I wasn’t going to do this until I ran across a few lists of “Most Patriotic Films” that made me fear for the taste and the values of my fellow citizens. “Independence Day” ? “Armageddon”? “Rocky IV”? When did “patriotic” start meaning “crappy”? “Born on the Fourth of July”? If Oliver Stone is your idea of patriotic fare, you and I are going to have a problem.
Here is my very personal list of ten favorite films that bring a patriotic lump to my throat and a remind me of how lucky I am to be born and raised in the U.S.A. Don’t mind the order: it was hard enough narrowing the list down to ten.
1. Apollo 13 (1995)
The only one of the movies on my list that I saw on the others today. Like many of the films here, it makes me wistful for American boldness and confidence that seem to be in retreat today. When the Apollo re-emerges from radio silence, and Tom Hanks says, with perfect inflection, “Hello, Houston. This is Odyssey. It’s good to see you again,” I lose it, every time.
2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Yes, this is Capra-corn at its corniest, but from Harry Carey Sr.’s sage and heroic Vice -President, to the power of the people triumphing, to the press trying to expose corruption rather than abet it, this film reminds us of the best ideals of our government. When we get too cynical to enjoy Jefferson Smith’s struggle to make Washington work the way its supposed to, it will be time to pack it in.
3. The Longest Day (1962)
Yes, it’s not just about Americans, but it is a great film about one of our country’s finest achievements, all true, and inspiring without a lot of flag waving and sentiment. Best war movie ever—and my Dad’s favorite.
A baseball film about the most important thing baseball ever did: help give the civil rights movement a giant boost, thanks to a couple of great Americans and some ordinary athletes who came through in the clutch. This is a film about America finding its way to doing the right thing after messing up badly —something the country does well, because it’s had a lot of practice.
5. Animal House (1978)
Fighting bigots, snobs, bullies, sadists, a corrupt mayor, a totalitarian dean and “double secret probation,” nobody embodies the American spirit of individualism and defiance of authority and enforced conformity better than the denizens of Delta House.
6. 1776 (1972)
“1776,” with the exception of the “John Adams” mini-series on HBO, is still the best and most compelling screen portrayal of the drama behind the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Lots of people can’t handle singing Founders, which just shows how far the suspension of disbelief has fallen when it comes to musicals. The history is a little funky in places, but the performances, most of them straight from Broadway, are superb…and the fact that this miracle occurred against the daunting odds should make every American want to sing.
7. The Alamo (1962)
Heavy-handed, too long, and wordy, but its unrelenting passion for it subject matter gets you, along with the Dimitri Tiomkin score and seeing John Wayne (as Davey Crocket) get killed. As one Texas historian said, “It is factually wrong in almost every conceivable way, but it feels right.” The best film about one of the most inspiring American stories, part legend and part truth, like the most inspiring stories always are.
Have you really never seen this classic comedy? A British gentleman’s gentleman is won in a poker game by a middle-aged resident of a Wild West town, where he becomes the ultimate “fish out of water.” Yet somehow he becomes as American, and perhaps more, than the locals who take their country’s rare virtues for granted. The great Charles Laughton shows he was as great playing comedy as drama, delivering a film moment to remember when he reminds the cowboys “what Lincoln said at Gettysburg.”
9. “Gettysburg” (1993)
Ted Turner’s ambitious, reverent, historically meticulous, long but emotionally satisfying rendering of “The Killer Angels” is mandatory fare at the Marshall household this time of year, unless we visit the battlefield itself. As the real combatants did during Pickett’s Charge, it is difficult not to feel awe and admiration for all the participants, on both sides of this continent’s deadliest and most important battle.
The film shows America’s greatest statesman facing his greatest challenge, with all the utilitarian, messy, cynical and unavoidable trade-offs that democracy requires if something really significant is going to get done.
I hope you can catch at least one of these this weekend.
It’s a great country.
Happy Fourth of July!