Friday, July 04, 2008

Five films for Independence Day

The colonists who formed the United States left England because they felt persecuted and sought a land where they could be free. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, 11 score and 12 years ago our fathers brought forth a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. As we honor Independence Day, I give you five films that aren’t about patriotism, but rather focus on equality. These are films that challenge us to embrace our differences and remind us that we’re all just people.

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951)
The 1950s were full of campy films featuring alien invasions and men dressed in cheap monster suits, but “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was something more. A humanoid alien arrives in Washington D.C. with his loyal and powerful robot to present a simple message of peace, but decides to explore Earth life before delivering it. Though somewhat dated this still remains a surprisingly relevant and potent milestone in the science fiction genre.

“My Left Foot” (1989)
Based on the true story of Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy but overcame his handicap to become a renowned painter, “My Left Foot” challenges our perception of those with disabilities as being defective. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for his brilliant portrayal of Brown, who is shown as vibrant individual who refuses to be victimized. He’ll even start a bar fight if he has to. It is a truly uplifting story that is honest and affecting where other supposedly heartwarming films are false and cloying.

“Orlando” (1992)
Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”) stars as a lord who is told by Elizabeth I to never grow old — and remarkably he does remain forever young in feminist filmmaker Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel. Along his journey the lord gets a big lesson about society’s perception of gender roles and differences when he awakes one morning a woman. Not as pretentious or inaccessible as it may sound, this is an intelligent, funny and beautifully-shot meditation on gender.

“Remember the Titans” (2000)
The true story of the successful season of a racially integrated high school football team in the early 1970s is presented as a straightforward feel-good story by Disney. But even though audiences know every beat the story takes, the film works. A strong cast led by the always solid Denzel Washington delivers the message of equality with humor and a lot of heart. The film ultimately comes across as genuine when it easily could’ve become preachy and heavy-handed.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001)
A rock musical in the tradition of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” but with bigger ideas, “Hedwig” is the story of a transsexual who escapes East Germany in hopes of becoming a punk rock goddess. The music is infectious and presented with the gusto of Broadway. The story and humor are subversive to say the least, but at its core the film is also sweet and rather touching as Hedwig tries to find his/her place in the world.

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