10. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Town: Boone City (fictional)
Three WWII veterans return home to find their lives changed in way they never could have expected.
Fred Derry was a big man in the war, but when he returns home he finds that all the military commendations aren’t’ helping him find employment. Al Stephenson was a powerful banker before the war, but when he returns home, he suffers from PTSD (before this condition was well understood). He has trouble acclimating to his now much older children and patient yet confused wife. Homer Parris suffers worst of all. He lost both of his hands in the war. He has become extraordinary handy with his prosthetic hooks, but he fears that his girlfriend will feel differently about him now.
The movie is an amazing portrayal of the mindset of soldiers returning home, and how communities change during their absence.
9. Dogville (2003)
Town: Dogville (fictional)
This is an unflinching look at the dark side of small town America from director Lars von Trier.
Staring Nicole Kidman as a stranger with a secret, the movie follows her as the town shuns her at first, then slowly begins to trust and accept her, until eventually the town people begin taking advantage of her and eventually tormenting her.
The film is notable for its production design. It is filmed entirely on a stage, with minimal three dimensional props. Largely the town’s houses and building are drawn on the stage, and the actors have to mimic opening doors and so forth. The movie is a comment on the potential evils of the American dream.
8. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Town: Suburbs of Austin, Texas
This is the quintessential high school movie. Set on the last day of school in 1976, this movie captures what it is like to be in that excited yet frightened stage of adolescence.
The characters in this movie run the gambit of stereotypes from nerd, to jock, to stoner, but the movie doesn’t treat them as simple cardboard cut outs. They all have distinct personalities, fears, passions, and insecurities.
The film’s soundtrack is packed with classic rock, and the cast is amazing. This movie couldn’t be set in a large city, because the sense of solidarity would appear too false.
7. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Town: Black Rock (fictional)
A man arrives in a tiny railroad town that time has forgotten and starts poking his nose around much to the disliking of the locals, especially Reno Smith, the local thug leader. A wonderful performance by Spencer Tracy leads this tight and suspenseful thriller.
The film feeds off America’s post WWII paranoia. The film has the feel of a stage play, but the explosiveness of a blockbuster. John Sturges directed this deconstruction of American machismo.
6. All that Heaven Allows (1955)
Town: Stoningham, New England (fictional)
A middle aged widow finds love in the arms of a younger, darker skinned man despite the scorn from her children and the townspeople.
Douglas Sirk directed this glossy melodrama about love in the face of prejudice and ignorance. Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson play the scandalous couple. Both of their performances are wonderful, but Hudson really shines in his role as a nature enthusiast with distaste for socialite matters.
This film is rightly famous for its lush production design and costuming.