Memorial Day. A day set aside officially in 1971 to honor those who have fallen in U.S. combat protecting our rights and upholding our freedom. Did you know there is even an official National Moment of Remembrance? At 3 p.m. local time, every American is encouraged to take a moment in silence to reflect on what has been sacrificed so you can enjoy this country and all that is in it.
To memorialize something properly, it helps to have a muse — something that generates a feeling and a vision of what it is you should consider. That’s where movies and TV shows come in handy. A vision of these brave men and women enduring the perils of war is a lighthearted way to help us both understand what was sacrificed and appreciate how others honor their memory.
Kick back, grab the remote, and get into these 10 best movies to watch for Memorial Day.
10. Flags of Our Fathers
By now, you have seen Joe Rosenthal’s iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of six Marines planting a flag at the summit of Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima. Arguably, this is the most recognized war photo in U.S. history. How did the Battle of Iwo Jima happen and how was that seminal moment in time captured? Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg unite forces to create one stellar vision when time stood still during World War II. Very underrated film and one to behold on Memorial Day.
The Civil War is a time that is often romanticized in this country for the wrong reasons. It was one of the darkest periods in American history. Did you know the Civil War had more U.S. causalities than any other? Ever? Close to 1.5 million Americans were injured or killed in action.
Few films or documentaries capture the strife, turmoil, and hidden issues of the War of Secession than Glory. A slave (Denzel Washington, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role), a gravedigger (Morgan Freeman), an officer (Cary Elwes), and the Colonel of the historic all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Matthew Broderick) are somehow intertwined into a tale of message and memoriam.
8. The Longest Day
Back in 1962, war was not only recent — it was in front of your face. Yet, not many touched upon World War II, probably because it was less than two decades removed. Yet, 20th Century Fox knew they had a script that was different. To this day, The Longest Day is still considered one of the most accurate portrayals of war — not because of the gruesome violence but the details.
When the Allies commenced with Operation: Overlord (aka. D-Day), few paid attention to the stories. They only wanted the ending. This movie investigates both the Allies and the Axis powers during the landings at Normandy. Two Oscars were earned by this movie — cinematography and effects. Those are the two you would expect for something that detailed. Go back in time this Memorial Day.
7. American Sniper
This is a film that personifies the reason for Memorial Day. This is a tribute to one of the greatest wartime veterans in U.S. history. U.S. Navy SEAL and the most lethal sniper the U.S. military has ever trained, Chris Kyle was a hero in every sense of the word and his life was taken from us in the same service as he lived — in the service of his fellow man.
Clint Eastwood directed Bradley Cooper in one of the greatest roles of his career. He was great because of the story, the direction, but also the man he portrayed. It’s a movie some people who served with him and knew the man still can’t see. They own the DVD as a memoir but they cherish the memories instead. You owe it to yourself to see this film and know why we call them “heroes.”
This is not only one of the best war movies, ever. AFI has it as one of its top 100 movies, ever. This is more of a movie of patriotism than of somber memory, but the man’s exploits, words, accomplishments, and even his discharge is enough to make you stand up for your country.
Just try to listen to that call to arms with Patton standing in front of that giant American flag and not get a wee bit prideful and feeling good to be in America during Memorial Day. This is truly a battle cry for how war is won and how movies are made. “God, help me. I do love it so.” Yes, George C. Scott. This is a film worthy of that quote.
Few films made about the merits of war have made veterans sit through rolling credits — not of remembrance, but of being transported in time. Oliver Stone relived his own experience overseas and dared to stare back in the face of the war few people wanted anything to do with in this country. He earned a Bronze Star. He may be a gifted storyteller, but he is a war hero, and this movie proves he left nothing behind. Actually, he — like the multiple thousands of veterans — brought it home with him.
He made a film that acted more of a cathartic documentary. The scenes of the Vietnam conflict are visceral. The music is gripping. The cruelty is real. And the story will make you think of the freedom many sacrificed for us to have and what you are doing with it in the first place.
4. The Hurt Locker
Ever heard of one of those jobs that “you couldn’t pay me to do”? I believe professional bomb diffuser in the military would be among those. It is probably one people couldn’t imagine was ever a real thing if it weren’t for this stirring film by Kathryn Bigelow. So stirring in fact that it won six Oscars.
The Iraq War is still one of the most misunderstood times of conflict in history because of all the rousing opinion about why we are there, what we are doing, and when it will end. For a soldier, it’s only a matter of going because you’re called. That’s what we discover in this movie — someone has to do it, and they do it for you.
P.S. Nerd flashbacks may happen for some who sees Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) acting with Anthony Mackie (Falcon) throughout this film.
3. Apocalypse Now
Like mentioned previously, Martin Sheen stars in a prolific movie that acts as a dialogue in the midst of war, rather than a movie about it. The movie was so profound that many people don’t know the name of a classical epic like “Flight of the Valkyries,” they just know the song Robert Duvall plays before he bombs the crap out of a countryside.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and featuring an all-star cast (Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Scott Glenn, and oh yeah, Marlon Brando), this is a film where the soundtrack is as haunting as the scenes it bolsters. No list of war movies are complete without this. No time of memory is either.
2. Born on the Fourth of July
Despite the nutbar Tom Cruise may be in real life, that man can act the words off any page. He plays an adrenaline junkie turned Marine named Ron Kovic who was paralyzed during his second tour during Vietnam. It took losing a part of himself to add to himself. It took going to war to learn about peace — in the world and within himself.
Sometimes, during times like Memorial Day, we aren’t just reminded about the souls we have lost, but also about what some souls who are with us and what they lost personally. There’s a reason Oliver Stone went back to the inkwell of war again — he had so much story to tell. That is what war does to those who bravely serve. And only a few can tell us what really happened so our memorials are earned.
1. Saving Private Ryan
The most visceral depiction in wartime history. Period. When Tom Hanks and those troops are shown landing on Normandy, we are swept away in a war we never knew. Then, we are taken on a journey to meet a person we’d never forget. That is the power of cinema and this film is among the most pristine of the craft.
People shown in this film, and the rest, volunteered to do the unthinkable — protect people they don’t know in a world to which they may never return. They are valiant. They are honorable. Saving Private Ryan captures the horror of war and everything they endure in the midst of it. A truly memorable experience to help us all on Memorial Day.