Staff Picks: What to Watch on July 4th
The 4th of July. Beer! Bratwurst! Explosions! What a time to be alive. As
Hellworld America celebrates its ‘whatevernth’ birthday, join us in celebrating what’s really important: movie lists. In honor of the stars and stripes, we’ve rounded up some of the best films that highlight the American experience: its highs, its lows, and everything in between.
Sure, you can watch Independence Day, or some Tom Cruise movie, or some war biopic dominated by White men and violence galore, but what Hidden Figures provides is an empowering true story of three Black women in NASA who were integral during the Space Race in the ’60s. Hidden Figures touches on racism and sexism, which are still prevalent today, while commemorating America’s greatest moments in history of the first American launched into space and the first American to orbit Earth. Hidden Figures was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay Adaptation, and Best Actress in Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer). So, if you’re taking a break from your Captain America marathon, I suggest watching Hidden Figures to hopefully refuel your sense of activism and patriotism.
Pleasantville is set in 1950s America: the era of booming economic success after World War II, of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the emergence and dominance of television. Gary Ross’s Pleasantville paints a near perfect picture of the style and attitudes of 1950s America through the story of David (Toby McGuire) and his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) who live in present day (well, the ’90s) and are sucked into a television sitcom. The conflicts in the movie that drive the story and the characters forward are not just external, but internal as well: Pleasantville pushes the audience to challenge the way we see things and to open our eyes to the array of color and experiences in our life that may be out of our comfort zone. It shows us that change can start as a small splash of color, and then spread into the lives and world around us. Watching Pleasantville on July 4th urges us to look to the world around us now— the change and life we could be living—instead of the nostalgic mindset of “better days.”
Team America: World Police
Plenty of movies help to showcase what it means to be an American. Films that showcase pride and a sense of nationalism really drive home the spirit of the 4th, and my favorite? Team America: World Police, which is by the masterminds behind South Park. Playing as a satire of American nationalism and fear-mongering, the audience is introduced to a group of puppets that attempt to save the world from a “lonely” Kim Jong-il. The film pairs its punching social commentary with gross-out tactics of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and one result is a puppet sex scene that’ll surely make people uncomfortable. 2004s Team America: World Police is the perfect 4th of July film for those who are going to partake in a bit of partying and still want to laugh at the absurdity of the way blind Nationalism tends to make us act. I can go into specifics on how “Pearl Harbor sucks,” or how the film uses its platform to mock celebrities who think they’re smarter than they are, but if you haven’t seen the film, stop reading now. You’re missing out on an American comedy classic.
Of course I’m going to put this film on this list! The entire movie centers around the Fourth of July. It’s the reason why no one wants to go close the beaches. Amity is a summer town, and it needs summer dollars. Without them, the town won’t last the winter. Therefore, the Mayor keeps the beaches open. Also, Jaws may be the most patriotic movie ever made: red is the color of the blood, blue is the color of the water, and white is the color of his teeth.
V For Vendetta
Why this film? First off, it opens with a fireworks show after V saves Evie. Then? How does blowing up Parliament not count among the grandest of fireworks shows? However, there is a deeper reason for picking this one: its theme of resistance against fascism. Ideally, no one should be afraid of anyone, but primarily because people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people, and in 2018, we’re headed in the wrong direction.
The hard truth is that sometimes people will only see two types of Black. With Hollywood being what it is, it can be hard to find your reflection in a pond not built for you to drink out of. For me, a film that demonstrates America closer to my age is Dope. This film takes Malcolm, a straight-A student near a rough neighborhood, and places him under three obstacles: the girl, his future, and drugs. Fighting only for two, he must get past the third when he is put into the position of selling molly that isn’t his. This introduces Malcolm to a whole new world. Living in two worlds, few things make sense. For some reason, it seems like the more time he spends trying to fix his short-term problem, his future at Harvard fades away. Eventually, Malcolm finds a balance, and in his letter to Harvard he breaks the archetype of there only being two types of a Black male. There is no hood; there is no geek. In his case, they’re one in the same. Malcolm’s America forces him to open his eyes to what they really thought of him, and what world he belongs to. Everything that he wants and everything that he has to get, he’s needs to fight harder for it.
