers with the ending of Limbo when it was first released in 1999 (and apparently audience members at Cannes booed it). Without giving too much away, the conclusion is in keeping with the title. The film is essentially a slow-burning romance that transforms into a thriller somewhere a long the way.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: There aren't many films set in Alaska, that's for sure. According to Wikipedia there are exactly 40, which really isn't much in the grand history of cinema. But the reason we chose Limbo over, say, Into the Wild or Spawn of The North is because we feel it best represents a community stuck between being self-sufficient and the engulfing prospect of an industrial economy. But, as Sayles said himself, "Very few people really want to go down the river without the people who are going to make them lunch."
Other films set in Alaska: Into the Wild and Spawn of The North
CALIFORNIA - Decadent youth
LESS THAN ZERO (1987) – MAREK KANIEVSKA
“How does cocaine make you feel?” someone once asked George Carlin. “It makes you feel like having some more cocaine,” he answered. This is the basic premise of Marek Kanievska's 1987 drama film: More, more and then some more. Based exceptionally loosely on Bret Easton Ellis’s dark novel of the same name, Less Than Zero follows college freshman Clay Easton (Andrew McCarthy) as he rekindles his relationship with his high school sweetheart (Jami Gertz) and his cocaine-addled best mate (Robert Downey. Jr). Despite the fact addiction is grim in reality, this film shamelessly emphasized the glamour over the gloom in a fabulously 80s fashion.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Before there was The Bling Ring and Project X, there was Less Than Zero. This classic vision of 80s excess is all about those pesky *shakes fist* spoiled Beverly Hills kids that you still see cruising down Sunset in their open tops or flashing their white teeth on E!’s Rich Kids Of Beverly Hills. This hedonistic portrait of LA's decadent youth sums up California's cinematic clichés with reckless abandon.
Other films set in California: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Pretty Woman, Project X, Clueless
HAWAII - Trouble in paradise
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002) – PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON
This dark comedy follows miserable, socially-challenged Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) who spends his days being completely dominated by his seven sisters and distributing novelty toilet plungers to businesses (surely there's nothing more depressing than novelty toilet plungers?). Luckily, the film turns into a romance even though it's a sort of weird and fucked up one.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: If you'd never been, it might be reasonable to assume that Hawaii was all surfs-up fun, tropical punch and lols rather than loneliness punctuated by fits of rage and anguish. You'd be wrong – it's pretty depressing in Hawaii according to its film history – and if you're not sharing a plane with venomous snakes (Snakes on a Plane), you're discovering that your dying wife was unfaithful (The Descendents). Adam Sandler, best known for his roles in comedy, plays the disturbed and unhappy protagonist in Punch-drunk Love with startlingly dramatic weight.
Other films set in Hawaii: The Descendents, Snakes on a Plane, Pearl Harbour, Cloud Atlas
IDAHO The ultimate "outsiders"
MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991) – GUS VAN SANT
Gus Van Sant's beautifully shot, Shakespeare-inspired tale of street hustling youth follows River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as rent boys searching for the meaning of life. Do they find it? Not really, but the fact that Gus Van Sant eschews a formulaic plot with a mechanical Hollywood ending elevates this film beyond other modern day classics.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Mainly: River Phoenix. My Own Private Idaho is the ultimate "outsiders" movie. River Phoenix plays an outsider amongst outsiders and does so with incredible gutsy intensity.
Other films set in Idaho: Napoleon Dynamite, Georgia Rule
MONTANA - Not everything is black and white
NEBRASKA (2013) – ALEXANDER PAYNE
“It says I won,” growls Wood Grant (played by Bruce Dern) in this comedy-drama that was up for six Academy Awards. He believes what he reads with a hilariously unshakeable faith that borderlines the tragic – why would it be a lie if it says so in print? He has, of course, been duped by one of those magazine scams in the mail claiming he's won $1 million. Although Nebraska is beautifully shot in black and white, the point is that not much else is quite so clear. It's the exact opposite of Waking Ned Devine.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Because this is the film that most represents the state of Montana and it's called "Nebraska". Seriously, though – if you believed everything on screen, you'd think that everyone in Montana was out to get you. This is partly because there are a ton of Western movies set in Montana (Open Range, Montana, Tall Man Riding, Last of the Dogmen) and a main component of Western movies is to never trust ANYONE. But there are also quite a few Montana-based films that are about deceit and lies in general and Nebraska is by far the best.
