In the South of the United States, the light looks different – it is made heavy by the humidity and glows in a unique way. Southern charm seems to shine with a different light too – perhaps it is the fried food or the hoop skirts. We take a look at the 10 best films that convey southern culture and beauty in a particularly striking fashion.
Burt Reynolds’ directorial debut is set in the Okefenokee Swamp, where corrupt cops have taken hold of the town. Small town justice has never been so clearly articulated through the medium of car chases, bar brawls and boat shootouts as Gator McKlusty (Burt Reynolds) shows us, demonstrating what southern bite is all about.
Few films better depict southern hospitality than Fried Green Tomatoes, a glimpse into small town life and what goes on by the train tracks. Fried Green Tomatoes is endlessly charming and heartfelt and by the end of the film you’ll crave Southern fried delicacies and be looking for a café like the Whistle Stop to make your home.
This 1939 epic historical drama was based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel of the same name. Margaret Mitchell’s house still stands defiantly in downtown Atlanta today. A charming introduction to hoop skirts and the words, ‘frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’, Gone With the Wind is a perpetual favorite among both young and old.
Tim Burton’s whimsical portrayal of a dying man’s life as told through the filter of Southern Gothic fantasy is both amusing and touching. A father-son relationship is explored through the art of story telling and by the end of this film, the truth seems to bear little importance – it is the sentiment that counts.
Steel Magnolias is set in Louisiana in the 1980s, based around a group of women that find themselves with ample time out of their husbands’ earshot to gossip in the beauty parlor. As the life stories of these southern belles are told, we realize that they are truly ‘steel magnolias’ – pretty and sometimes silly, but with a strength that enables them to get through all manner of tribulations with grace and poise.
It is rare that a film so aptly captures the spirit of a book. Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel is the perfect combination of historical integrity and insightful characters. Gregory Peck shines as Atticus Finch and received an Academy Award for his portrayal. In 2003, Atticus Finch was named the AFI’s greatest movie hero. The story gives insight into the Alabama of the 1930s – where racial tensions lie alongside a genuine coming-of-age story. This film is essential for anyone interested in the historical complexity of the southern states.
Whacky yet loveable, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood explores a group of lifelong friends, the reigning queens of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, as they travel down life’s highway. A mother’s secrets are revealed as a method to heal her relationship with her daughter in this modern classic. Heavy issues of depression and incest are portrayed in such a way that our compassion for the characters involved is endless. This film pays homage to the boundless southern spirit and the true importance of friendship.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is set in Iowa, but was actually filmed in Texas. Despite its intended setting, there is something about its whimsical charm that alludes to southern beauty and culture. As part of a broken yet resilient family, Gilbert Grape (portrayed by Johnny Depp), finds himself trying to keep everyone together whilst Arnie (a young Leonardo DiCaprio) – Grape’s mentally ill younger brother – is a source of constant worry. This film is a heartfelt look at dysfunctional families and is ultimately redemptive.
Driving Miss Daisy considers 25 years of Miss Daisy’s life – a wealthy old Jewish woman . Miss Daisy lives in Atlanta, Georgia and has little contact with the outside world save for her housemaid, son and chauffeur Hoke Coleburn (brilliantly portrayed by Morgan Freeman). An intriguing look at the various facets of racism, Miss Daisy finds her synagogue bombed in one instance and attends a dinner at which Martin Luther King Jr. is giving a speech in the next. The film explores the developing relationship between Miss Daisy and Hoke, two unlikely companions who become the best of friends.
Based on a play by Tennessee Williams, a man who knows everything there is to know about Southern beauty and culture, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is full of sex, sweat and cotton. Staring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman as Maggie and Brick, this film sizzles with southern sexual tension and antagonism, made only more apparent in the sweltering heat. Combining old age values with newly discovered deceits, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a striking look at what happens when marriages are based on lies and family ties are determined by money.