The 16 best movies about America from the past 10 years

From The Bling Ring to 12 Years a Slave

A movie camera and an American flag.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

What does it mean to make a great movie about America in the 21st century? It requires more than just depicting an episode of our shared history — such a movie needs to touch upon, in some way, what my colleague Damon Linker has called this country's "moral and historical complexity." It must refrain, above all else, from being "a purified object of imagined perfection."

There are many terrific, classic examples of this (here are Linker's choices). But in the past decade, filmmakers have increasingly moved away from simple stories depicting idealized American patriotism, and grappled with that idea of complexity — both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the tragic, the laudable and the despicable about this 244-year-old country. Today, the best movies about America touch on class and race. They wrestle with the ghosts of our past and dream of a better future. They recast the ways we've mythologized ourselves. They turn over the Bush years, the Great Recession, the Obama era, and describe history with a more discerning, less homogenous eye. Many of the films, also, were misunderstood upon release, and have only come to be definitive of an era with the benefit of hindsight (it is also perhaps telling that the most films on this list are from during or immediately after a presidential election year).

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.