Over at National Review Online, they just finished going through their top 25 conservative movies of the last 25 years. Overall, it’s a decent list. Still, there were many films left off and several that would not have made my cut. Here’s their full list, with brief comment:
25. Gran Torino: Fair enough.
24. Team America: World Police: This should rank higher, if only for Hans Blix being eaten by a shark and a parody of Matt Damon that will forever wreck his political future – a service for which we should all be grateful.
23. United 93: Again, this should rank higher, but the truth is that the story itself is conservative. Americans didn’t apologize for foreign entanglements or the American way of life on Flight 93 – they just rolled. The movie is almost a documentary.
22. Brazil: One of the most discombobulated films in movie history (discombobulation is a Terry Gilliam specialty), and while the vision of a fascistic state is vivid, imagery alone does not a great movie make. Plus, the fascistic state depicted in Brazil can just as easily be used by the left as a critique of “Bushitler”-type policies. Remember, Gilliam renounced his US citizenship over Bush’s election.
21.Heartbreak Ridge: A decent call, though the film is a bit cliché.
20. Gattaca: This is one of the best picks on the list. It gives the lie to the liberal idea that all behavior is predetermined by genetics and environment. Instead, it says, man’s potential cannot be measured by a strand of DNA.
19. We Were Soldiers: A by-the-numbers pro-military effort. But I’m happy the folks at National Review picked this over the morally ambiguous Saving Private Ryan.
18. The Edge: Sure, watching Alec Baldwin buy it may be a dream scenario for many conservatives, but this is a survivalist manifesto, not a conservative one – it’s a pure action/adventure story.
17. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Obvious.
16. Master and Commander: It may be conservative, but it’s also quite boring. I love Peter Weir, but watching Paul Bettany sketch wildlife for well over two hours isn’t a recipe for excitement.
15. Red Dawn: Duh.
14. A Simple Plan: This movie could be said to be a study in Hannah Arendt’s liberal perspective regarding the banality of evil – the idea that deep down, everybody is capable of evil. When people act badly, bad things happen. Calling this a conservative movie is no more convincing than calling Fargo a conservative movie.
13. Braveheart: It’s a great movie, but there’s nothing particularly conservative about it. It’s an action epic with some romance thrown in. Liberals could easily caricature Braveheart‘s Longshanks as a redneck, particularly after he defenestrates the prince’s gay lover.
12. The Dark Knight: Clearly one of the top conservative films ever made. Batman utilizes full scale surveillance, beats up a terrorist during an interrogation, and takes heat while doing it, all in order to save civilization from monsters who “just want to watch the world burn.”
11. The Lord of the Rings: If you don’t think this is a conservative film, listen to Aragorn’s “Men of the West” speech at the end of Return of the King, or Gandalf’s impassioned statement during the Council of Elrond that “the Black Speech of Mordor may yet be heard in every corner of the West!”
10. Ghostbusters: Say what? There are a few conservative lines in this movie, but there are a few conservative lines in every movie – that doesn’t make the movie conservative. See: Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo.
9. Blast From The Past: Is this list supposed to be the best conservative movies of the last 25 years, or the movies that had the most conservative references while still kind of sucking?
8. Juno: It’s realistic, and the fact that she doesn’t abort means that it’s semi-conservative, but it’s also a manifestation of the fact that if she actually aborts the baby, the script has nowhere else to go. Jennifer Garner ends up adopting the baby as a single mom, which is no great improvement over Juno keeping the baby and bringing her up.
7. The Pursuit of Happyness: Work hard, get ahead. Conservative message.
6. Groundhog Day: Jonah Goldberg: “Murray begins the film as an irony-soaked narcissist, contemptuous of beauty, art, and commitment. His journey of self-discovery leads him to understand that the fads of modernity are no substitute for the permanent things.”
Beauty and art aren’t conservative. They’re value-free. This is a movie about the redemptive power of love – no matter how many piano lessons Murray takes and no matter how many cats he saves, he keeps living the same day over and over. He isn’t rescued by going to church or by giving charity. He’s rescued by falling in love with a girl. Sure, he improves himself in order to get her to love him too, but that’s plot filler. Just because Bill Murray learns not to be a jerk doesn’t mean this is a conservative film.
