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TBTS Presents: Five Films About America

July 4, 2010

Here we are, friends, celebrating the birthday of the United States of America once again. It’s a day especially set aside for barbecue, fireworks, potato salad, parades and a long and somewhat relevant marathon of one’s favorite swell-o-pride-inducing movies. So after tonight’s nighttime extravaganza, and without work staring you in the face bright and early tomorrow morning, sit down and enjoy roughly ten hours of movies tonight that range from chest-bumpingly proud to the brutally honest.

1. Independence Day. (1996) Yes, I know. I’m not a huge fan either. But there’s something about this hodgepodge of elements which don’t exactly work (Randy Quaid as an overzealous pilot, Bill Pullman as an ass-kicking POTUS and aliens who subscribe to America Online) that’s both smarmily patriotic and a metaphor for all the things that mash together in our own country that don’t work but still somehow just co-exist. Plus, the title of the movie is Independence Day. It should also be noted that this same by-default-ism doesn’t work for the Martina McBride song “Independence Day,” which is about a woman burning down her home and killing her husband. That is not about the Fourth of July.

2. Wag the Dog. (1997) For a look into the old-fashioned American ingenuity that goes toward keeping the wool pulled over our eyes, look no further than Barry Levinson’s fantastic Wag the Dog, in which Hollywood bigwig Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) is pulled in by government PR brass (headed by a Robert DeNiro) to “produce” a fake war against Albania. There’s so much that’s great about this film – from Willie Nelson’s manufactured “feel-good war song” to Denis Leary’s fast-talking brand manager — that it’s tough to know where to begin, but the film remains at its core a hilarious look behind the curtain at the machinations of this great country.

3. The Dirty Dozen. (1967) For raw America-at-it’s-bestedness, you don’t get much more exhilarating than The Dirty Dozen, which stars Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and other greats as a gaggle of American prisoners assigned to a tough-as-nails commanding sergeant and led into a suicide mission that will wipe out a dinner party of high-ranking Nazi officers. Adrenaline-rush America of the highest order. (See also: The Great Escape, Inglorious Basterds.)

4. True Colors. (1991) A lot of people forget this movie, even though it starred two of the eighties’ premier darlings in John Cusack and James Spader as friends who rise up through the ranks of Washington politics together. Along the way one takes the low road (Cusack) and one remains true to his belief system (strangely enough, Spader) and what results is not only a well-told story of good versus evil in politics, but a pretty solid little American parable. (spoiler alert: good wins).

5. Mars Attacks! (1996) If the sight of Hall-of-Fame running back Jim Brown dressed as a gladiator and stomping on a giant alien head doesn’t make you love America, I don’t know what will. Mars Attacks! was a critical failure for Tim Burton but, as an entertaining series of vignettes in which inventive Americans figure out a way to defeat nefarious squawking aliens with giant craniums, it’s a tremendous amount of fun. An interesting cast (Rod Steiger, Pierce Brosnan, Pam Grier and Jack Nicholson in two roles) is game for all the fun in a movie where our country’s secret weapon against the invaders is, of course, Slim Whitman music. And that kind of weirdness is what America’s all about, friends. Happy Fourth, everyone.

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