Holidays and movies on TV — the two go together like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Christmas; “The Ten Commandments” and Easter; “The Longest Day” and Memorial Day; “Friday the 13th” and Halloween; and, well, you get the idea.
On this long Fourth of July weekend after the fireworks have been fired and the hot dogs grilled, there are all kinds of patriotic film choices to pass the time.
And thanks to dozens of cable movie channels, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu-Plus, Red Box, or however you get your movie fix, there’s plenty of movies that tie into this holiday.
My choices range from the whimsical to historical, from the past to present, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
But all of them have something in common — stories about ordinary Americans, unlikely heroes who face extraordinary circumstances with resourcefulness and resolve to overcome the odds. And that, brother, is what independence is all about.
You can make your own list, but here’s our baker’s dozen.
“Jaws” (1975): The Fourth of July on Amity Island goes to hell when a blood-thirsty shark stalks humans. A burned-out cop, a wisecracking oceanographer and a crusty old fisherman become resourceful heroes. This one kept us out of the water for a while and had everyone saying “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”
“Independence Day” (1996): Deadly aliens arrive on Earth on July 2, and by July 4 Americans are in a do-or-die battle for survival. You gotta love a movie where the U.S. president (Bill Pullman) personally leads a jet fighter attack and a drunk crop-duster pilot (Randy Quaid) saves the planet.
“The Patriot” (2000): A Revolutionary War-era South Carolina farmer (Mel Gibson), who has renounced violence, becomes a mean, killing machine when the British kill his son. In one memorable scene Gibson’s character wipes out 22 Redcoats with a tomahawk.
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998): Probably the best military combat film in the past three decades, this action drama, set around the Normandy invasion during World War II, follows a group of U.S. soldiers (Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore) on a deadly rescue mission to save a fellow American (Matt Damon).
“Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942): Shamelessly patriotic and considered one of the greatest musicals on film, the rags-to-riches story of vaudeville entertainer George M. Cohan stars James Cagney. He sings and dances his way through songs such as “Grand Old Flag,” “Over There” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
“1776” (1972): The songs are forgettable and the historical facts are debatable, but this often overlooked musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence is so bad it’s good. It’s a hoot to see Ben Franklin (Howard Da Silva), Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard) and John Adams (William Daniels) break into song and dance. “Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve,” describing a do-nothing Continental Congress, could describe the current Washington crowd.
“Johnny Tremain” (1957): Based on an award-winning children’s book, this Disney movie recounts events leading up to the American Revolution (Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s ride and the battles of Lexington and Concord) as seen through the eyes of a patriotic teen (Hal Stalmaster).
“Glory” (1989): This historical drama, based on the first all-black volunteer Union company in the U.S. Civil War, explores issues of freedom, racism and patriotism at a critical point when the future of the country was at stake.
“John Adams” (2008): Paul Giamatti gives a riveting performance as founding father/lawyer/farmer John Adams, the country’s first vice president (under George Washington) and the second U.S. President. This HBO miniseries covers the first 50 years of U.S. history.
“Grapes of Wrath” (1940): Based on John Steinbeck’s novel set during the Great Depression, this film is considered one of the greatest. Henry Fonda plays a down-and-out Dust Bowl migrant who vows to fight for social change after traveling through a wasteland of decimated farms, starving children, desperate families, cruel labor camps and broken men.
“Born on the Fourth of July” (1989): Tom Cruise stars as Ron Kovic, a real-life wounded and wheelchair-bound Marine who became an outspoken advocate against the Vietnam War during the 1970s. Director Oliver Stone explores the issues that divided the country.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939): Put your cynicism about present-day Congress away and bask in the feel-good triumph of a naďve, small town idealist (Jimmy Stewart) who is appointed to the U.S. Senate by a corrupt political machine that thinks he can be easily manipulated.
“The West Wing” (1999-2007): For the ultimate 4th of July video binge, check out the seven seasons of “The West Wing,” in which Martin Sheen stars as President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet, the kind of president many wish we could have in an ideal world. Creator/writer/producer Aaron Sorkin’s insider drama about politics is riveting through all 154 episodes. Who knew the passage of a bill could be so exciting? In addition to the human drama about people with ethics and ideals, it’s a civics lesson on the workings of government and should be required viewing in high school.
Honorable mentions: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Frost/Nixon” “Lincoln,” “JFK,” “Red Dawn,” “An American President,” “All the President’s Men,” “Drums Along the Mohawk,” “Little Big Man,” “How the West Was Won,” “House of Cards,” “Commander in Chief,” “Advise and Consent,” “The Candidate,” “Being There,” “Fail Safe” and “The Contender.”