Well, friends, it’s been a fun ride. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our journey through the 50 states. We’ve been from New York to Hawaii and back again, finding old friends and new friends along the way. Today’s batch of movies covers Vermont to Washington and everything in between (including my home state of Utah!).
South Dakota — Dances with Wolves (1990)
I’ll be the first to say that this movie is interminably long; but I’ll also be the first to say that it’s a well-made epic. As fantastic an actor as Kevin Costner is, he is an even greater director — which is why he rightly took home the Academy Award for Best Directing for Dances with Wolves. The film is set on the wild American frontier, where Lieutenant Dunbar, a Union soldier, is assigned to a remote outpost where he makes friends with the local Indians and embarks on an enlightening journey. The South Dakotan wilderness provides perfectly rustic, desolate scenery that sets the tone for this breathtaking bit of cinema. Dances with Wolves deals with Indian-settler relations sensitively, showing the good and the bad times in Dunbar’s socializing with them. Costner’s directorial debut is something even Steven Spielberg would envy.
Tennessee — The Green Mile (1999)
This is literally my favorite movie of all-time. Something about the mystical element to this story, the heart-rending performances from Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan, the moving score of Thomas Newman — they all mix together in perfect harmony. The film itself was shot in Tennessee, particularly in the Tennessee State Penitentiary, which creates that sense of realism to ground this often otherworldly film. The Green Mile is one of the few films that have ever made me cry and it rightly deserves that honor. This adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is by far one of the best and his stellar writing is what makes this movie come to life. I could gush about The Green Mile for hours, but I’ll leave it at this is an absolutely amazing film.
Texas — The Alamo (1960)
Nothing captures the spirit of Texas quite like the phrase: “Remember the Alamo.” Thankfully, we have John Wayne’s action-packed film so we never forget. The Alamo is an account of the soldiers who tried to defend the new Republic of Texas from the Mexican army. Like any good John Wayne film, there’s lots of shooting, horses, and historical inaccuracies (plus a bit of underlying racism). However, I will let that all slide in this film for one reason: special effects. For 1960, the pyrotechnics for this film are eye-catching. The final battle scene especially portrays this, setting off a range of explosions, gunshots, and other battle violence that is often hard to make realistic, especially for the time. The Alamo is everything I expect from a western and from John Wayne — which is perfect for Texas.
Utah — Footloose (1984)
Footloose was filmed close to where I grew up so it holds a very special place in my heart. The premise of the film is pretty lame — Ren McCormick (Kevin Bacon) moves to a town where dance and rock music has been banned by the town’s reverend (John Lithgow); our hero is a rebel and vows to change all that while also getting the girl (Lori Singer). But I adore the music in this film — “Footloose,” “Holding Out For A Hero,” and “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” are all certifiable classics. Plus, this film’s best scene — featuring “Never” by Moving Pictures — is Kevin Bacon’s angry interpretive dance in the warehouse, which features graceful and powerful moves that fluidly glide across the screen. Look, I know it’s not the greatest movie ever filmed in Utah according to critics, but it sure is the most fun and has the most 80s nostalgia.
Vermont — Beetlejuice (1988)
Filmed in the great state of Vermont, Beetlejuice is a mix between a slapstick farce, a horror film, and a slightly raunchy comedy. Michael Keaton stars as the titular undead character — a role he melts into quite well. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are a recently deceased couple looking to evict their noisy neighbors with the help of Beetlejuice. Winona Ryder also stars and gives a tremendous performance, rife with her trademark mysterious nature. Overall, the film plays out like a bad children’s movie, but it still works. Cartoon sound effects and wacky gags pepper the dialogue and liven up what could have been a much more terrifying film. Instead, Beetlejuice is a hilariously droll movie that takes a delightful jaunt into the supernatural.
Virginia — Lincoln (2012)
Something I’ve noticed is that whenever Daniel Day-Lewis is in a film, I can almost guarantee the film’s artistic value will be off-the-charts; that man knows how to pick intriguing projects. Steven Spielberg’s biography of one of the most prolific presidents in American history is captivating and informative from the get-go. We get brilliant portrayals of historical figures from talented actors and actresses like Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, and David Strathairn. The setting is dark and dreary — which is exactly the way it should be. The state of Virginia provides a richly historical backdrop for an engrossing tale of slavery, freedom, and the beauty of American politics. Lewis’ portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln is particularly moving, especially in the specific timbre of the voice he chooses to use; it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime role.
Washington — An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
When it comes to military movies, this one gets overlooked quite a bit, considering it doesn’t exactly deal with war. However, An Officer and a Gentleman, filmed on the scenic green coasts of Washington, is a classic military/romance flick. Richard Gere stars as Zack Mayo, a young man trying to become a pilot; however, he must first conquer Navy Officer Candidate School. With a teacher as hard as Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett Jr.), things get tough. When it comes to inspiring movies, An Officer and a Gentleman is right up there with Remember the Titans (2000) and Rocky (1976). Mayo’s journey gets rough, but he overcomes it through hard work and a lot of pushing from Sgt. Foley; the dynamic is similar to the one Denzel Washington engenders in Remember the Titans. Add that to the sweet romance between Mayo and Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger) and this film becomes a classic romantic movie.
West Virginia — We Are Marshall (2006)
We Are Marshall isn’t your typical sports film: the focus isn’t on sports. Rather, the film looks at the tragedy that took the lives of the Marshall University football team in 1970, leaving behind a broken West Virginian community. Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, and Anthony Mackie bring beautifully raw emotion to their roles. Their dedication to their characters is what makes this movie so inspirational. We Are Marshall definitely moves slower than your average sports film, but it works for the subject matter it chooses to cover. I especially appreciate the stringent dedication to 1970s fashion, right down to the long hair and gawdy suits. This movie portrays the strength of small-town America perfectly by focusing in on this West Virginian university.
Wisconsin — Major League (1989)
Despite the fact that this movie is about the Cleveland Indians, a good chunk of it was filmed in good old Wisconsin. Major League is more of your typical sports comedy — stupid yet somehow inspiring. The new owner of the Indians is purposely trying to get her team to lose so she can move it; once the team finds out, they begin winning just to spite her; it’s a goofy premise for an equally goofy movie. Major League is packed full of great actors and also some great 80s music to create a fun film. Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Tom Berenger, and Welsey Snipes are all riotous comedic actors who spout one-liner after one-liner. While I can’t say much for the sequels, Major League itself is a hilarious movie about America’s pastime.
Wyoming — Rocky IV (1985)
Of course, you couldn’t exactly film in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, so much of Rocky IV‘s scenes were filmed in Wyoming, which is about as desolate as Siberia. Honestly, there is no film that is as violently Cold-War-during-the-80s as this film; I would wager it even beats out Red Dawn (1984) in patriotism. The premise is pretty simple and comparable to any other Rocky film — Rocky must defeat a rival boxer; only, this time, it’s personal. Sylvester Stallone is captivating as always and Dolph Lundgren’s intimidating character of the Russian boxer, Drago, is delightfully frightening. Add in some great 80s synthesizer sounds and you have the perfect formula for a great 80s flick.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Part 5 of the Best Films Shot in All 50 States? Comment down below!
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