Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #62 on the list: American Graffiti (1973).
American Graffiti is the prototype for a genre I adore: the hangout movie. Rather than focusing on plot, George Lucas’s stark departure from his sci-fi oeuvre sets out to recreate and evoke an era, and it’s undoubtedly successful in its depiction of the early ’60s. While the characters may not be as vibrant and memorable as some from later classic hangout films, it’s still a joy to spend time in a clearly auto-biographical recreation of Lucas’s youth. The bizarrely bleak, tacked-on ending leaves a bitter aftertaste to the otherwise comforting affair, but even without it, the film has been outdone by others since.
Does It Belong on the List?
Definitely not. Dazed and Confused or Everybody Wants Some!! are much better and purely enjoyable hangout movies, featuring more distinctive characters. For a more emotionally resonant and melancholic version of American Graffiti which doesn’t have to resort to a last minute epilogue to make a statement, The Last Picture Show is still on the docket.