YOUR ultimate 2017 Fourth of July viewing experience!

To the rest of the world it’s just a day, but to Americans, July 4th is “Independence Day.” It’s the day when firearm toting, flag waving southerners unite alongside the scarf-wearing, Prius-driving yankees up north to celebrate our common love of blowing stuff up.

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There’s not a whole lot of reflection on things like the Declaration of Independence, the meaning of freedom, or the heroism of our veteran-dead anymore on this holiday of ours; but then again, we don’t spend much time talking about Race Riots, the Trail of Tears or Imminent Domain either. So I guess it evens out.

What we Americans do end up doing on the Fourth of July is the most American thing there is to do these days: A whole lot of nothing.

You might think that’s lazy, but if so, you’re probably over in England or Canada or somewhere else, not doing a whole lot of nothing. In which case, that’s a shame. I’ll be here, sitting around my house, eating unhealthy food and watching all the best jingo-powered TV shows, movies and broadcast specials I can get my hands on.

If you’re like me, and you are looking for something really “merica” to watch on Independence Day, or, if you’re not like me but you want to revel in the once-a-year awesomeness that is “merica,” then let me offer you my top “four for the Fourth” list of best things to watch on Independence Day. Sure there’s no way to watch all of these shows in one day, not when there’s afternoon naps and leftovers to eat, but since the fourth falls on a Tuesday this year, you can easily knock these out over the festive four-day weekend leading up to the big day.

This is our third year in a row doing this article (check out last year’s edition here, and 2015’s list here) and this year’s edition is focused almost entirely on two aspects of American history that seem likely remain subjects of fascination for generations to come: World War II and Baseball.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

Picking a “favorite” Tarantino movie is like picking a favorite Beatles song: The choices can vary wildly in style and the only common denominator among all options is the high quality. Some people prefer his debut noir thriller, Reservoir Dogs, or his convention-busting breakout hit, Pulp Fiction. Some people swear by Kill Bill Vol. 1 while others favor Vol. 2. Some diehard will surely call out Jackie Brown as their choice. For me, the man’s true masterpiece is Inglorious Basterds.

The film is a delightful bit of alternate history—it even begins with the words “once upon a time…”—that follows a team of military mercenaries (led by Brad Pitt) who hunt Nazis around 1940’s war-torn Europe. In addition, there’s a tension-packed plot featuring a Jewish escapee playing cat and mouse with a ruthless SS Jew hunter (played by Christoph Waltz). The two major plotlines offer wildly different tones, with the Brad Pitt’s storyline offering more comedy and escapism, while Waltz’ story will raise your blood pressure while you grip the edge of your seat. The tone is set in the opening scene, a tour de force of tension as Waltz’ Hans Landa interrogates a suspected Jew smuggler…

The climax features, now-famously, Hitler himself being drilled with a hundred rounds of machine gun fire before being blown to smithereens. Again, it’s not real history; it’s a happy little fairy tale. And what’s more American than fantasizing about a beautiful Jewess burning a theater to the ground and helping to put Hitler six-feet under in a much more satisfying way than what really happened. It’s two-and-a-half hours long, so it’ll take a big chunk of your evening, but the film never drags; on the contrary, it’s one of the smoothest, breeziest films of Quentin Tarantino’s catalogue.

FIELD OF DREAMS

To be completely honest, I don’t even like baseball. I think the sport is boring and slow and stuffy with its rules. But when Field of Dreams is on, I can half-convince myself that I’ve always been a fan. The movie’s real gift is making the sport feel like it’s as essential to the story of America as Washington crossing the Delaware or the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. It’s just a game…unless you’re watching Field of Dreams. When you are, the game becomes a channel…a cathartic conduit through which all of your anxieties, consternations and even daddy issues can be set aside and forgotten or even resolved entirely.

I never played a game of catch with my dad. He worked from sunrise to sunset almost every day I lived at home and the rest of the time my nose was either in a book on stuck to a video game screen. And yet the film’s signature moment, when Ray asks his dad if he want’s to toss the ball around, is so perfectly executed—from lighting to music to acting—that it brings tears to my eyes almost every time.

What’s more American than James Earl Jones telling us nothing’s more American than baseball?

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

There’s no crying. There’s no crying in BASEBALL!

Tom Hanks today is primarily seen as a dramatic actor, but the five-time Best Actor Oscar nominee (two-time winner) cut his teeth doing silly little comedy movies in the 80’s. In lesser hands, the material might have sunk the shows, but Hanks natural charisma and inability to be anything other than likeable make those old movies (Turner and Hooch, Big, Dragnet) a treat every time they pop up on cable. The cream of that crop is 1992’s A League of Their Own. Director Penny Marshall crafted a relaxing, charming, occasionally poignant and often hilarious tribute to the upstart women’s major league baseball teams that started up while the men were away fighting in World War II. Truth be told, Tom Hanks is a supporting actor here; the movie belongs to Gena Davis and Lori Petty, but it’s Hanks who gets all the best lines and funniest moments.

What’s more American than a baseball manager chucking a glove at the nose of a snotty brat jeering at his team from the sideline?

STRANGER THINGS (SEASON ONE)

Just to end things on a stranger note, you could do a lot worse this Fourth of July than (re)watching the first season of Stranger Things on Netflix. The second season is coming in just a few months so this is a great time to get caught up before it drops. Why Stranger Things? What’s it have to do with America’s annual celebration of itself? Stranger Things is a love letter to the 1980’s, and the 80’s are the new 50’s. America loves “Americana,” the celebration of the “feel good, good old days gone by” with its distinctive (rose-colored glasses maybe needed to enjoy) fashion, music and pop culture artifacts. In the 1980’s Americana was rooted in the 1950’s sock hop era of black and pink polka dot dresses, rockabilly music, and cheesy 3D movies at the drive-in. But now we’re as far removed from the 80’s as the 80’s were from the 50’s. Now we look back on that era with fondness, and celebrate big hair, hoop earrings, Michael Jackson and all things Amblin’ Entertainment.

Stranger Things is a love-letter to the heyday of Steven Spielberg, whose Amblin’ movies, which he produced and occasionally directed, defined the cinematic experience of the 1980’s (E.T., The Goonies, Gremlins, Back to the Future and many more). In and of itself, there’s nothing that screams “Fourth of July” here but the series is as much a celebration of a bygone era of simpler times as it is a horror/sci-fi mystery series. What’s more American that sitting back and laughing at the wardrobe, hair and music choices we had thirty years ago, while occasionally getting scared by a lurking monster that kidnaps children?

I’m far from the most “Merica! Yeah! We’re Number One and Stuff!” person out there. But I allow myself to indulge in my inner jingo once a year and declare my land the greatest. If you disagree, that’s fine. 364 days a year I won’t fight you over it. But on the fourth it’s all about the ‘merica baby. If you need me I’ll be in front of my TV, with a hamburger in one hand and a remote in the other.

See you there.

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