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Friday, July 4, 2014

Five Great American Movies For the Perfect 4th of July

As a great man once sang, "America. Fuck yeah!"  With the Fourth of July hitting... well, right now, it seemed like the perfect time to do what I do most days anyway: Watch movies, eat burgers, hang out with friends, drink, question existence, and light something on fire, like the Founding Fathers would have wanted.

Unfortunately, being an Internet Person, I can only help you with the movies one right now.  So, here's a list of great, quintessentially American films to help you pick the perfect movie to go between grilling and fireworks.

Added bonus?  All of these films are available on common streaming sites.

Modern Times

Chaplin's most famous character, the Little Tramp, is one of the great iconic American heroes of the silent screen, but people the world over wondered how he would fit in once the talkies took over... a process that started 9 years before Modern Times was released in 1936.  Fittingly, the film is about the Little Tramp's efforts to start fresh and hold down employment during the Great Depression - not normally a subject of comedy, I'll admit, but this is the man who made The Great Dictator into a WW2 comedy masterpiece.  Boldly, the film is almost entirely silent, and feature's some of Chaplin's most inventive set-pieces, and in a capstone joke for the film, the Little Tramp speaks for the first time here... in complete and utter gibberish.

Ideal For: Anyone feeling ground down by The Man and the corporate machine. Alternatively: Literally anyone looking for a laugh.

Availability: Streaming on Hulu+. Digital copies can be rented from Apple.

Easy Rider

One of the great American counterculture landmarks, Easy Rider has been a touchstone for men and women for decades.  In it, hippies Captain America (not that one) and Billy attempt a cross-country road trip on their motorcycles, driving from California to Louisiana to join in the Mardi Gras festivities.  Along the way, they interact with a wide swatch of American people, from simple ranchers to hippies running a commune and more, in a drug-fueled odyssey into the heart of the nation.  Jack Nicholson, who co-wrote and co-produced, eventually joins them as a hard-drinking lawyer named George.  It's a simple film, structurally, but its' exploration of 1960's America, its use of real drugs on set, and its powerful ending has made it an enduring touchstone to generations of viewers.

Ideal For: Your aging Boomer father on the tail-end of a mid-life crisis. Alternatively: Anyone looking for the pinnacle of effortless film cool.

Availability: Streaming on Netflix Instant. Digital copy can be rented from Google Play.

A League of Their Own

C'mon, let's be honest, you've all seen this before, right?  A League of Their Own?  Fine, jeez, I'll give you a quick summary.  During World War II, Major League Baseball was in dire straits, as pretty much all the men able to play had either enlisted or been drafted.  In a last-ditch effort to make some money, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was created.  The film follows washed-up coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a cynical drunk, and his wacky team of women (Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty) who have finally been given a chance they've always wanted.  It's every sports movie cliche, but when the cast is this charming and the story is this warm, it's impossible to resist rooting for the Rockford Peaches.

Ideal For: Anyone who wants to feel good. Alternatively: I mean, most people? This movie is crazy charming.

Availability: Streaming on both Netflix Instant and Hulu+.

King of the Hill

This Depression-era drama, based on the memoirs of A.E. Hotchner, follows a young boy trying to survive on his own in Saint Louis after his mother is diagnosed with tuberculosis and his father takes a job out of state, promising to send money back.  It sounds grim, but Hotchner has a sentimental streak a mile wide, and no matter how bad things get, the poor-but-resilient Saint Louis community always has his back - and that's before the main character's fantastic resourcefulness really kicks in.  Soderbergh's adaptation is one of his most warm-hearted, making King of the Hill an excellent family film about one of America's darkest moments.

Ideal For: Everyone. I can't think of anyone who would hate this movie.

Availability: Streaming on Netflix Instant.

Frances Ha 

If Modern Times is a comedy about the Great Depression, Frances Ha is its Great Recession counterpart.  Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a 27-year old wannabe-dancer living in New York City.  She's highly educated, talented, and likable... but she's also stuck in a rut, not willing (and not knowing how to) put in the effort to make at least some of her dreams come true.  When her roommate/best friend moves out of their apartment to hang out with her more together-with-it friends and boyfriend, Frances is left homeless, and the film follows her as she crashes with friends and strangers, makes irresponsible choices, and just generally tries to grow up.  While it was criticized by some for following such a flighty character, it's both realistic and sympathetic in its portrait of someone who wants to do the right thing, but just doesn't know how.  Frances Ha captures the American Dream from the point of view of the millions of young men and women who graduated into a world still too enamored of Boomers to let them flourish.

Ideal For: The millennial post-grad in your family who just won't move out. Alternatively: Anyone looking to relax after fireworks with an endlessly charming little dramedy.

Availability: Streaming on Netflix Instant. Digital copies can be rented on G Play, YouTube, Apple, & Sony.

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