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Posted at 12:20 PM ET, 07/ 2/2010

Friday List: Movies that make me proud to be an American

By Jen Chaney

This Fourth of July weekend, Americans will find many ways to celebrate their freedom

Some will do it by sizzling up as much red meat as their double-decker, stainless steel Weber grills will allow. Others will demonstrate their patriotism by going to the movies and watching a vampire and a werewolf fight over the same girl. After all, that's what this country was based on: the notion that all of us are free to obsess over "Twilight: Eclipse" as much as we want.

Of course, If the "Twilight" saga doesn't exactly fill you with the urge to burst into "My County 'Tis of Thee," you could always stay home and watch a film that just might make you genuinely proud to be an American. Need some options? That's exactly what this list provides.

"Rocky": Americans love to see an underdog rise up. And in this 1976 Oscar winner, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) not only goes toe-to-toe with the unbeatable Apollo Creed, but he does it in Philadelphia, on the first day of the year of the U.S. Bicentennial. It's hard to win in a more traditionally American way than that. (Note: I have modified the text here; a previous version said Rocky beats Apollo Creed, which is not correct. In the first "Rocky," the fight was a draw. Apologies for the error.)

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington": In many of his films, Jimmy Stewart played men who personified basic, decent American values. And nowhere is that more true than in this Frank Capra classic about an average guy determined to take the high road as a U.S. Senator, even if it means filibustering until he's lost his voice and can barely stand.

"John Adams": Speak the words founding fathers to most people, and they've usually fallen asleep before you can finish saying "founding." But this HBO miniseries, based on David McCullough's book and starring Paul Giamatti as Adams, turns the birth of our country into a compelling, absorbing story. If you get this on DVD, activate the pop-up history guide to read additional, helpful history lessons as you watch. It makes the experience that much more fun. No, really. I swear.

"The Natural": It's got baseball. It's got a distinctly American comeback story. And it's got one of the most revered men in American cinema, Robert Redford. Need I say more?

"The Visitor": The perfect film to watch at a moment when the debate over immigration in this country is more charged than ever, this beautifully subtle story focuses on a lonely widower (Richard Jenkins) who befriends, then defends a pair of illegals desperate to remain in the U.S. Jenkins, who received an Academy Award an Academy Award nomination for his performance, is believable and admirable as a man finally making connections with people and cultures outside his comfort zone.

"Fahrenheit 9/11": I know -- controversial choice. And one that now seems a little dated. But here's why a movie like Michael Moore's anti-George W. Bush screed makes me proud to be American: because we live in a country where it's able to exist. Even if you disagree with Moore, you have to be grateful for the freedom of speech that allows him to share his views in such pointed fashion. As the Neil Young song that caps off this documentary reminds us, it's a privilege to keep on rockin' in a free world.

"Dick": God bless America. And God bless the two bubbleheads played by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams in this little-seen, very funny comedy that explains what "actually happened" during Watergate. When our teen troublemakers decide to take their information about the dastardly deeds of President Richard Nixon to Woodward and Bernstein (played with by an ultra-competitive Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch), it's an act of defiance. But when they don red, white and blue '70s ensembles while waving goodbye to Tricky Dick as he departs the White House, it's their way of expressing adolescent love of country.

By Jen Chaney  | July 2, 2010; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Friday Lists, Movies, Pop Culture  
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Umm, Rocky doesn't beat Apollo in "Rocky". You need to wait till "Rocky II" to see that happen.

Posted by: james_l_milne | July 2, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Don't tell anyone, but I've never seen a Rocky movie. First it was just due to where I was living when the first two came out, then it became a matter of principle. ("You WHAT? That's impossible!") Is that Un-American?

Posted by: kbockl | July 2, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

in the book redford's character strikes out... but it was such a downer that they felt a need to change it and make people feel better. i doubt you'd feel so good about the film if the last frame was of an unemployed 60 yr old roy hodge sat on a street corner with a cardboard 'kick the bum - $2' sign...

The primary pride i feel derives from the fact that a movie could be made... Manufacturing Consent, Jesus Camp, Roger and Me... these are films that just wouldnt be made in some of the other oligarchic countries and certainly arent intended to stoke a nationalistic fervor. From a patriotic standpoint - probably the Longest Day... or All the President's Men (not that i'm just buttering up the Post with that one)

Oh wait... i'm talking out loud aren't i...

Red Dawn!!!

