You know what I’m really into right now? America. We’re heading into one of our absolute favorite holidays – the 4th of July – and still riding on a rainbow high after last week’s Supreme Court decision. Yes, I know there are still a ton of things that need fixing here, but I reserve the right to feel really good about my country for this next week. Celebrating a victory – and a really fun holiday – doesn’t mean I think our work is done, it just means I’m happy for what’s been accomplished. Our president said it best: America should be proud.
There are some movies that always make me feel glad to be an American. Some of them are downright patriotic, others look unflinchingly at what needs to be fixed in our country, and others are just stories that couldn’t be set anywhere else – Grease, anyone? If I end up with a rainy day this July 4th weekend, you better believe I’ll be screening one of these.
I know that it’s historically inaccurate, and I know that Mel Gibson is problematic, but I still love spending the 4th of July reflecting on the people who founded our country. There’s nothing I can say about them that won’t invite responses about all of the awful things they did, and I know. Trust me. But they also stood for some ideals that were completely radical at the time. Plus it’s just a good movie.
1950s teen culture is just so American: cars, sock hops, soda shops, poodle skirts, homecoming. I’m sure the real ’50s were totally different, but the 1950s as seen through a ’70s musical is the ultimate nostalgia for something that probably never was.
Mad Hot Ballroom
No surprise: documentaries are better than fiction at showing what America is really like. If this were a DCOM it would be about 5 white kids and their one non-white friend learning how to dance in a weirdly colorful New York City school. But this documentary about 5th grade public school kids learning how to ballroom dance in the boroughs is actually diverse and interesting, instead. Released in 2005, it’s already interesting to look back at post-9/11 New York.
One of my favorite parts of American cinema: the big musical era in the 1950s. This super American movie stars the awesome Dorothy Dandridge and moves the story of Carmen to a World War II-era parachute factory.
Okay, so obviously musicals remind me of America. But who WOULDN’T get patriotic watching 1776? And how wonderful is it that in the lead-up to the bicentennial, they released an epic musical about the Declaration of Independence. If you’re the special combo of history nerd and musical nerd, this is the definitive Independence Day movie.
I didn’t cry during The Notebook. So if you are one of those bozos who thinks it’s funny to say that gingers have no souls …. you might be right. But I did LIKE the Notebook. Something about movies set in the South feels so all-American to me, even though I am a lifelong New Yorker. Then you add the classic poor boy/rich girl story, and Ryan Gosling, and the sweet small-town 1940s sets and costumes, and you have the ultimate (sappy, predictable) American love story.
To Kill A Mockingbird
If you poll a group of lawyers, I’d estimate that at least 20% of them first fell in love with the idea of working in the law thanks to To Kill A Mockingbird. This week I feel more proud of my profession than ever. The reality is that most lawyers don’t go to court, but like Atticus Finch, most people enter the profession because they believe that the law is a vehicle for justice, not because they want to chase ambulances. Watch this one if you want a refresher course in what law can do — one of my favorite quotes from the book is “delete the adjectives and you’ll have the facts.” [Can I have one VERY MINOR law gripe this week? Everybody’s quoting “It is so ordered” like it’s some kind of a mic drop, but all the opinions end that way. If the court had decided the other way, that still would have closed it out. But I do agree that it’s a badass way to end an opinion.]
Also, Gregory Peck.
Or actually, any baseball movie will do. Or football – like We Are Marshall, or Rudy. But the Sandlot is both nostalgic in its setting – the 1950s – and in my memory – I wrote in my first grade journal about going to see it. It’s one of those movies that was always on TV when I was a kid so I can still quote it forwards and backwards, and I think I still know when to turn away during the tilt-a-whirl scene. I was never into sports, but I grew up in a neighborhood where all of the kids played outside together all day so it really does bring me back.
The immigrant experience is the American experience. But most movies would have you believe that people stopped coming here in the 1800s – this beautiful movie about an Irish family chasing the American dream in an overheated Hells Kitchen apartment brings the story into modern times.
Coming To America
Speaking of immigration in modern times, Coming To America is still hilarious over 25 years later, and America still looks just as wacky from an outsiders’ perspective today. Eddie Murphy playing multiple characters sounds kind of corny, but this movie reminds you just why he was such a big deal in the ’80s.
What was the best day of high school Spanish? Why, it was that one day after the final exam when the teacher would just say “screw it” and played Selena. Tragic ending aside, it’s an all-American story of succeeding due to hard work and talent. Anything for Salinassss.
If you have a bit more time and are interested in something with a bit more substance, Glory is one of the best American historical dramas of all time. It is about the first African-American unit in the Union Army, and it will make you proud of the Americans across history who fought for what was right. That’s the American story I’m interested in – not being a blameless country from the beginning, but individuals working and sacrificing to make a more perfect union.