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Still from "Mars Attacks!"
SJP in "Mars Attacks!"

United States of Cinema: the Southwest

Turning back to the bottom left corner on our cinematic road trip, we pick one film which best represents each of the 50 states

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day.

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.

ARIZONA – The regular joe hustler


"The sawdust quiets the gears and lets the engine run as sweet as a nut – for a couple of miles!" chuckles Harry Wormwood in Matilda as he fixes the engine. His wormy premise as a sleazy used car salesman applies pretty much directly to this Robert Zemeckis film. When the owner of a used car lot is killed, the owner's brother – who owns a rival used car lot across the street – attempts to lay claim to the struggling biz. But not without a last-ditch effort from its hot-shot employees, who will resort to anything ("immoral charlatans" dancing scantily clad on car hoods) to keep the car lot afloat.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: The Mars-scaped state has some cotton-headed ninny muggins as residents, but they are hard-workin' every Joes trying to scrape by with their bruised egos intact. Joe Dirt goes to the ends of the earth to find his parents, but just can't catch a break. H.I. McDunnough steals a baby because his wife wants one so badly – talk about dedicated.

Other films set in Arizona: 3:10 to Yuma, Joe Dirt, Raising Arizona

ARKANSAS – Tweens with sass!


This was the film that made the general world population begin to take Matthew McConaughey seriously again. As a fugitive, Mud (McConaughey) holes himself up in an abandoned boat stuck in a tree. It's the fort of every tween's dreams. He's out of sight and mind. That is, until two young, buckaneering confreres discover his hideaway, and – while suspicious at first – grow to love the poor unfortunate soul and campaign to help him get back with his one true love: a trailer-trashed up Reese Witherspoon.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: If you were one of the many that fell in love with Hailee Steinfeld after she buckshot her way into our hearts as Mattie Ross in True Grit, you'll understand the best thing to have ever come out of Arkansas: the hard-loving tween. When she reveals her mastery of negotiation, Mattie catapults into the upper echelons of the sassy tween.

Other films set in Arkansas: True Grit, Devil's Knot

COLORADO – All by myself


We all know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but the state with the best skiing (sorry, Utah) is also the one with the most solitude. The nearly three minute drive to the Overlook Hotel – the eerily isolated setting of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining – lays the groundwork for Colorado's dominance as a quarantine for the many on-screen characters that make CO their home. The Shining, based on the Stephen King tome of the same name, watches the destruction of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) with heavy-lidded satisfaction. Watch this insane BTS scene with Shelley Duvall.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: With its towering Rocky Mountains, Colorado is teeming with isolation. In Over the Edge, Matt Dillon and his cronies have the perennial battle with boredom in desert community New Grenada, where there is nothing to do save for general hooliganism. In Misery, another Kubrick flick, Paul Sheldon is bed-bound. If you've ever had an illness that kept you under the covers, you'll have somewhat of an idea of how isolating that can be.

Other films set in Colorado: Misery, Over the Edge

KANSAS – Supernatural powers


An overlooked, early Burton vehicle (or spaceship?) – this hilarious alien comedy is as much bizarre as it is incredible. The stellar cast, like Jack Nicholson, SJP, Natalie Portman, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, and Pierce Brosnan are all on the cusp of being overtaken by a superior race. The parody of SF B-movies with a bit of black comedy thrown in, Mars Attacks! is actually based on a series of cult trading cards. Aliens from Mars beam down and circle the earth (i.e. America) and the president announces their arrival. Everyone and their dog gets into a tizzy, either reporting on it (Sarah Jessica Parker) or shouting into the void from their Perkinsville, Kansas trailer (the Norris family). The uncommunicative aliens only have one word though (Ak ak ak), so nobody can understand their demands.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: Sarah Jessica Parker, mostly. But apart from that, there's something supernatural at work in Kansas. Dorothy used to live there until she was swept away by a tornado (Wizard of Oz), and Joe chooses to homestead there in Looper, where times they are a-changin'.

Other films set in Kansas: The Wizard of Oz, Looper, Unforgiven, Mysterious Skin

MISSOURI – Cunning love crimes


This most unlikely pairing between a con man and what may or may not be his daughter makes for a hilarious road trip. Especially when Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) bumps into a generously-bosomed Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn). The two fall in love, but not if Addie (Tatum O'Neal) has anything to do with it. This monologue is a testament to how incredible the acting is in this film. Fun fact: The father-daughter pair is played by a real father and daughter. As far as child stars go, Tatum – who was the youngest actor to win an Oscar for her performance – was a paragon of self-destruction and struggled with addiction from the age of 14, not to mention her daddy issues.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: There's a whole lot of strange love in Missouri. Men recall their twisted fantasies with Jewel (Liv Tyler) in One Night at McCool's. Women change their flight plans to get with George Clooney in Up in the Air. But in Paper Moon, the most ultimate meddler – his 'daughter' – executes a cunning scheme to shoo away the bombastic Trixie.

Other films set in Missouri: One Night at McCool's, Waiting for Guffman, Rain Man, Up in the Air, Winter's Bone

NEW MEXICO – Trying to act normal, but failing


This movie is really weird, but David Bowie as an alien is strangely kind of… normal. On a mission to get water for his planet, Thomas Jerome Newton (Bowie) humans it up and – minus his heterochromia iridum – actually starts to pull it off. Like most entrepreneurial illegal aliens, Newton starts a high-tech company to fund his return trip to his distant planet. What he doesn't plan on, however, is a budding romance with a mere mortal.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: David Bowie is extra-terrestrial by nature, and therefore comes across as a bit non-chalant when he attempts to embody a human being. Likewise, in Rat Race, all the money-grubbing kooks are all parodies of themselves, all trying to disguise their obsessive hungriness for some dolla dolla bills, y'all.

Other films set in New Mexico: Rat Race, Twins, The Tao of Steve

OKLAHOMA – Family tiffs


Stay gold, Ponyboy… stay gold. In Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders, two rival gangs – the Greasers and the Socs – are constantly at each other's throats. Some of the Greasers (Sodapop Curtis, Johnny Cade and Dallas Winston) sidle up to the hot Soc babes. The Socs are the more preppy crew, and when the Socs see their ladies getting poached, they get a bit mean. Their is a huge gang beatdown, and when Johnny Cade accidentally kills one member of the Socs, things get 'heavy'.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: Fights with switchblades were dangerous, sure, but so much cooler than gun fights or sword fights or fist fights. Oklahoma loves a family tiff, and although Ponyboy and Sodapop aren't really cut from the same cloth, their bond is unbreakable (the ending is more teary than Marley & Me). Likewise, August: Osage County is a roundtable of bickering, but the ladies eventually swipe aside their differences and embrace their family ties. And the swing scene with Meryl.

Other films set in Oklahoma: August: Osage CountyThelma & LouiseWhere the Red Fern Grows

TEXAS – Nothing was the same


Alright, alright, alright. This movie was what we all wish our high school experience was. As Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey is forever on the prowl: "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age." This seemingly simple story, an early Linklater treasure, follows a group of teens on the last day at school in 1976 as they play snooker at the pool hall, smoke a doob and try to get laid.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: We all gotta move on. High school ends, people grow up and fall out of love. In Paris, Texas, Travis Henderson gives up his estranged child to the care of his mother. Steven Russell discovers his homosexuality in I Love You Phillip MorrisBoyhood – another Linklater gem – is about the coming-of-age of Mason. What's that saying about change? "Niggas be lovin' the old Ye, they sayin' the new Ye, that nigga be spazzin'."

Other films set in Texas: Paris, Texas, Grindhouse, I Love You Phillip Morris, Bottle Rocket, Boyhood