The Fourth of July is a favorite time of the year or many Americans: The summer days are long and filled with the promise for children freshly freed from school, romance seems heavy in the air, everything is green and warm and it’s America’s birthday. It all makes for a pretty good excuse for getting together with friends and loved ones for barbecues, fireworks and celebration.
And although the Fourth of July is a big time for movie theater attendance, here is a list of movies on home video that might help get you in the mood.
It’s got films for children, adolescents and adults, liberals, conservatives, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, ACLU fans and folks who just like explosions. These films are not listed by order of preference, nor should they be taken as a definitive list of the “best” patriotic films. It’s simply a collection of features which each display a different piece of American culture in a unique and fun way.
A quintessentially American story, Rocky is about a man with a dream who fights against impossible odds to prove his worth and along the way inspires a whole nation. It’s been sequelized and ripped-off and parodied to death, but Rocky really is that good. The score, by Bill Conti, will get your heart pounding and even if you’ve never watched a boxing match in your life, the climactic battle will still tie you up in knots rooting for Sylvester Stallone’s endearing underdog. Stallone is mostly known for his impressive physique, but it was his work scripting this Horatio Alger myth that launched his career. Rewatch it, the ending might surprise you. It’s not at all what I remembered.
Another one-in-a-million story, Die Hard is uniquely American because of Bruce Willis’ genre-defining role as John McClane. He’s hungover, unshaven, about to be divorced and way out of his jurisdiction, but McClane will stop at nothing to rescue his estranged wife from the terrorists holding her hostage. Die Hard is pretty much a perfect action film with laughs, tension and countless quotable lines of dialogue, but it is also a story about how one rugged individual can make a difference. Sure, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington probably makes this point more clearly, but there are fewer explosions in Frank Capra’s and sometimes it’s nice to see a few fireworks.
An Ayn Rand novel done up as a family adventure film, The Incredibles will delight children with it’s bright colors and gee-whiz design while it makes their parents think about the problems of the world. The film tells of a world where superheroes have been made to hide their individual powers and pretend that they aren’t special. But, when the world is in need, one family of superheroes is forced to break the rules and demonstrate their exceptionalism. A great film for everyone with strong themes of family and duty, especially recommended for those who are interested in the Tea Party movement.
A musical about the signing of the declaration of independence? If that isn’t the definition of goofy fun, I don’t know what is. It’s a pretty serious topic for a musical comedy, seeing as the document was ostensibly a declaration of war, but you’ll see the founding fathers sing and dance their way through the debates. The songs aren’t always memorable, but the sheer strangeness of the concept mixed with the surprisingly high production values makes 1776 something special.
Perhaps the best movie ever made about coming of age in America, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me is so good that it makes me nostalgic for a time and place that I’ve never even experienced. The film, adapted from a Steven King novella, tells the story of four friends on the brink of puberty who take a day’s long journey to see a corpse. The kids curse and talk dirty and try to act like men, but their callow state comes through time and time again, revealing a sweet naiveté. There is a lot of emotion in this film and a lot of laughs, and all those great old songs.
It’s probably not the first film most people would consider for a patriotic movie list, but The People vs. Larry Flynt is a great film and it is indeed patriotic. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but how far should that freedom go? Can sexually provocative images be political, too? Where is the line between an individual’s rights and society’s responsibility? These are just some of the questions asked by Milos Forman’s film. Yes, the film whitewashes Flynt as a person and somewhat softens the contents of his magazine, but it still posits essential questions on what it means to be a patriot. Pay extra attention to the scene where Jerry Falwell takes Flynt to court on libel charges. The whip crack editing turns what should be a lecture on responsible journalism into the biggest laugh in the film.
While South Park seems like an equal opportunity offender, attacking Guitar Hero and terrorism with equal gusto, it is actually one of the most staunchly Conservative/Libertarian shows on television. Never was this central conceit more clear than in Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s uproarious, sacrilegious, and totally hummable, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Here is a basic plot template for South Park as both a series and a feature: the town of South Park is small and dysfunctional, but the townsfolk have a way of doing things and it works for them. Everything is fine until an outside force enters the picture and tries to solve the problem by forcing everyone to conform to new rules.
These new rules don’t work and everything spins out of control, often resulting in giant monster attacks. In the end, a clear-thinking non-conformist gives a long speech about his inherent goodness and how the concept of a right way and a wrong way to approach a dilemma was the root cause of all the suffering.
Other than the frequent monster attacks, this sure sounds a lot like Atlas Shrugged to me, right down to the long explanation of one’s unique worth as a climax. A painfully funny movie with an important message about free speech, personal accountability and the dangers of Canadian culture.