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Movie List: Other Facets of the Fourth

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 4, 2007 2:00PM

2007_7YankeeDoodle.jpg Forgive us for being less than enthusiastic about Independence Day this year. Oh sure, we love having a day off and all that. The fireworks are cool. But it's a little hard to muster up a whole lot of that rah-rah flag-waving patriotism; between Scooter Libby, the endless war, and the paralysis of Congress, the business-as-usual attitude oozing from Washington, Springfield and Chicago has got us mired in the blahs. We're certainly not alone there: a recent poll showed that 68% of America is dissasified with the way things are going.

We figure there are a few different ways to deal with this air of pessimism: we can wallow in it or we can try to overcome it. Or (because variety is the spice of life) we can do both. The United States seems to bring out the worst in humankind, and the best; it's a country willing and able to confirm our worst suspicions and our deepest hopes.

There are plenty of movies that get dragged out of the mothballs around this time of year, especially Yankee Doodle Dandy and the proverbial John Wayne/Spielberg/Tom Hanks/Alamo style war movie. But there's no shortage of alternatives. After the cut we present a list of movies that can nurture paranoia ... or optimism:

PARANOIA: The Parallax View, 1974
Yes, we've been right all along: a shadowy cabal of businessmen really control all world events. Even Warren Beatty can't stop it. A chilling end seqence is the topper.

OPTIMISM: Bread and Roses, 2000
Latina office cleaners fight for the right to unionize, and they succeed. Even in Los Angeles. Adrien Brody really scores, playing a union organizer.

PARANOIA: The Manchurian Candidate, 1962
Time has only burnished this film's searing power to creep us all out. Seen it? See it again. Never seen it? You'll never look at Angela Lansbury the same way again.

OPTIMISM: Young Mr. Lincoln, 1939
Director John Ford fashions a great fictionalized portrait of Honest Abe, with Henry Fonda the epitome of earnestness in the title role. It's mostly made up, but the funny thing is that it's still damn inspiring; Americana that's hard to resist.

PARANOIA: The Panama Deception, 1992
Think the lead-up to the Iraq War was bad? It's not the first time that a successful propaganda campaign has obscured the real reasons for war. This documentary examines the media complicity which accompanied the 1989 US invasion of Panama.

OPTIMISM: The Thin Blue Line, 1988
This Errol Morris film eloquently argued that a Texas man had been wrongly convicted of murder. Subsequently the case was reopened and the verdict overturned. Sometimes there is justice after all.

PARANOIA: The Front, 1976
The best film to ever deal with the 1950's Hollywood blacklist, it was written, directed and stars some of the very people whose careers were ruined by the witchunt. It's great to see Woody Allen doing a fine job acting in someone else's movie.

OPTIMISM: EXPO: Magic of the White City, 2005
The narration (by Gene Wilder) is a bit hokey at times, but this docmentary about Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition is truly awe-inspiring. It's an event that will never be topped, and it happened right here in Chicago. Just goes to show what can happen if we all work together.

PARANOIA: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, 1971
Dated elements aside, this is still a searing, angry, gutsy piece of work. A black hustler runs and runs and runs from the law after confronting some racist cops. A no-holds-barred assault on white America (with a truly peculiar ending) this is sometimes hard to take but undeniably arresting.

OPTIMISM: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1963
A disparate (and desperate) collection of characters search for $350,000 in buried loot. A "comedy to end all comedies," with hundreds of the biggest names in showbusiness in starring roles and cameos. It's gargantuan, exhausting, hilarious in parts but overwrought in others, often tasteless, corny, expensive, very long, and like no other movie ever made. In other words, everything that makes this country great.

What movies would you add to the list?