Baseball is one of the most prolific icons of Americana. I don’t love it, but I dig baseball films. For me personally, and for almost anyone else in my generation, the go-to baseball movie is The Sandlot. Set in 1960s California during the summer, The Sandlot is basically the story of a typical American childhood. It’s one of the most quotable kid’s films of the ‘90s, with lines like: “You’re killin’ me, Smalls,” “For-ev-er! For-ev-er!,” and of course, “You play ball like a girl!” Even though the film is really nothing but memorable short stories strewn together to tell the story of summer, the scene that makes The Sandlot perfect for any 4th of July watchlist is the night game scene. In it, Benny, the group’s leader, gathers all his friends to play a special game of baseball that is illuminated by the neighborhood’s fireworks bursting overhead. Is it a bit maudlin? Possibly. However, it’s also one of the most American feel-good moments of the ‘90s.
The Godfather/The Godfather Part II
This one’s an obvious entry for any Independence Day watchlist (if you have the time). Everyone has an idea of what the ‘American Dream’ is, and celebrating the 4th of July means celebrating your own version of the American Dream. I think The Godfather and its first sequel are two of the best depictions of the American Dream in cinema. They’re all about a wealthy immigrant (but still White) family attaining power and influence through their family business. It’s a patriarchy with strong family values, a sense of honor and duty, and the idea of leaving behind something for future generations. It’s the American Dream as told by gangsters, but it’s still an idealized depiction of that dream. A man is executed by his colleagues in a car on a country road? Tragedy. A man is executed by his colleagues in a car on a country road with the Statue of Liberty in the background? Patriotism.
The First Purge
The Thin Red Line
The Thin Red Line might be one of the most beautiful war films of its era. Constant auteur Terrence Malick surprised audiences when he released his WWII masterpiece the same year as Saving Private Ryan. Malick internalizes the war, set in the Pacific Theater, with a jaw-dropping ensemble (Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, John Travolta, Adrian Brody, Nick Nolte, Thomas Jane, Jared Leto, Tim Blake Nelson, John C. Reilly), anchored by my favorite Sean Penn performance as the cigarette-smoking Sergeant “The World is Burning” Welsh. Jim Caviezel jumps off the screen as the bright-eyed Private Witt. It’s a film for the ages that gets lost in the conversation when it comes to WWII films.
The Color of Money
What’s more American than billiards? A billiards movie directed by one of Americas finest directors, Martin Scorsese. The Color of Money showcases Paul Newman and a young, extremely enjoyable Tom Cruise. A loose sequel to 1961s The Hustler. Scorsese’s trademark soundtrack (Warren Zevon has never been cooler) and an aging Paul Newman doing what he does best: charming the fuck out of you. This is one of Scorsese’s undercover best films.
Wet Hot American Summer
Ah, summer camp. It’s where friendships begin, love blossoms, and the weirdos of The State go bugfuck crazy. Wet Hot American Summer isn’t just a summer camp comedy, it’s every summer camp comedy. The ensemble (too many to list, just look at the IMDb page) riffs on every camp cliché in a weird quilt of scattershot sketches and almost plotlines. It’s dumb, it’s bizarre, and it’s brilliant.
Most movies about the army are celebrations; to serve the nation is a noble calling, isn’t it? Stripes, however, embraces a cold reality: desperation. Bill Murray plays John Winger, a total washout cabbie who loses his job, his place, and his girlfriend in rapid succession. Winger, left with zero prospects, grabs a friend— Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis), an English teacher— and heads to the nearest recruiting office to enlist. Director Ivan Reitman’s basic idea? “Cheech and Chong join the army.” What follows is one of the 1980s sharpest comedies, one that turns the military flick on its head and skewers the Cold War with aplomb. That’s the fact, Jack.