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America’s story: 20 movies for the Fourth of July 2020

Charles Burnett filmed Killer of Sheep on location in Los Angeles with non-professional actors, and created a masterpiece.

With most public fireworks displays canceled and many family reunions postponed, people are more likely to cocoon out of coronavirus caution than to party hearty this holiday weekend.

That means that this Fourth of July will find more people than usual in front of their televisions, streaming so-called “content.”

So here, for 2020, is a list of 20 movies that tell American stories — 20 movies that are particularly “American” in outlook and origin, by which I mean they grapple, in images if not in speeches, with aspects of American culture, society and identity.

Together, they present a fragmented and obviously incomplete portrait of this country, because 20 is not enough to get the job done — even 2,020 wouldn’t be enough.

For this list, I tried to leave out some of the more obvious candidates, controversial or not: “The Birth of a Nation,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “1776,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” to name a few. 

Other obviously “American” must-sees not on the list include “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “Easy Rider” (in which Peter Fonda rides a star-spangled Harley that was nicknamed Captain America). 

Don't tear down that statue yet, Charlie's using it! City Lights, 1931.

So here they are, for Independence Day: 20 movies about American lives, attitudes and ideas.

1. “The Crowd” (1928): A man born on the Fourth of July finds love (a bride), grief (the death of a child) and economic uncertainty (jobs come and go) in the

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