What to watch this Fourth of July weekend? There are, of course, those obvious holiday-title perennials, "Born on the Fourth of July" and "Independence Day" (the misbegotten "Independence Day: Resurgence," not so much).
Maybe it's the mood of the moment, but the five films I'm recommending here offer tougher, more conflicted visions, and some are patriotic precisely because they subject the very notion of patriotism to critical scrutiny.
"25th Hour." A hilariously profane diatribe attacking every class and color in America's melting pot is the scalding, ultimately bracing centerpiece of this wrenching New York elegy. It's the most cathartic of post-9/11 movies, and an "Hour" that may well be Spike Lee's finest.
"Blow Out." A tribute to the mechanics of filmmaking, yes, but Brian De Palma's 1981 thriller also achieves a powerfully cynical evocation of America at the dawn of the Reagan era. Heavily influenced by the Watergate scandal, President John F. Kennedy's assassination and other national tragedies, the movie builds to a Liberty Day celebration where patriotism is subsumed in madness, violence and inexorable tragedy.
"Flags of Our Fathers." Now is as good a time as any to revisit Clint Eastwood's thorny rumination on the uses and abuses of war heroism. (Watch it on a double bill with his "Letters From Iwo Jima," which is even better.)
"Jaws." A grisly Fourth of July weekend sets up the premise of Steven Spielberg's incomparable 1975 blockbuster — not just an expertly crafted thrill machine but also a classic tale of old-fashioned American ingenuity and creative collaboration.
"Rio Bravo." Fashioned as a rejoinder to the lone-wolf posturing of "High Noon," Howard Hawks' 1959 masterwork is the wisest and warmest of American westerns, a movie that exalts rather than scorns human frailty. To watch it is to be reminded that we really are in this together.