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | July 2, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Greatest American Hero marathon on SciFi. If you can't get behind sweet, bumbling Ralph Hinkley and his inability to handle his students or the suit, but does manage to marry Connie Selleca, you just aren't an patriot.

Posted by: epjd | July 2, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Yessssss, Quintilius, "All The President's Men"!

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | July 2, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Every 4th of July, we always try to watch 1776. Yes, it's a little corny, but I love it nonetheless. William Daniels will always be John Adams to me (even though I really enjoyed the John Adams miniseries).

Posted by: martina091 | July 2, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Jenkins was nominated for an Academy Award. He did not win.

Posted by: jljardon2 | July 2, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

The interesting flipside would be the films that make you want to claim to be something other than american... like Mississippi Burning or Dances with Wolves...


Posted by: LTL1 | July 2, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Good call on "Dick!"


Sorry, I just had to.

Posted by: wadejg | July 2, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

And here I thought Rocky lost in the first movie. It was a draw? Really? "Dave" and "The American President" are my go-to movies for a patriotic holiday weekend. Could watch them both over and over. Especially "Dave" ("I caught a fish THIS BIG").

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | July 2, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Not a movie, but the TV series "West Wing" made me proud to be an American.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | July 2, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Independence Day - I can't turn it off...I have tried.

The Patriot - I know, I know it's Mel Gibson, but I still love it.

"I love Dick!" "Me too, I really love Dick..."
"I hate Dick!" "I never want to see Dick again..."
Ha! Great movie.

Posted by: VaLGaL | July 2, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

martina091 I couldn't agree more!

What's more American that a Broadway musical? Therefore, I must insist that "1776" be added to this list. Where else but in these United States of America could you find the founding fathers singing about things ranging from slavery and taxes to sexual frustration and the hot summer weather in Philadelphia all in one play/movie?

Watch this 4th of July @ 2:30 PM on Turner Classic Movies!

Posted by: y1776 | July 2, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

A holiday is not a holiday without the Boss. That's especially true of the 4th, when with all the flag-waving, we need to be reminded that we live in a plutocracy, where anyone who is poor, unemployed, hungry or lacks health care is not free.

Posted by: kabuki3 | July 2, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

"Coal Miner's Daughter." Don't know whether it entirely makes me proud, considering the grinding poverty in Butcher's Holler, but it is a quintessentially American story.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | July 2, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Apollo 13.

I really can't think of a bigger one than that.

Posted by: random-adam | July 2, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse


Can't get more American than teens fighting commines.

Posted by: BradG | July 2, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm...I think mine would be "October Sky" and "Remember the Titans"

Posted by: kalster15 | July 2, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm...I think mine would be "October Sky" and "Remember the Titans"

Posted by: kalster15 | July 2, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for including "Dick" on your list. It may not inspire a patriotic uplift, but the play on Watergate Americana that came from that era is great! the 70's soundtrack really captures the time as well. "Your So Vain" describes the downfall so well!

Posted by: IzzySez | July 2, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Only the WP would consider a half truth movie like Fahrenheit 9/11 done by a political party "overweight" hack Micheal Moore to be a patriotic 7/4 movie.

Where's the Micheal Moore media machine as Obama leads a war in Afghanistan, with a troop surge, that's going nowhere?

The left, including the WP, is so shallow.

Posted by: johnnyapplewhite123 | July 2, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Fahrenheit 9/11? I don't think so. You just discredited your entire list by including that drivel.

Posted by: c0lnag0 | July 2, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Most american movie I got in my closet. Blazing Saddles

Posted by: alex35332 | July 2, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Gosh, this is a pretty weak list! I'll give you "Mr. Smith" and "John Adams" and maybe "Rocky," but "Grapes of Wrath" is a much better "glad we can even make that movie" movie than anything by Michael Moore. And you gotta include at least one sacrifice-it-all war movie ("Saving Private Ryan," "Glory", "Band of Brothers" or "Sergeant York" not junk fluff like "Top Gun"), gotta show that essential American thing, the court room, in glorious action ("Twelve Angry Men" or "Hurricane") and you MUST include a paean to American music--hard to beat "Yankee Doodle Dandy" on that score, though "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Ray" and "Walk the Line" would be okay, too.

Posted by: BABRAD | July 2, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm not nearly old enough to have seen it in the theater, but to me, you just have to include "Yankee Doodle Dandy". All those great songs, and the immortal James Cagney, "Over there" and "Grand Old Flag". Very stirring stuff, and I can only imagine how theater audiences of that era must've felt watching it all.

