The Fourth of July weekend is upon us, and it would seem appropriate to celebrate the birthday of the nation with a bit of America-lovin’ cinema. However, these films are not exactly known for their subtlety; the line between patriotism and jingoism is a fine one, and if you’re not careful, you may find yourself suffering through flag-waving pap like Independence Day and The Patriot. We like our Fourth of July cinema a little more perceptive than that; America is a complicated notion, an idea as much as a place, constantly redefining itself and expanding its own borders and definitions. After the jump, we’ve put together a few films that acknowledge that complexity, and find their drama within it.
Throughout his long and fascinating career, Robert Altman frequently explored the theme of the American identity — who we are, how we think of ourselves, and the tension between those two notions. Nowhere did he do so more explicitly than in his 1975 masterpiece Nashville, released on the eve of the American bicentennial (it opens with the recording of a patriotic anthem called “200 Years” — “We must be doin’ somethin’ right to last 200 years!”). Using the music capital as a microcosm for the country, Altman assembles a large, unruly cast of unforgettable (and indisputably American) characters and caricatures, rotates between them, combines and disrupts them, and then assembles all for a climactic event that is as devastating as it is seemingly inevitable. Nashville’s power lies not in that event, though; it is in the aftermath, as country icon Haven Hamilton grabs a microphone and implores the crowd, “This is Nashville! You show ‘em what we’re made of,” and leads a sing-along of “It Don’t Worry Me” — as good a choice for an alternate national anthem as any.