America! Right? July 4th is this weekend so here’s a guide to some patriotic films you may want to take in to prove your loyalty to the US of A. International readers? Feel free to watch to see what you are missing.
I’ve helpfully divided the movie into categories for your perusing pleasure, offering two films in each subgenre. You are welcome.
Oh, and The Patriot is nowhere on this list. That movie is terrible. Stop believing otherwise.
Inside the Beltway
1.) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington- Any time someone argues the filibuster is a terrible institution, think of this movie and realize how wrong they are. (Although the whole “filibuster without filibustering thing” Senators do now? Totally beat.) Capra’s love note to the ability of a legislator to make a difference—while still depicting a Washington that even in the 40’s was frustratingly sluggish and beholden to special interests to an uncomfortable degree—is still a delight. Jimmy Stewart holds court with remarkable skill, reminding us modern folk that he’s far more than an easy impression.
2.) American President- Sorkin dialogue. A Clinton-esque President—in physical presentation and political leanings—that breaks left instead of right. Annette Bening and Michael Douglas having actual chemistry. Michael J. Fox with two great moments. Martin Sheen in his warm up to play the President in the West Wing. It’s all such wonderful leftist fantasy.
1.) Rocky IV- Speaking of beating Russians, Rocky went to Russia in the mid-80’s and more or less won the Cold War for us in the ring with a thorough beating of their blond Teutonic wonder man (yeah Teutonic is German, but…dude is Teutonic) and a beautiful speech about change. By far the weirdest most far-fetched movie of Stallone’s career and yet…it’s kind of great cheese.
2.) Top Gun- Tom Cruise. Val Kilmer. Jets. Danger Zone. Ice running along a tight stomach in gauzy light. It’s too bad we just can’t slap this movie on our flag.
Going to War
1.) Glory- Lyrical and tragic. Given current events and the discussion around the Confederate Flag, this film just feels like the right movie at the right time this Fourth.
2.) Three Kings- The mission runs up against three American soldiers innate drive to help others in this David O. Russell film. Buoyed by a strong script and some of the top performances (if not the top) in the three leads’ careers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube). Paired with Glory, it is a nice compare and contrast about the murkiness of modern war.
The Criticism is Coming from Within the Country!
1.) All the President’s Men- All hail the Fourth Estate! Sure this journalism more or less doesn’t exist anymore. Sure, Bob Woodward is a living parody of himself. Sure, the newspaper industry is all but dead. Nonetheless, this movie is an important depiction of the near deceased art and, even better, it’s very good.
2.) Born on the Fourth of July- Oliver Stone could not stop critiquing Vietnam in the 80’s and this is his best effort at it by focusing almost entirely on the homecoming experience. War is hell, perhaps, but living in the United States after? This most inner circle of the fiery pit. An early Tom Cruise performance that shows he is more than a pretty boy.
1.) Captain America: The First Avenger- The birth of America’s first super hero (of the MCU anyway) is a delightful pastiche. The USO scenes are a great blast of technicolor joy that nicely capture the ridiculousness of Cap’s role without diminishing Steve Rogers’ innate nobility. The transition from mascot to soldier feels all the more triumphant—and then, ultimately, bittersweet—because we see what Rogers’ is willing to do to be part of the effort.
2.) Independence Day- Is this stretching the definition of “superheroics?” Probably. But you can’t stop me so don’t try.
I vote worth the watch for Pullman’s speech alone, but it is also fun to see Will Smith become “super star Will Smith” and his weird buddy chemistry with Jeff Goldblum or to try to suppress your rage at a movie that kills people by the cityload but still takes a moment to lovingly assure you of a dog’s survival.
Our Freedom is Uncomfortable
1.) 25th Hour- The whole movie is about a justice system that works and yet, somehow, does not. But the two parts that really put this one on the list is Spike Lee returning to “Americans of all stripes spit their hate at the camera” and the brief fantasy/daydream sequence in which Brain Cox imagines helping his son, Edward Norton, escape the law and live a quiet life in America’s small towns.
2.) The People vs. Larry Flynt- A very different Edward Norton shows up here as the attorney to Woody Harrelson’s Larry Flynt. For this liberal, a great depiction of how speech of all kinds is equally worthy of the First Amendment no matter how deplorable we may feel about that.
Americans Love Sports
1.) Field of Dreams- What’s more American than baseball? Tax fraud, probably, but please don’t undermine the mood.
Add in fathers and sons, the whole self-made do it yourself vibe, and that it takes place in the “Heartland” aka Real America and this movie is wildly patriotic without needing to endlessly proclaim it.
2.) Miracle- Look, there’s a lot of sports movies. But I’m voting this one because Americans love beating Russians. And if we get to be the underdogs at the same time? Gravy.
America is for Families
1.) An American Tail- “Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight…” Tears.
2.) The Iron Giant- 50’s paranoia running up against 50’s Americana in the form of gravelly voiced alien robot who loves a boy so much he became Superman for him. And now I’m crying again.