I'd also include "The Right Stuff". with its soaring, elegiac score and the drama of the U.S. vs. U.S.S.R. cold war space race.

Posted by: JoeRiley | July 2, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Regarding your correction...the first Rocky/Creed fight was NOT a draw. Rather, it was a split decision victory for Creed...And seriously, Farenheit 9/11 makes you proud to be an american? Really?

Posted by: jmchurch | July 2, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

My COUNTY tis of thee?

Which county? London? Carfax? The County Previously Known As "Prince"? Anne Frank?

When did the Wall Street Post fire their editors? for crying out loud.

Posted by: theoharvey | July 2, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, the first "Rocky" wasn't a draw, either.

Posted by: ChoppinBroccoli | July 2, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of musicals made into movies, what could be more American than Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" or "South Pacific"?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | July 2, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

Except for "John Adams," I don't get those choices at all. I think Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff really makes a case for pride in American toughness and ingenuity.

Posted by: bendan2000 | July 2, 2010 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Dick is the best one, followed by Rockey

Posted by: johng1 | July 2, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

These are this guy's idea of a septet of movies that will give one the ethos of this country? What is he, a Fourth Stooge from Bosnia?

Posted by: JPMcC | July 3, 2010 12:22 AM | Report abuse

These are these two nimble-wits' idea of a septet of movies that will give one the ethos of this country? 'Smith...' and 'Adams', but 'Dick'?! and 'The Visitor'?!

What is they -- Lady Stooges from Bosnia?

Posted by: JPMcC | July 3, 2010 12:27 AM | Report abuse

The American Justice System is such a travesty the movie that makes me feel good is Shawshank Redemption. Innocent Man sentenced to jail, escapes, screws the system, lives happily ever after in Mexico. What's not to like about that?

Posted by: speardog | July 3, 2010 12:58 AM | Report abuse

I also love the Green Mile Jesus Christ comes back as a black Share Cropper in post Civil War United States and is executed for crimes he didn't commit.

Posted by: speardog | July 3, 2010 1:01 AM | Report abuse

The reporter seems to show a strong liberal bias in selecting an anti Bush II film and another about someone helping illegal immigrants. John Adams was highly arrogant and pompous. His administration, with the Alien and Sedition acts, was one of the most repressive in this country's history.

"Mr Smith goes to Washington" is the only worthwhile film on this list. "The Right Stuff" and "The Longest Day" would be better than any of the others.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | July 3, 2010 1:34 AM | Report abuse

I was listening to some left wing leftist talk radio show on the XM radio yesterday and they made up some fabricated list of "most patriotic cities in America", and (of course) #1 on the top 10 list was Portland, Oregon. The non-name leftist made some wisecrack like "take that you red staters".

That is right up there with these leftist WaPo hacks putting Michael Moore on a list of patriotic movies.

Posted by: screwjob16 | July 3, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

To screwjob16: the "most patriotic" thing came from Men's Health magazine.
It's based on voter turnout, volunteerism, money spent on veterans, and other things (money spent on fireworks and flags). You may find the list of criteria a little silly as a measure of patriotism (this left-winger certainly does) but they didn't just pull Portland out of a hat.

As for Rocky: I'm sorry to correct you, but I wouldn't call it a draw either. To me, the whole point of the movie was that Rocky wasn't good enough to last a round with Creed. But somehow he has the heart to keep standing up after being knocked down over and over and over. His triumph is to still be standing after 15 rounds, not to win or even to draw.

I never saw any of the other Rocky movies but to me it was a complete upending of the whole concept to turn him into a champion. The entire point of that first movie is that he's a nobody.

Still, I gotta admire a writer like Stallone who walked into Hollywood and built himself a career by inventing not just one but two iconic characters.

Posted by: RandyP1 | July 3, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Hah, Dick! really is such an underrated movie.

Posted by: ozpunk | July 3, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Re: '"The Natural"... Need I say more?'

Yeah, you need to say that it turned a gripping story about an egomaniacal dirtbag who got what was coming to him, to a feel good tearjerking romance. It's a glorious statement about the contempt American film studios held for their audiences.

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | July 5, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

The spite and nastiness on this board certainly serve to remind me that I'm *in* America, does that count?

Posted by: northgs | July 6, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Joe Riley: you are so right! Nothing compares to the incredible James Cagney in my favorite musical of all time - "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

One of my Irish setters was named Cagney.

Also, "Glory". Amazing cast, great story, one of my top five.

Posted by: jhershelredpuppy1 | July 9, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

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