The 4th of July is upon us and as we prepare to attend our barbecues and fireworks displays and generally drink ourselves silly all in the name of Independence Day, it might also be a weekend that calls for some downtime to recover from all that “freedom”. But perhaps you still want a way to celebrate as you rest off your impending hangover. Well, July 4th also happens to be one of the busiest movie days of the year, just after Christmas and Thanksgiving, so you’d still be in the modern spirit of the holiday if you decided to sleep through one of these classic American movies.
Independence Day (1996)
What better movie to watch on Independence Day than the movie named after the day itself? It’s definitely a silly, over-the-top, and completely 90s style science fiction action film starring the then typecast Will Smith and Bill Pullman as the very manly President of the United States. More importantly for me, it co-stars Jeff Goldblum as a leading scientist who designs the means of mankind’s survival against invading aliens – and there’s nothing quite like watching Jeff Goldblum play a brilliant and eccentric scientist/anything. The movie is of course directed by disaster movie master Roland Emmerich, who will also be directing the long overdue sequel which mercifully stars Jeff Goldblum and is planned for a summer 2016 release. More Goldblum, please.
Team America: World Police (2006)
Perhaps one of the best pieces of American satire in the history of cinema, which is no surprise considering it’s made by the team who brought us South Park. Team America is a movie populated by ridiculous puppets about a team of American counter-terrorism specialists that blast their way through the terrorists of the world. Its a pretty spot on take on how America often seems to consider itself the world’s police, but also how difficult it seems to be for various countries to communicate with each other in a meaningful way. The movie is absurd and hilarious and definitely for the more discerning American.
Top Gun (1986)
I will sheepishly admit that I have never seen Top Gun. I’m just not a Tom Cruise fan and the premise of the film itself doesn’t particularly interest me. One thing I have always been intrigued about is the subtextual love story between Cruise and Kilmer. Quentin Tarantino claims that the movie is far better if you watch it with an eye for homosexual subtext, and I find this to be true of many other movies as well. My local independent cinema in Denver is hosting a rooftop screening of Top Gun in honor of the holiday, which sounds like as good a time as any to finally see it. There’s nothing quite like celebrating both Independence Day and national marriage equality by watching a movie about subtly gay fighter pilots.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Frank Capra is perhaps the most American of classical Hollywood directors, with his frequent leading man James Stewart being about as small town America as you can get in a Hollywood star outside of Gary Cooper. If that team wasn’t American enough, you can tell by the title that its a movie about James Stewart going to Washington D.C. The basic plot is that scout leader Stewart is appointed to the U.S. Senate by a corrupt politician in hopes that he can just be told what to do and how to vote. Stewart starts out naive and optimistic, but quickly learns he has to fight for what he believes is right and just. These days we don’t have much faith in our government, but in 1939 you could make a movie where an honest character could reasonably be expected to prevail against a room full of crooks through an inspirational filibuster. Ah, the good old days.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
This is a good anytime kind of movie, but is especially good during the hottest of summer days or on the 4th of July. The idea of summer camp just seems pretty American, and Wet Hot American Summer is a brilliant take off on all those summer camp cliches and teen movie conventions while still being completely unique. Not only is the movie fantastic, but it boasts an exceptional cast of pre-big time actors – names like Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, David Hyde Pierce, H. John Benjamin, Michael Ian Black, and Michael Showalter – all directed by David Wain. This is another American classic that is expecting a long overdue follow-up, but in the form of a mini-series prequel appearing on Netflix starting July 31. Wet Hot American Summer takes place on the last day of camp, whereas the prequel takes place on the first day. Initial trailers look promising, with almost everyone reprising their roles from the movie, with absolutely no attempt to look any younger than the 14 years they’ve aged – not that people like Paul Rudd even need to try.
I was torn between Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece of the American dream Goodfellas and Mary Harron’s masterpiece of the American dream American Psycho (2000). Both say quite a lot about American values when it comes to money and the emphasis on money as an indicator of success – because in America, you’re not successful if you’re not rich. It was a toss up, but in the end I went with the American director rather than the Canadian one. Goodfellas tells the true story of real life career criminal Henry Hill and his life in the mob. While it tends to glamorize the organized crime elements, it also makes its characters relatable so that we empathize with their choices. These characters are people who are just trying to be successful the only way they know how, and their only definition of success is measured by money. That being said, it is an undeniably fun and stylish movie and probably the best version of what is basically the same movie that Scorsese likes to make over and over again (Mean Streets, Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street, etc).