Other films set in Montana: The Contractor, Legends of The Fall
NEVADA - The failure of US counterculture ideals
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998) – TERRY GILLIAM
Based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson, this cult classic is basically a collection of surreal hallucinogenic experiences tied together with the various phases of getting completely off your face. Journalist Raoul Duke and his lawyer Dr Gonzo (played by Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro, respectively) take a trip from LA to Vegas to (very loosely) cover some news stories. They take gag-worthy amounts of drugs (mescaline, acid, diethyl ether, coke, adrenochrome), they pick up a hitchhiker, trash a hotel room, attempt to buy an orangutan, all the while ruminating on the decline of culture in a city of insanity.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Nothing encapsulates the dark side of the American dream like the trashy gambling resort Las Vegas and nothing sums this up quite as succinctly and brilliantly as Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It's no coincidence that Vegas solidified its reputation as the capitol of debauchery and excess in the 60s and 70s, a period in which young people with counterculture ideals used profuse amounts of drugs to escape some of the shit realities of American life.
Other films set in Nevada: The Hangover, California Split, Superbad.
OREGON - Growing pains
THUMBSUCKER (2005) – MIKE MILLS
It's hard enough being seventeen without a major thumb-sucking problem. But this dreamy, suburbian portrait of a shy teenager is less about thumb-sucking and more about that period in your life when you're finding your place in the world. Typically discontented adolescent Justin Cobb (played by a baby-faced Lou Pucci) hasn't got the best mentors around him and he is eventually prescribed ritalin, which turns him into a 'monster' as his hilariously offbeat dentist (it's Keanu Reeves again!) tells him.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Lou Pucci and Tilda Swinton look exactly the same in this film, it's pretty funny. People in Oregon have a lot of growing up to do (in film at least), and sometimes that growing up is painful. The kids in Gus Van Sant's Elephant are forced to grow up by their shared trauma and the kids in Stand By Me are forced to grow up during a hike across the countryside that culminates in finding a dead body. But the growing pains in Thumbsucker are a little more complex as it shows that adults find it hard growing up too. We're all thumbsuckers, really.
Other films set in Oregon: Elephant, Stand By Me, The Goonies
UTAH - Being stuck in limbo
SLC PUNK! (1998) – JAMES MERENDINO
This was way back when Matthew Lillard was young and naughty-looking and still in his Scooby Doo era – he was perfect as the blue-haired Salt Lake City punk Stevo in this 1998 low-budget cult classic. However, he's apparently too much of a "poseur" to appear in the sequel that's out later this year. Even "Heroin" Bob isn't going to stop a little thing like (spoiler alert!) dying from an overdose in the film stop him from appearing in its sequel.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Whether you're literally stuck in limbo between a rock and a hard place like in Danny Boyle's 127 Hours or metaphorically stuck in limbo between yourself and the life you left behind, like in Wim Wenders Don't Come Knocking, people in Utah seem to always be cinematically stuck. SLC Punk!'s Stevo is stuck in a limbo of recreational drugs, parties, long conversations, music and hanging out but never really going anywhere. He wants to go to the University of Utah and his dad wants him at Harvard. He's a punk but he wants to grow up. It's the epitome of Utah (which is stuck right in the middle of all the other states on this list, FYI).
Other films set in Utah: 127 Hours, Don't Coming Knocking, Vanishing Point
WASHINGTON - What it might have been like
LAST DAYS (2005) – GUS VAN SANT
Last Days is the final installment in what Gus Van Sant grimly refers to as his "Death Trilogy" (the other two films are Gerry and Elephant). It follows disaffected and isolated musician Blake (played by Michael Pitt) round a crumbling mansion in a semi-biographical fictionalized account of what Kurt Cobain's final days might have looked like.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Washington loves to wonder what it might have been like for the major players in history (Parkland, Nothing but the Truth, Lincoln, Frost/Nixon). Kurt Cobain wasn't political, but you can't say he wasn't a game changer. Van Sant's hypnotic biopic of a dissilusioned and spaced-out musician is beautifully compelling, much like Kurt Cobain himself.
Other films set in Washington: Parkland, Nothing but the Truth, Lincoln, Frost/Nixon
WYOMING - Getting up close and personal
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) - STEVEN SPIELBERG
Following on from Jaws, this was Steven Spielberg's fifth film and one of his most highly acclaimed and it's basically won every single award under the sun. The title comes from ufologist J. Allen Hynek's classification of close encounters with aliens; the first kind is a sighting of a UFO, the second kind is physical evidence of a UFO and the third kind... well, you'll have to see the film.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: There aren't many people in Wyoming, which might account for the fact that they tend to get very close to each other. Whether it's two cowboys in a tent, a scout and a bear or a close encounter with some extra-terrestrials, apparently the Wyoming community like to get up close and personal.
Other films set in Wyoming: Brokeback Mountain, Man in the Wilderness