Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly agrees with the generally accepted assessment of Citizen Kane as the “greatest American film of all time”.
Personally, I’ve always thought Citizen Kane was overrated. Which is not to say it is bad; for I think the acting, writing and direction are all quite good. But I don’t see it as a particularly excellent film, merely a very competent one. I don’t like to resort to such prosaic means as this for evaluating film, but I think “B+” adequately summarizes my feelings about it.
So what is the greatest American film? It’s hard to say, partly because I’m not sure what “American” means here. I’m assuming that they mean “films made by Americans”, which is hard to judge because I haven’t seen anywhere close to every such film. (Under this definition, however, I don’t see why Lawrence of Arabia, great though it is, is reckoned as an “American” film.)
On the other hand, if you think of it rather as “films that seem American”–that is, films that showcase stereotypically American qualities, regardless of who made them–then it’s rather different again. (Personally, for that I’d nominate the original Star Wars.)