For most Americans, the Fourth of July means parades, barbecues, flags, and fireworks. But what if it’s way too hot out to stand next to a grill, you can’t get within two blocks of the parade, and the fireworks just scare your dog?
No worries—we’re here to officially give you permission to hole up inside on your couch streaming these excellent, America-themed movies and TV shows all weekend long. Four days of thrilling political drama, biting satire, and campy cult classics are your inalienable right as an American, and several of these even stream on Crackle, which is totally gratis, no subscription required. (Independence Day and Team America: World Police might have made this list if they weren’t rentals only, but even foul-mouthed puppets need to make a buck.) Let free entertainment ring.
In the Loop
If you love Dr. Strangelove (and you should, and if you haven’t seen it, you need to drop everything and watch it right now), you owe it to yourself to check out In the Loop (2009). It’s a British black comedy about the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with bumbling politicians and inept bureaucrats in the U.K. and the U.S. trying to either pump up or avoid the conflict—or at least not get their bosses in trouble. The dialogue is golden: Be prepared to hit Hulu’s handy “jump back 10 seconds” button a lot, since it’s easy to laugh so hard at a one-liner that you miss two more. And the performances, including several actors from the acclaimed BBC series The Thick of It (of which this is essentially a spin-off), plus the delightfully deadpan Mimi Kennedy, and the late James Gandolfini as a dovish Pentagon lieutenant general, absolutely live up to the brilliance of the satire. No wonder it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Do you feel the need, the need for speed? Take the highway to the Danger Zone, take my breath away, and be sure to take a swig of Budweiser every time someone says “bogey” or “MiG” in Top Gun (1986). Sure, this classic of American cheese reruns on cable on the daily, but I always seem to channel-surf over after the amazingly bromantic volleyball scene, just before it gets all heavy and the movie’s ego starts writing checks its goofy dialogue can’t cash. Luckily, it’s also on Netflix and Amazon (not to mention Epix and Redbox Instant) so I can request a flyby anytime.
Ken Burns’ The Civil War is absolutely worth watching if you have 11 hours and 30 minutes to sink into all nine episodes. But in just 2 hours and 2 minutes, Glory (1989) tells an equally emotional and powerful story, loosely based on the first African-American unit of the Army, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, who fought for the Union under the direction of Captain Robert Gould Shaw (played by a baby-faced Matthew Broderick). Denzel Washington nabbed his first Academy Award for his role as Private Silas Trip, and the gorgeous cinematography won an Oscar too. If you didn’t watch it in history class—or even if you did—be sure to catch it on Crackle or Xfinity on Demand, both streaming it for free.
Wait, an indie documentary about an indie filmmaker? Sounds indulgent, but American Movie (1999) is about a guy in Milwaukee with big dreams that don’t exactly match his blue-collar, unemployed, indebted, alcoholic reality. But with the help of friends and family just as flawed as he is, Mark Borchardt doggedly pursues his passion project, a low-budget horror epic, all the way to Sundance—which is exactly where Chris Smith’s affectionate, funny, never-mocking documentary won the Grand Jury Prize in 1999.
From The West Wing to Air Force One, plenty of fictional presidents have helped make this country great. Also on Crackle, Dick (1999) focuses on a real president, good old Richard Nixon, but the hilarious story is pure parody: Tricky Dick (Dan Hedaya) and his whole slimy staff are taken down—more or less by accident—by a couple of star-struck, lovestruck, airheaded teenage girls (played to perfection by Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) and two Washington Post reporters (Will Ferrell as Woodward and Bruce McCulloch as Bernstein) who just happen to be in the right place at the right time to change history.
House of Cards
Netflix’s original drama House of Cards (2013) isn’t a newcomer to this column, but if you haven’t gotten sucked into this 13-episode political drama yet, now’s the perfect time. It stars Kevin Spacey as a powerful congressman who gets burned by the new president and launches a political war, using a young reporter and a drunken junior congressman as pawns in his slow-burning game of revenge. Packed with heavy hitters, the first two episodes are directed by David Fincher, an executive producer of the series. Each episode looks like a movie and sizzles with tension and manipulation, and Spacey’s Southern accent oozes enough charm to make the rage that bubbles under the surface that much more menacing.