Change in America: Celebrate the Fourth with 6 Movies that are Revolutionary

Some say taking a critical eye is patriotic. Others will flatly disagree or at least disagree when the opinion runs counter to their own. In the lead-up to celebrating the country's 236 years since independence ML is spotlighting the critical eye calling for change - acts that are very American. For every image of the country as that "Shining City on a Hill" there are perceived dissenters over American exceptionalism on screen. War, health care, the death penalty, poverty, racism have all been tackled in one form or another by Hollywood and beyond. Some of course consider these films a political/cultural "attack," while others say they're merely a "call to arms" to right a wrong, lending transparency to perceived ills in an open society. Perhaps some of the most successful films that take on culture and politics straddle both sides of a debate that opposing sides can call their own. Forrest Gump is probably one of the best examples in relatively recent times. But there are others that have taken decidedly more ideological bent and made waves doing so. Here are six we picked - undoubtedly, depending on one's interpretation, the list goes on...

Born on the Fourth of July
Director Oliver Stone
Writer: Oliver Stone (screenplay), Ron Kovic (book and screenplay)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Raymond J. Barry, Caroline Kava

Tom Cruise received an Oscar-nomination for his spectacular performance in this 1989 film, an autobiography by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Stone (also a Vietnam vet) co-wrote and directed the film that is considered part of his trilogy of Vietnam pics along with Platoon (1986) and Heaven and Earth (1993). The film covers Kovic's life from a carefree childhood turned ardent Marine in Vietnam where he is critically wounded. Paralyzed from the chest down, he receives deplorable treatment while recovering at the Bronx VA hospital and becomes alienated after returning home. His disillusionment grows as he recalls atrocities committed by Americans in the Southeast Asian country and he eventually becomes an anti-war activist joining Vietnam Veterans Against the War, forcing their way into the convention hall at the 1972 Republican National Convention during Richard Nixon's acceptance speech. Interestingly, the film starring Tom Cruise came out just three years after what many consider the American feel-good movie of the '80s, Top Gun.

Dancer in the Dark
Director Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morese

A winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or, Danish director Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark was a pre-cursor in a series of films that take a critical look at America. The director has set most of his features in the U.S., though he's famously never traveled to any of the Americas (allegedly due to a fear of flying). Icelandic pop star Björk starred as Selma, a Czech immigrant living in Washington state in 1964 in poverty. Selma has a degenerative disease which gradually is causing her to go blind and has been saving up for an operation that will save her young son from the same fate. Her landlord Bill, a policeman, reveals to Selma that he is in financial trouble due to his wife's extravagant spending. She tells him about her declining sight. To avoid default, her landlord hides in a corner and sees where she's hiding her savings. To make matters worse, she loses her job and comes home to find her money gone. Her fate declines further as he confronts the man she knows stole her money. Bill begs her to take his life, telling her this is the only way to get her money back, but due to her declining sight, she only severely injures him. On trial, she's labeled a Communist sympathizer and a murderer. She's convicted and given the death penalty.

Inside Job
Director: Charles Ferguson
Writers: Charles Ferguson, Chad Beck, Adam Bolt
Narrator: Matt Damon

Ferguson's film says the "2008 meltdown was avoidable." To make the point, Ferguson tells in five parts about how the U.S. had systematically corrupted by the financial services industry. The film goes into detail about how de-regulation of the banking industry brought on an inevitable financial disaster that plunged the country and the world into recession. Deregulation occurred in the post-war period but accelerated under Reagan. At the end of the '80s there was the savings and loan crisis and an internet stock bubble burst soon after the turn of the century. Derivatives, banking consolidation and inept oversight all converged to create a meltdown in 2008 creating the Great Recession. And after that calamity which caused millions to lose their jobs and homes, the film argues, hardly anyone has been held accountable.

The Invisible War (Documentary)
Director: Kirby Dick

Currently in release, director Kirby Dick's latest exposes the immense crisis of sexual assault in the U.S. military that armed forces brass have essentially swept under the rug for decades. In a recent interview with Movieline (, Dick maintained respect for the military saying he believes it can do better. "I believe the men in the military are more than capable of taking care of and not assaulting the people who they serve with side by side," he said. Nevertheless, The Invisible War is a condemnation of an institution that has allowed thousands of both men and women to become victims of rape and sexual assault with relatively little consequences for predators who are both in the rank and file and in the military's top echelon.

Director: Michael Moore
Writer: Michael Moore

Any one of Michael Moore's films could fit in well here, but given the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, his 2007 doc SiCKO seems to be the perfect match-up for the moment. In the film, Moore takes on America's health care industry. No matter where you happen to fall on the ideological spectrum, the figures do not lie. Fifty million Americans don't have health insurance and thousands have gone into bankruptcy after a prolonged illness overwhelms their finances. Yet, compared to other Western democracies, America pays more for health care per capita. Some say the answer lies with limiting lawsuits against doctors and providing tax breaks to encourage those who are uninsured to buy it in a competitive marketplace. Michael Moore's remedy? Socialized health care. In this film he takes a look at what he sees as the disaster and inefficiency in an American system that is run for-profit and contrasts that with comparatively idealized approaches to health care in Canada, the U.K. and France where all have access to health care and have longer life expectancies.

Director: Milos Forman
Writers: Gerome Ragni (musical book), James Rado (musical book), Michael Weller (writer)
Cast: John Savage, Treat Williams, Beverly D'Angelo, Annie Golden, Dorsey Wright

OK, we're giving a bit of levity here, but it nevertheless has a serious underlying message. Milos Forman directed the film version of the legendary (or infamous) '60s musical in 1979, which helped bring the counter-culture to the forefront of the American psyche. A straight-laced Vietnam war draftee meets a tribe of long-haired hippies who've long since turned on, tuned in and dropped out of society's structures. They introduce him to marijuana, LSD, free-love and encourage him to burn his draft card. But he heads to camp, and on a whim, the hippies decide to visit him on base. When they're stopped at the gate, their leader devises a way to get him out. They succeed, but only temporarily and the result is a war tragedy.

[And what do you think are titles to add to this list?]