What does it mean to be a movie about America? it is not easy to answer this question.
This 4th of July weekend, we rounded up a bunch of movies we love that fit that canon (while trying to avoid the easy path of “patriotic” movies). Instead, this is a set of films that address the question thematically.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we welcome any nominations (especially out-of-the-box ones) in the comments! While you’re here, you should also check out our list of the best action movies to watch at home – many of them will also fit right here.
French professor Agnes Varda made this 28-minute documentary relatively early in her career, following protests by the Black Panther Party in Auckland following the arrest of Huey B. Newton. Matching Farda’s indelible style as a documentary with a historical document of a moment and place often left out of American textbooks, black panthers It is an unforgettable portrait of a wonderful group of people trying to make a broken country a better place. –people home
black panthers Available to watch on HBO Max, the Criterion Channel, or for digital rental on Amazon.
The American Utopia of David Burn
Spike Lee directed this performance of David Byrne’s electric Broadway musical, filled with jubilant dance numbers and deep reflection on the state of our country and the world. It was one of my favorite Polygon movies of 2020. –PV
From our review:
Even for those unfamiliar with Byrne’s work, the film feels salty and cheerful, as the performers do, after choreographing Annie Parson, and growing up and Cafort on stage. The songs aren’t narrative, at least not in the explicit way they would in a traditional musical, but their themes form in Byrne’s hand, coalescing around the conflict that seems so prevalent in present-day America, the necessity of being kind to one another, and doing the work to create a better tomorrow. The sheer delight he can evoke gives way to a broader sense of empathy that turns the instinct of dancing and singing into the instinct of acting.
The American Utopia of David Burn Available to watch on HBO Max, or for digital rental or purchase on Apple, Google Play, and other VOD sellers.
bridging the gap
We love it here at Polygon bridging the gap, Bing Liu’s first documentary about his group of ski-obsessed friends in Illinois. An animated portrait of friendship, masculinity, and the American heart, it has been mentioned by many Polygon employees in our picks for the best films of the 2000s, as well as in our list of 50 Masterpieces of the Broadcast Era, our list of the best sports movies, and our list of the best movies on Hulu. bridging the gap: it’s great! –PV
bridging the gap Available to watch on Hulu.
Richard Kelly (Donnie DarkoThe rabid sci-fi thriller of 2006 is eerily compatible with the entertainment industry, the military-industrial complex, and the US surveillance state. The movie didn’t get a fair shake upon its release, and honestly it was probably at least two decades ahead of its time. Looking at it now, it comes across as a piece of dystopia that is somehow equally scattered and deadly focus.
If nothing else, watch the hypnotic scene where Justin Timberlake plays an Iraq War veteran who’s dealing with drugs now, and The Killers stars “All These Things That I Done” in a sequence shot as a music video. –PV
Southland Tales Available to stream via Starz on Prime Video, or to rent or buy digitally on Apple TV, Google Play, and other VOD sellers.
Kill them quietly
Set in Boston in the days leading up to the 2008 presidential election, Andrew Dominic’s new 2012 thriller stars Brad Pitt as Jackie Coogan, a mob enforcer and aide assigned to track down three crooks who have the audacity (see: stupidity) to beat a game Poker Mafia. The film overall is stellar, a heavily wound crime drama with gorgeous, gorgeous (albeit very short) cinematography supporting performances by James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta, and a tense conversation between Kogan and her therapist regarding the simmering nature of America’s national myth-making and egalitarian ideals in a harsh, downright chilling reality. her chills. To paraphrase Kogan: We live in America, and in America, you are on your own. – Toussaint Egan
Kill them quietly Available to stream on Hulu and FUBO TV, or free with ads on Pluto TV, Plex, and Crackle.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Last week, the Supreme Court overturned Raw vs. WadeThe landmark 1973 resolution that for nearly half a century has upheld a pregnant woman’s right to physical autonomy to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Often lost in discussions of abortion rights are the individual stories of the ordinary people who have shaped their lives. Eliza Hetman movie of 2020 Never Rarely Sometimes Always It delves into the raw emotional core of the issue, rendering its characters and conflicts with devastating clarity and resounding sympathy. It’s a powerful, important and necessary film, and a story to be watched and reckoned with, one of which has become even more significant with a decision now poised to radically reshape American life for years to come. —TE
Never Rarely Sometimes Always Available to stream for free with ads on Freevee, or for digital rental or purchase on Apple, Google Play and other VOD sellers.
A group of bodybuilding idiots kidnaps one of their clients in hopes of making it big. It follows many at bats in this satirical comedy cut from the headlines.
Michael Bay’s extremes are a perfect match with the huge lead cast of Dwayne Johnson (in one of his last roles playing a character other than Dwayne Johnson), Mark Wahlberg, and Anthony Mackie. The result is Bay’s funniest film, by far, and a surprisingly clever comment on the unattainability of most people’s American Dream and the dangers that the promise of access can cause. –PV
suffer reap Available to stream on Prime Video and Paramount Plus.