50 States, 50 Movies – Part 1

It’s a thing that some movie review sites do during the summer. Run down their choices for the best movie set in each of the fifty states. Some of them even remember to include the District of Columbia.

It’s not an easy task. Not because you have to decide which movie is the “best” according to your personal opinion, but you have to decide what you mean by “set” in a given state. Does a movie set entirely in Los Angeles properly represent all of California? If a key event in the movie takes place in a given state, does that count – even if the rest of the movie is set elsewhere? How much of a role does the setting play? Plenty of vacation movies are set in Hawaii – but they could just as well be set somewhere else. Does where the movie was actually filmed matter, and if so, how much? What about documentaries? Do they count? Lots of tough calls…

Since they keep making movies, the lists are always out of date. However, I’ve got nothing else on my plate right now, so….

Alabama: There are so many movies that take place in the “Deep South” that are set here, but they could take place in other states without a problem (Fried Green Tomatoes), or they have just a few scenes set here (Forrest Gump). Let’s go with one that could not take place anywhere else, simply because it’s based on history: Selma

Alaska: Into the Wild or Grizzly Man. Either way, you’re reminded in no uncertain terms that the Alaska wilderness isn’t for the faint of heart.

Arizona: Arizona means Westerns. 3:10 to Yuma (the 2007 version) was actually filmed in New Mexico. Fort Apache (1948) will work; some of it was shot in Monument Valley. Since this is my list, I’m going to go with the comedy Raising Arizona.

Arkansas: While both versions of True Grit start in Arkansas, they wind up in Oklahoma. I’d like to go with Sling Blade, which is set entirely in Arkansas, but the setting doesn’t really come into play. So True Grit it is.

California; This is going to be REALLY difficult. So many films are set in the Los Angeles area, simply because that’s where the movie studios are. Wikipedia has 675 movies in its list….. And northern California is a completely different milieu than the southern part of the state. I suppose that one thing that unites all of the state is surfing – there’s a heck of a lot of coastline! So a movie about surfing and surfers will work – and that means Point Break (the 1991 version).

Colorado: The state’s incredible scenery readily lends itself to movie settings. But there aren’t many movies shot there that are actually set in the state. Since except for a few exterior shots, The Shining wasn’t actually filmed in Colorado, I’m going to have to (reluctantly) go with Dumb and Dumber.

Connecticut: When you think of Connecticut (if you think of it at all), it’s that it’s where wealthy New York businesspeople live. So a lot of Connecticut movies are about those sorts of people, and not really life in the state. Therefore, I’m going to give a pass to The Ice Storm and Christmas in Connecticut, and go with Mystic Pizza, which was actually filmed in and around Mystic, CT.

Delaware: This one’s tricky. There don’t seem to be any major movies that specifically state they are set in Delaware, so we have to go where it’s strongly implied. Know how in Fight Club, there’s a lot about committing domestic terrorism against credit card companies? Where do a lot of these companies have their headquarters? Wilmington, Delaware….

Florida: Tough call. What part of the state do you want to highlight? The beaches? The swamps and gators? The tourism? Hurricanes? If you want a classic, there’s Key Largo. If you want something a bit more recent that was actually filmed in Florida, there’s Sunshine State. I’m calling it a tie.

Georgia: Gone with the Wind. None of it was filmed there, but even with that strike against it, there’s nothing that comes close.

Hawaii: There are plenty of movies set here, but most of them are your basic ‘vacation’ movies where the particular setting isn’t at all important. So I’m going with one that really worked at getting Hawaii and Hawaiian culture right: Lilo and Stitch.

Idaho: Vote for Pedro! Napoleon Dynamite was filmed in Preston and Franklin.

Illinois: John Hughes loves his hometown of Chicago, which is why he’s set many of his movies there. But there’s a lot more to the state than just the Windy City. The Halloween movies (the good ones, at least) take place in Illinois, but they could be set anywhere. Biopics of Abraham Lincoln also take place in the state, but there aren’t many focusing on his rise that are good enough to mention. I’m going with The Blues Brothers. Although mostly set in Chicago, it at least remembers that there are suburbs!

Indiana: This state presents us with a bit of a problem. Hoosiers is so obvious that it overwhelms any other possible candidates. But if you want to be iconoclastic, the “runner up” is Breaking Away.

Iowa: Field of Dreams. Same deal as Indiana.

Kansas: Technically, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy never really left Kansas – it was all a concussion-induced hallucination. But if you want to choose something else (and I won’t blame you), there’s Paper Moon, which criss-crosses the state during the Depression.

Kentucky: Apparently, when it came time to film Loretta Lynn’s autobiography, Lynn herself insisted that Sissy Spacek play her. Lynn coached Spacek through the accent and singing. The result was a Best Actress Oscar for Spacek, and the best movie about life in the Bluegrass State.

 

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