Movies to make you feel good about America

Once you’ve had your fill of fireworks this Fourth of July weekend, what better time to enjoy another one of America’s favorite traditions: the movies. While Hollywood has a long history of paying tribute to the nation’s glory, my personal list of feel-good favorites is about a lot more than just war and politics. Here is a completely subjective list of movies to get your patriotic juices flowing:

Baseball, the great American pastime, has inspired some fabulous films. I dare you not to get teary watching Field of Dreams, not to laugh out loud watching Bull Durham (written and directed by Santa Barbara son Ron Shelton) and not to feel inspired by A League of Their Own.

Baseball isn’t the only sport to inspire great movies. Until someone makes a movie about Bruin football, Notre Dame-set Rudy will certainly tug at your heartstrings. Almost a decade before joining the starting lineup in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sean Astin brought great spirit and drive to the role of Rudy, another vertically challenged hero.

I would also put Rocky in the major league of great sports films. Sylvester Stallone has never been more compelling than he was in this classic underdog story. A more recent contender is last summer’s Seabiscuit. I never imagined I could be so enthralled by a movie (or a book) about horseracing, but Seabiscuit is really a wonderful snapshot of American history.

Another favorite piece of U.S. history in the movies is Apollo 13. I also loved The Last of the Mohicans, though I’ll readily admit it had more to do with Daniel Day Lewis than the story itself.

In the political arena, there’s no better film than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In fact, for warm and fuzzy feelings about America’s ability to make great films, it’s hard to go wrong with anything directed by Frank Capra or starring Jimmy Stewart.

Saving Private Ryan is one of my favorite war movies, along with From Here to Eternity. Great military performances include George C. Scott in Patton, Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July and of course, Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, where even if you don’t like the politics, you can revel in the wonder of free speech.

Not everyone is a fan of war movies. Pastor Denny Wayman, co-author of the Cinema in Focus column, had this to say: “Rather than films showing military courage, the films that bring me the greatest joy about my fellow Americans are those that reveal moral courage. One such film is the true story of the Amistad Africans with President John Quincy Adams defending the humanity of these people who were illegally captured and forced into slavery in the days before the Civil War. Another film is the true story of Sister Helen Prejean as she helped a young man confess his atrocious crimes and find peace with God moments before his death by lethal ejection in Dead Man Walking. Standing together to do what is morally and spiritually right is the best of American culture.”

Speaking of American culture, check out Walt Disney’s Fantasia, then marvel at the fact that it was made in 1940. Or revisit Toy Story, Star Wars and The Matrix for their artistic and technical merits. For a great overview of musicals, another favorite America genre, there’s always That’s Entertainment, parts one, two and three.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon