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Best Memorial Day Movies

Memorial Day is not just a three-day holiday weekend. It’s also the time when we pause as a nation to remember the brave men and women who defend the United States, and risk life and limb to protect this country and its core freedoms. So, if the weather puts a damper on those outdoor plans this weekend, consider screening one of the following war movies, each of which puts a distinctive spin on a particular American war.

Glory (1989)

The Civil War rages once more in “Glory.”

Last spring marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War – the nation’s deadliest war. “Glory” is about human dignity as much as it about conflict, but that’s no slam against the film’s battle scenes, which chronicle the rifle-and-cannonball action seen by the Union’s first division of black troops. Hugely entertaining film with memorable performances from a dignified Morgan Freeman, a somber Matthew Broderick and (especially) Denzel Washington, as a runaway slave turned angry soldier…with a major score to settle.

The Dawn Patrol (1938)

Errol Flynn keeps the “lads” flying as a WWI commander in “The Dawn Patrol.”

Civil War Gen. Sherman famously said, “War is hell,” and many films have echoed that theme. Here’s one with a British accent. “The Dawn Patrol” tells the WWI story of an English aerial combat squad waging a seemingly endless air war against German fighter aces. British pilot Errol Flynn mocks his C.O., until he has to replace him. Suddenly, Flynn learns what it’s like to send young and inexperienced aviators to their deaths. Lots of aerial dogfights and camaraderie…plus the most rickety flying contraptions ever seen.

Patton (1970)

WWII from two different perspectives. “Patton” celebrates individual genius…

Maybe it’s unfair to pick two movies to represent WWII – but then again, it was a pretty big war. “Patton” celebrates individual genius, and how it contributed to the war effort, while “Saving Private Ryan” is about the collective sacrifice of battle and how soldiers unite to achieve the impossible. “Patton’s” opening scene will inspire you to battle, while the blood-and-thunder opening of “Saving Private Ryan” (i.e., the Omaha Beach landing on D-Day) will make you glad you weren’t there – but grateful that others were.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

…while war is a team effort in “Saving Private Ryan.”

Tom Hanks and Matt Damon starred in Steven Spielberg’s epic. The Omaha Beach scene cost $11 million and required more than 1,000 extras to shoot. The movie’s riveting early sequences capture what it was like to face the combat of D-Day from an almost video-game-like first-person perspective. The movie went on to influence other war filmmakers and even spawned the HBO television series, “Band of Brothers.”

M*A*S*H (1970)

The original Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper (Elliott Gould) play the Army for laughs in 1970′s “M*A*S*H.”

If you only know the TV show, it’s time you see why critics (and everyone else) got knocked for a loop by Robert Altman’s absurd take on American surgeons operating in an Army hospital during the Korean War. Whereas the show went first for broad laughs, then for a mix of comedy and social activism, the film has its own subversive vibe and crazy rhythm. No wonder it made stars of Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and many others. Bloody battlefield surgery collides with umpteen types of humor, and the war comedy is never the same again.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Here come the Americans.

Many films admirably portrayed the Vietnam War, but none captured the sheer confusion quite like Francis Ford Coppola’s war opus. “Apocalypse Now” is not just about the madness of a renegade colonel gone native, but also the insanity of trying to graft an American design for war on a country like Vietnam. A fool’s paradise of cinematic riches,  “Apocalypse Now” is a massive spectacle of a film, which nearly killed and bankrupted its makers. And its centerpiece – a dizzying helicopter assault on a coastal village (scored with opera, no less) – is still arguably the greatest battle scene in all of film.

Black Hawk Down (2001)

Although set in 1993 in Somalia, “Black Hawk Down” speaks to our current conflicts.

Modern warfare has gotten even more complicated than it was in ‘Nam. Ridley Scott’s re-enactment of all the various things that went wrong in 1993, when an American helicopter crew crash-landed in Somalia city streets, is terrifying even before the chopper is down and the crew is savagely overrun by violent locals. What happens next is a sobering look at the dangers faced by our military personnel everywhere the U.S. is not wanted. “Black Hawk Down” is the link to recent movies that deal with America’s ongoing wars.

This Memorial Day, the staff and instructors of Digital Media Academy applaud the service of America’s military personnel, no matter where they find themselves stationed during this holiday weekend. We also thank military families for the lifetime of sacrifices that they make on behalf of our nation.

Digital Media Academy was ranked the World’s Best Tech Camp in 2011.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

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