In observance of Memorial Day, here are some viewing suggestions.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Dir. William Wyler
Three World War II veterans return home and have trouble adjusting to civilian life. Each man faces a personal crisis and struggles to pick up his relationships. In many respects, The Best Years of Our Lives was ahead of its time with its nuanced take on the lasting effects of war.
Dir. Franklin J. Schaffner
Patton was a biographical picture about General George Patton,
focusing on his campaigns in North Africa and Europe during World War
II. Patton was a colorful and controversial figure and the film
explores his complicated legacy with intelligence and nuance. The movie
opens with a speech that has become one of the most iconic moments in
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Adapted from Joseph Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now tells the story of Captain Willard, a soldier who is sent on a classified mission to assassinate a US army colonel who has gone insane deep within the south east Asian jungle. In the course of his journey, Willard confronts his own doubts about the war and the film descends into the roots of human violence.
Top Gun (1986)
Dir. Tony Scott
One of the most popular military films—both among the general movie-going public and among military recruiters—was 1986’s Top Gun. One of the essential titles of the 1980s, Top Gun
was a huge hit that established Tom Cruise as a movie star. This story
of elite fighter pilots was also extraordinarily successful as a
recruitment film and many young filmgoers enlisted in the United States
Air Force following its release.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick is not necessarily renowned for his humor but if you are tuned into Kubrick’s mordant sense of the absurd, Full Metal Jacket
is one of the funniest war films ever made. Set in the Vietnam era,
the first half of the movie takes place at the Parris Island Marine
Corp training camp and the second half occurs amid the 1968 Tet
Offensive. Kubrick’s vision of humanity is sardonic and bleak and Full Metal Jacket makes an interesting companion piece to Dr. Strangelove.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Dir. Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film Saving Private Ryan was widely
praised at the time of its release for the opening sequence that
re-creates the D-Day invasion at Normandy. This movie redefined the
visual style of the war film and the gritty handheld cinematography and
the intense violence of the D-Day scene have been frequently imitated.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
Dir. Terrence Malick
Released the same year as Saving Private Ryan, Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line was an adaptation of James Jones’ novel. Malick’s movies are less stories and more cinematic poems and The Thin Red Line is a mediation on combat, meaning, and mortality set during the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II. The Thin Red Line got lost in the hoopla over Saving Private Ryan but it’s a beautifully made movie.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Dir. Ridley Scott
Following the lead of Saving Private Ryan, Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down
applied the same gritty style to a dramatic retelling of the 1993
firefight between American soldiers and Somalian militants. The movie is
an intense and bloody affair and at the time of its release it was
controversial with detractors arguing that it dehumanized Somalians and
simplified a complex situation.
Dir. Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington
One of the finest films about the Afghanistan conflict and modern combat, Restrepo is a documentary that was filmed among the soldiers of Second Platoon, Battle Company during their fifteen-month deployment in the Korengal Valley. The movie brings the viewer into the daily life of soldiers in the field while also documenting the strategy of that time.
War Machine (2017)
Dir. David Michod
Playing as a mashup of the feature film Patton and the television show Veep, this film is a sometimes absurd take on the war in Afghanistan. Based on the book The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan by Michael Hastings, War Machine is a fictionalized tale of the commanding general and his frustrated efforts to win the war.