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The other day, I heard William Bennett, the author, radio host, gambler and former US Secretary of Education, say on “Morning Joe” that he thinks the best American movie ever made is “Independence Day.”

He was on the show to promote his book, “The American Patriot’s Almanac,” which features a chapter on movies that reflect the American experience; but that’s not what he said on “Morning Joe.” He said, very clearly, that “Independence Day” is his idea of the great American movie.

Now, I’m okay if he wants to say that “Independence Day” is his favorite movie. And, if he wants to say that “Independence Day” is a “great” movie, I’m even okay with that, although I would suggest that he’s devaluing the definition of the word “great”; this is, after all, a matter of taste, and as my sainted father-in-law used to say, “Where taste is concerned there is no dispute.”

But the “great American movie”? Give me a break.

I would argue that “Independence Day” isn’t even close to being the best Jeff Goldblum movie ever made. He was, after all, in “Annie Hall” and “The Right Stuff,” not to mention “Nashville,” “The Big Chill” and “Jurassic Park.” I would even argue that “Independence Day” isn’t even the best Jeff Goldblum movie featuring alien invaders ever made - he was in the Philip Kaufmann version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” which is a much better piece of work.

The great American movie? The general consensus, I guess, would identify “Citizen Kane” as the winner...though there would be some who would hold out for “Casablanca.” I probably would side with the group that believes “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” represent the best work of a single American filmmaker. There’s lots of room for debate ... but I worry about the fact that the guy who once was responsible for the American educational system would suggest that “Independence Day” is anywhere close to being of the quality of these classics.

It is, however, an interesting exercise ... especially to the co-author of a book entitled “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.” (Now available on Amazon.com both in print form and for Kindle...and soon to be available on iBooks. Did I mention that it makes a perfect Christmas present?)

Here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head list ....without benefit of even IMDB...in alphabetical order...of 50 American movies that I certainly think are better than “Independence Day.” (And I think, with the possible exception of one of them, that each of these movies reflects something very specific about the American experience.) It is a highly personal list ... it reflects all of my biases, both in terms of era and genre, and I concede from the start that there are tons of great movies left out. But it would be my guess that these American movies will be remembered far longer than “Independence Day,” and maybe even longer than William Bennett.

All The President’s Men
Annie Hall
Big
Bonnie & Clyde
Broadcast News
Bull Durham
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Casablanca
Chinatown
Citizen Kane
Cool Hand Luke
Dr. Strangelove
ET: The Extra Terrestrial
Good Fellas
High Noon
Hoosiers
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the Kaufman version)
Jaws
M*A*S*H
Manhattan
Nashville
Network
Night Moves
North by Northwest
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Psycho
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Reds
Rocky
Some Like It Hot
Star Wars
Taxi Driver
The Big Sleep
The Candidate
The Conversation
The French Connection
The Godfather
The Godfather, Part II
The Graduate
The Grapes of Wrath
The Last Picture Show
The Maltese Falcon
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Right Stuff
The Searchers
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Wizard of Oz
To Kill A Mockingbird
Tootsie
Young Frankenstein





My sister Amy came up with a great idea to clear up all the controversy about airport security.
What the TSA needs to do is come up with a box that everybody has to walk through before getting on the plane. Once you are in, the box is closed for 15 seconds...at which point, technology will ignite any explosive device on your person.

And that’s it.

They wheel the used box away, replace it with another, and say to the assembled crowd, “Next!”

I think this is an idea with legs.




Love & Other Drugs is a mess of a movie that is saved by its terrifically cast actors, especially Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, who provide a modern definition of film chemistry.

Gyllenhaal plays a traveling pharmaceutical salesman (evoking George Clooney in Up In The Air) who delights in one-night-stands, and Hathaway is a young woman suffering from early onset Parkinson’s disease; they find in each other an ideal mate, since neither wants an emotional commitment ... but life, of course, is never that simple.

They are utterly winning in their roles. The problem is that there are moments when the movie is a “disease of the week” drama, other moments when it is a romantic comedy, other times when it is a hard-R-rated comedy, and still others when it is a satire about the relationship between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry. The pieces of the puzzle don’t always mesh, which can be jarring ... but we walked out of the movie having enjoyed it thoroughly.




I was so glad this week to see the Men of A Certain Age has returned for its second season. Maybe it is because I happen to be a man of a certain age, but I find this comedy/drama - which stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher as three fiftysomething guys thrying to figure out their place in the world, to reconcile their hopes and dreams with their various realities. The great thing about “Men” is that it rarely engages in navel-gazing - the show has wonderful dialogue, but the drama and comedy come from character. Great stuff.




I have two wonderful French red wines to recommend this week - the 2009 Brouilly from Chateau Moulin Favre (no relation to the aging NFL quarterback), and the 2008 Cotes du Rhone from La Cabotte. Both are yummy (to use my favorite technical term for wine), and wonderful with grilled meats or just sipping by the fireplace.




That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend...and I’ll see you Monday.

Slainte!
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