Top five movies about America

Sarah Contreras

In writing about American movies in honor of Veterans Day, I didn’t just want to make a list that consisted of the powerhouses of American Cinema or of movies solely about American triumph. I decided to choose movies that, during my limited lifetime, have led me to appreciate the complexities and virtues of life in America.

Saving Private Ryan (1998):

If nothing else, Steven Spielberg’s sprawling epic is a testament to true artistry in American film. But under the “wow power” of Hollywood magic, Saving Private Ryan reminded viewers of the sacrifice made by Allied soldiers throughout World War II. Had the full might of the American military not been available and had D-Day not been orchestrated and successfully carried out, the America we know today would probably be nonexistent. The central story, of eight American Soldiers setting out to save the last surviving brother of three deceased servicemen, illustrates the American ideal that through hell or high water, the right thing to do is to help your fellow man.

Milk (2008):

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States. The film follows his first forays into the political arena and ends with his violent death at the hands of a colleague. Viewers are exposed to Milk’s earnest belief in equal rights for homosexuals across America, and perhaps are encouraged to wonder why equality has not been achieved 30 years after Harvey Milk’s death. But despair is not the point of this movie; it was made to encourage all those who have felt oppressed to stand up and fight for the things they believe in because, in America, your voice can be heard.

Walk The Line (2005):

This biopic of country music legend Johnny Cash embodies the American Dream: No matter what circumstances you are born into, you can build yourself up from nothing and eventually get everything you ever wanted. However, it also delves into the flip side of the pursuit of that dream. Cash, played by Joaquin Phoenix, soars from the Arkansas countryside to the top of the music charts and on the way battles grief, abuse, rejection and addiction. The Man In Black’s life story is a proof of the virtues of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps – a virtue embraced by Americans since the first settlers landed.

Forrest Gump (1994):

Don’t let the overused, hokey quotes fool you: Forrest Gump is an incredibly savvy film when it comes to American commentary. The title character is a slow-witted country boy who inadvertently influences pop and political culture in the late 20th century by pursuing the girl of his dreams. Yes, the plot is implausible and at times a bit corny. But Robert Zemeckis’ modern day Odyssey still doesn’t let us forget that America, in the grand scheme of things, is a young country still very much trying to define itself. Front and center for events such as Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, Forrest witnesses war, protest and hope. He wades through a messy social atmosphere that riots against the suppression of the unconventional.

The Fighter (2010):

There are a lot of boxing movies that could have made it onto this brief list. But David O. Russell’s film about a pair of Lowell, Mass. brothers earned its spot by sheer emotion. When asked why I love this movie so much, my usual answer is, “It seriously just makes you want to stand up and cheer.” Like so many movies on this list, The Fighter isn’t afraid to show the tough facets of American life. The brothers represent two sides of American opportunity: Dicky wades in a river of methamphetamine and self-pity, while his little brother Micky literally tries to fight his way out of his mediocre existence. But beneath the drama and odd hilarity provided by the colorful cast of characters, The Fighter embraces the thoroughly American concepts of family loyalty and the ultimate triumph of the nice guy with a good, hard working heart.