It was a tough millennium, to say the least, for the good old United States of A. Tensions are high, divisions are widening, prices are rising everywhere and it’s hot as a fire in most places. We can’t even have fireworks in some places because of supply chain scarcity and all the fire hazard! How, please, are we supposed to celebrate America’s birthday if we can’t blow up some really good stuff?
Why, we do what we always do: turn to our filmed entertainment. Below are five thoughtful movies and TV shows to celebrate this year’s 4th of July and hopefully remind us of our shared values. And yes, there are explosions.
The Good Things (1983)
An epic production that received stellar reviews and eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, The good thing never became the success that Warner Bros. hoped, perhaps due to its almost arthouse sensibility and poetic visuals, which were perhaps a bit too poetic for the public in a very commercial age for filmmaking. The film chronicles the early days of the US space program when the Cold War was particularly frigid and the United States devoted untold treasure to rival the Soviets in the development of space and military technology. Well-known actors like Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Sam Shepard and Dennis Quaid portray the brave test pilots who took the crazy risks that made it all possible. Those who weren’t killed became the astronauts of Mercury Seven, the first humans in space.
The good thing still features some of the best flight footage ever shot. Top Gun: Maverick recently paid homage to the masterpiece in its opening scene, which echoes the famous sequence in which Chuck Yeager (Shepard) becomes the first to break the sound barrier (to complete the tribute, Ed Harris is even present as a Navy admiral). maverick surely also drew inspiration from the film’s simple notions of American heroism. As The Hollywood Reporter said at the time“The good thing emerges as the Picture of the Year, an image its producers can be proud of, the industry can be proud of, and Americans can be proud of. Why? Because for once Americans, in their modesty, are presented as heroes, and heroes we can all identify with.
You can stream The good thing on HBO Max and rent it on other digital platforms.
The Pacific (2010)
Although it never really caught the attention of its predecessor, Band of brothers, The pacific remains one of the most poignant evocations of the war ever brought to the screen. Band of brothers was surely great on its own, but it also benefited from a national wave of nostalgia about World War II, which included patriotic war movies like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick The thin red line (both from 1998), as well as celebratory books like Tom Brokaw The greatest generation and Stephen E. Ambrose Band of brothers (on which the miniseries was based) and Citizen soldiers. Band of brothers also debuted two days before 9/11 and became a rallying point for Americans to rally against a common enemy.
Nine years and two “eternal wars” later, the appetite for American military power around the world had drastically diminished, which may explain why The pacific never quite caught on in the public consciousness. But as a document that visualizes the experience of conquest and island-hopping combat for American men fighting the Japanese – as well as a dramatization of the ferocity, blood and violence of those fights – The pacific is incomparable, and a more fascinating experience than the lyrical The thin red line, which covers a similar territory. Americans often disagree with the political goals and ambitions of leaders who send soldiers into battle. But at the end of the day, our compatriots – often conscripted against their will – still bled on foreign shores for our freedom. The pacific both honors their experiences and gives them a vivid and amazing life.
You can stream The pacific on HBO Max and rent it on other digital platforms.
“I have today’s forecast for you…hot!” exclaims local DJ, Mr. Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson), on his morning show. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get hotter, both in terms of temperature and simmering racial tensions in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. But this episodic tale of a day in an interracial neighborhood isn’t all about pain and tragedy, though it ends with one. There’s relief, too, as children frolic in water gushing from a fire hydrant, neighbors open ice-cold beers on their front steps, and a man rubs ice cubes on his lover’s body.
The Spike Lee classic is one of the great summer movies, in part because the heat is so palpable. Lee wanted his cinematographer Ernest Dickerson to evoke Lawrence of Arabiaand he more than succeeded, drenching the film in deep oranges and yellows that naturally matched all the saturated, neon primaries that characterized late 1980s fashions. do what it takesg may be famous for its depiction of violence, but it packs a lot of joy as well as reminders of the simple pleasures of a diverse community. It’s a celebration of an America that is made for all of us, no matter where we come from.
you can rent do the right thing on AppleTV and other digital platforms.
Despite racing for six seasons on F/X and earning consistent praise as one of the best tv shows, Americans was never a big popular hit. Not surprising, given that his spy thrills are more cerebral than visceral – less James Bond and more John le Carré. The shows star Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, Soviet agents posing as ordinary Americans living in a suburb of DC in the early 1980s (one of the most dangerous eras of the Cold War). The catch is that the couple is so deeply entrenched in their covert operation that even their kids don’t know their parents are spies…and killers.
Well, at the beginning anyway. Once their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) learns the truth, the series develops fascinating new depths. What do you do when your parents have sworn to live and die for Mother Russia and you’re an American teenager through and through? You can’t really rely on your friends for support. The show brilliantly uses the premise to critique and celebrate American culture and values. Even Phillip finally admits that living in a big house and driving a hot new Camaro beats the hell out of the lifeless gray gulag behind the iron curtain. In other words, while our country is far from perfect, many of us have been luckier than most.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
I’ll admit that some people don’t want a history lesson after gorging themselves on sun-grilled pork all day, and may instead prefer good old-fashioned rah-rah jingoism and puffy stuff. Good, but I still don’t recommend Independence Day, which remains a terrible film. Clear and present dangerin which Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) tells the President he won’t lie to Congress about his secret war (yes for scruples!) is still Tom Clancy’s best adaptation, but even that thriller is too slow for the today’s action audience.
So there is Wonder. The Winter Soldier is the best MCU movie after Thor: Ragnarok and Marvel’s most thoughtful exploration of American power and constitutional values. It also contains some of the best actions. In what producer Kevin Feige described as a “political thriller,“Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) works to unravel a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of government. In a tribute to his classic paranoid thrillers of yore (Three days of the Condor, All the President’s Men, Sneakers, spy game) Robert Redford plays Alexander Pierce, a senior SHIELD official who may not be what he seems. Like all good films that question the use of American power, winter soldier sets up a thematic debate on whether freedom or “security” at the expense of fundamental rights is better for democracy. And, well, like all good films that question the use of American power, it sits firmly on the side of freedom. Happy fourth, all of you!
You can stream Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Disney+ and rent it on other digital platforms.