5. 300: It’s a conservative film in content but not in imagery. The perversion of history is silly – the Spartans were a bunch of fascistic thugs – but the underlying message is certainly that civilized nations cannot allow themselves to be overridden by fanatical expansionist barbarians.
4. Forrest Gump: The movie’s view of the military is conservative. Everything else isn’t. The idea of a complete dunce like Forrest Gump making his way so easily in the world demonstrates the liberal fallacy that nice things always happen to nice people – and to nice actors like Tom Hanks, particularly if they go, in Robert Downey Jr.’s memorable Tropic Thunder line, “half retard.”
3. Metropolitan: An obscure choice, to be sure.
2. The Incredibles: I’ve read this argument before – the Incredibles represent a family with extraordinary abilities who learn that they should embrace their extraordinariness. And the opening sequence, with superheroes retreating into obscurity to avoid frivolous lawsuits, is straight out of the conservative handbook. And I tend to agree.
1. The Lives of Others: This is a rare case where I wholeheartedly disagree with William F. Buckley. Buckley reportedly said, “I think that is the best movie I ever saw,” upon seeing this film. This movie is intriguing, to be sure, but it goes easy on the Stasi (see, some of them were really nice guys!) and embraces the liberal cliché that art ennobles.
Here are my additions to the list:
1. Rules of Engagement (2000): This is one of the finest conservative films ever made. Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, as well as Guy Pierce in an early role, it paints a perfectly accurate picture of the enemies we face in places like Yemen (citizens attack a US embassy, use women and children as human shields, and then claim victimhood when the Marines fire back). You know it’s accurate when the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee describes it as “probably the most racist film ever made against Arabs by Hollywood.” It also features one of the most conservative exchanges in any film (graphic language):
JACKSON: You think there’s a script for fighting a war without pissing somebody off? Follow the rules, and nobody gets hurt? Yes, innocent people probably died. Innocent people always die. But I did not exceed my orders.
PIERCE: There are rules, and Marines are sworn to uphold them.
JACKSON: I was not going to stand by and see another Marine die just to live by those fucking rules!
Think of it as A Few Good Men, with the Marines actually being the good guys.
2. Tombstone: It ain’t the power of the badge that makes a mission right. That’s the message of this great western from George Cosmatos. While Wyatt Earp and his brothers start off wearing the badges, pretty soon, their enemies, the Cowboys, also carry the silver stars. Who’s right? The man with justice on his side. Val Kilmer steals the show as Doc Holliday, and Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton make a great supporting cast for Kurt Russell. Doc Holliday’s description of Johnny Ringo describes our enemies to a T:
WYATT EARP: What makes a man like Ringo, Doc?
DOC: A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of himself. And he can never steal enough or kill, or cause enough pain to fill it up. And so he walks the earth, forever seeking retribution …
WYATT: For what?
DOC: Being born.
3. L.A. Confidential: Yes, it’s a conservative film. The hero of the movie is Russell Crowe’s Bud White, a determined detective who isn’t going to worry about Miranda rights if it means finding a raped woman in time to save her life. Guy Pierce plays the politically motivated Ed Exley, who turns out to use his political skill in the service of the good. And Kevin Spacey plays the formerly corrupt glitz cop interested only in bedding the nearest woman and grabbing a few bucks on the side. Brilliant movie from all perspectives, but with a definite message: when you’re fighting evil, the ends justify the means.
4. Taken: Jack Bauer on crack. No apologies for being pro-American. No conflicted scenes about the horror of killing bad guys or the possibility of volunteerism in the human trafficking trade. Sometimes morality is black and white.
5. Stand and Deliver: See John’s clip in an earlier post for just why.
6. The Island: Stem cell research ain’t worth it.
Here are a couple of older movies worth seeing, aside from the obvious (e.g. A Man for All Seasons, Death Wish):
The Incident (1967): A bunch of citizens on a subway are terrorized by two thugs (one of them a very young Martin Sheen), when no one stands up for good, evil triumphs.
M (1931): Probably the greatest foreign film ever made. This intense, spectacularly focused movie makes the point that when it comes to evil, there’s no excuse (mental illness or otherwise) that should let the bad guys off the hook.
I’d love to hear other suggestions.