This was a much harder list to compile than a lot of the others. Halloween films is there are a monster or lots of blood? Yes? Okay it qualifies. Christmas films? Does it take place in December? Yes? Okay it qualifies. Romances? Did two people fall in love? Comedies? Did I laugh?
…not as easy to define with film. Going through internet lists of patriotic films I find that most of them come in two categories. The first seems to be does it show that the U.S. military can really blow shit up? And there is no denying that we can, but is this American patriotism? Do we, should we, love our country because we have an efficient military? No. We love our country because of the ideals it represent of the greatness in humanity that it speaks to. Yes, the fact that time and again that our military has stood not to just defend the liberty of this nation but the liberty of other nations is cause for admiration, the fact that our soldiers have given their lives to see that those ideals are persevered is cause for veneration. But it is the ideals and the causes that are worthy, not the efficiency of the battles or amount of ordinance dropped. So that threw out a lot of war movies that were more about the battle and the tactics and the people involved. Remember the line is “First to fight for right and freedom and to keep our honor clean” not about death tolls.
The other category of films that seem to be made into patriotic films are historical films. There are a lot of people that seem to think that just because you show a historical event that was important in U.S. history it’s patriotic. Ummm…there is a difference between history and patriotism. And I’m sorry but just because Forrest was really involved in a lot of events or even because Sinise has become a hero to our troops from that movie, there is nothing explicitly patriotic about that film. If being about a major event in U.S. history and showing the might of the U.S. army were the only requirements for patriotism, then Gone with the Wind would be the most patriotic film of all time…but you know while I love Gone with the Wind, a movie that glorifies traitors to the U.S. I somehow don’t see it making my list of patriotic films.
So that took out 90% of all the films you will see on most lists of the most patriotic films.
So then I was left having to go through a lot of other options. Part of what makes America great is our belief in individualism, the free market and the ability to achieve the American Dream. But I felt that there are many films that show the American Dream being reached, and you know while there is a certain implicit tip of the hat to American liberty I couldn’t quite call these films patriotic because often they were giving justified credit to the individual more than the nation that made it possible. And I have no problem with this focus. So I decided, I’ll save the living the American Dream moments for a different list at a different time. Only films that give due credit to America, if only subtly should make this list.
Then I went through movies that did involve armed service members that showed them as distinctly heroic and while I could find great movies that show every branch of the service as heroic (even the Coast Guard in the very underappreciated The Guardian) it was again the individual and not the ideals of the nation that were in focus. Now I think that it is only in a country with ideals like ours that breeds individuals with character that can be called heroic, I don’t feel it’s artistically justified to put that argument on every movie.
So my standard for the 29 parts of this list (plus the honorable mentions) is did the writer and director set to show that there is something distinct about the American ideal that breeds justice, heroism, liberty and prosperity. Is there anything in the film that was meant to show the superiority of ideals in America?
And thus we begin the list with the honorable mentions, in no particular order…
Hidalgo. The story of an American and his horse who did what others could not. There are some very patriotic moments in this film and the character’s determination is very much attributed to his being American. However I think that is in great part due to the writer John Fusco. The movie’s numerous flaws I blame on hack director Joe Johnston (the same hack who managed to not show a drop of patriotism in a movie entitled “Captain America”…how the hell do you manage that? ) Entertaining but flawed.
Tears of the Sun.A movie about a Navy SEAL team realizing to hell with orders, morality requires
them to fight against tyranny and genocide. Again it has some flaws but it certainly shows Americans as a people who believe more in what is right than what is convenient.
Trial at Nuremberg starring Spencer Tracy and Nuremberg starring Alec Baldwin. Why these two films, because it shows that America, for all of it faults, does to its enemies what no country would ever give us, a fair trial where the accused was allowed to defend themselves.
An American Carol. A film by David Zucker (the genius behind Airplane, The Naked Gun, and Hot Shots…you know back in the days when slapstick movies were funny) comes a slapstick making relentless fun of a Michael Moore style tub of lard and stupidity. As the ghosts of Washington, Patton, Kennedy, and Death (along with Bill O’Reilly) try and slap some patriotism into this liberal idiot you hear a poor man version of the ideals that make America great. It has its moments but it either tries to shoehorn patriotism too much into the humor of certain scenes or shoehorn comedy too much into certain patriotic scenes. It had potential, but I think Zucker wanted to make a point more than make a good movie. Also, unlike really great humor the jokes are very dependent on current events and what strengths it does have will not stand the test of time. The movie does have the distinction of having at least half of all conservatives in Hollywood in the film.
Plus it has one of the most enjoyable scenes of all time. Shooting ACLU zombies…god I want this turned into a video game.
Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Indiana Jones series. Okay none of the movies themselves about patriotism per se. But the hero is the quintessential ideal of the American hero. Independent, smart, loyal, man of action opposed to Nazi’s, Communists and religious fanatics. Now do I have to list how flawed some of the movies were?
Burn Notice. Burned spy Michael Weston just bleeds patriotism. It was motivates him, to get back into the good graces of the nation that turned its back on him because it is the only nation worth fighting for. Any single episode may lack a particular theme of patriotism, but taken as a whole there are only a few things more important to Weston than his country (Fi, Sam, Mom, honor, what’s right…but those values are very American in themselves).
And finally three movies I’m going to lump together because they pretty much all have the same theme and the same flaws: The Tuskegee Airmen,(about the black airmen who flew combat planes in WWII), Windtalkers (about the Navajo code talkers used in the Pacific front of WWII), and Go for Broke! (About the 442nd division in the European theater of WWII, made up entirely of Japanese-Americans who been imprisoned in U.S. internment camps at the start of WWII but who went on to be the most highly decorated division in the history of the U.S. armed services). The basic theme of all of them is that for all flaws, the ideals of America are so great that even those to whom our treatment of them has been nothing short of evil, still see the greatness of America as something worth fighting and dying for. (Conversely I want you to think of what would happen if Germany had armed Jews who had been in concentration camps…do you think you’d have a highly decorated division of the German army…or do you think you’d have a lot of dead Germans and a lot of defections to the other side, followed by even more dead Germans.) What’s the problem with these films? They are all terribly made. Bad scripts, sub-par acting, questionable directing. You’d almost think Hollywood didn’t want the idea that America is better than her flaws being a popular movie.
And one last note there are some movies which could theoretically have a very strong patriotic theme but they haven’t come out yet so only time will tell (disturbingly a lot of them are comic book movies): Captain America 2, The Man of Steel, Dark Knight Rises and Argo could all theoretically make it onto to this list if done well…but we’ll have to see.
Up tomorrow #29 on the list…films that use other countries as metaphors for America….