Joel Siegel Looks at Patriotic Movies

The folks at my neighborhood Blockbuster and Tower Video, just a few miles from Ground Zero, say last weekend wasn't exceptionally busy for video rentals.

But the most popular titles at both stores, Blow, Memento and Hannibal, are three movies I wouldn't want to watch with the world in such dire straights.

So I've put together a list of patriotic films, coming-of-age films, ordinary-people-doing-extraordinary-things films. These are films you can watch with your kids or your parents. Some are classics. Some are new. Some were huge hits. Some got lost at the box office in spite of my screaming about them as loud as ABC would let me.

What we don't want is excessive violence, irony, anything that promotes prejudice or films that will remind us of the New York skyline.

This list doesn't pretend to be complete. I've left out comedies even though The Princess Bride and Groundhog Day and Blazing Saddles are great escape films, because I figured you'd think of that.

And I haven't made any choices in the comfort movies category. (Comfort movies are like comfort foods. They're the meat loaf and mashed potato movies that take us back to our childhoods.) Those movies could be Say Anything or Almost Famous or American Graffiti or even The Perils of Pauline. Only you know how long ago your childhood was.

Patriotic Films

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) — A great American film about why the greatest generation fought our greatest war. Pay special attention to double Oscar-winner Harold Russell and Frederick March's homecoming: Myrna Loy lets us know with her back to the camera that she knows her husband is home.

Casablanca (1942) — My favorite film and, yes, the problems of three ordinary people still don't amount to a hill of beans in a world that, sadly, is still crazy.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) — James Cagney's Oscar. FDR was so revered no actor could play him, we never see the actor's face.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) — America at its best.

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

The Straight Story (1999) — If I'd describe it you'd never rent it. So I won't describe it.

The African Queen (1951) — Katharine Hepburn asked director John Huston how to play this role. Huston replied: Eleanor Roosevelt.

Star Wars (1977) — OK, here we have ordinary Wookies and androids doing extraordinary things.

Chicken Run (2000) — Ordinary chickens doing extraordinary things.

ET the Extra Terrestrial (1982) — Same thing. Ordinary little boys and extraterrestrials doing extraordinary things.

Family Man (2000) — This contemporary remake of It's A Wonderful Life was suggested by many GMA staffers.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) — Family Man the first time around.

Coming of Age Films

The Lion King (1994) — It's Hamlet in the Jungle. Maybe the best film of the '90s.

The Little Princess (1996) — Make boys watch this, even if they hate the title. You will fall in love with this movie.

October Sky (1999) — The best film with the worst title of 1999.

Black Stallion (1979) — One of the most beautiful films I know.

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) — America at our best. Or did I say that before. And Boo Radley is Robert Duval's film debut.

Liberty Heights (1999) — In this film it's not the characters, it's America that comes of age.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) — A Good Morning America staffer explained his choice: "Because I want to play hooky from life for a while."

The Universality of the Human Spirit

Life is Beautiful (Italian) (1998) — The Italian Oscar-winner. It's not really about the Holocaust, it's about a father's love for his son.

The Red Balloon (French) (1956) — a short, the visual story (with no subtitles to louse you up). It's a great family film.

The White Balloon (1995) — A beautiful, child's-eye view of Muslim culture.

The Shower (Chinese) (1996) — A delicate Chinese soap opera.

My Life As A Dog (Swedish) (1986) You could set this film in Norway, New Zealand or Namibia. It's every kid.