Tuesday, May 24, 2011

10 FAVORITES (35) - Silver Screen Soldiers

This week's 10 FAVORITES is something special, and not only because we are approaching a very special holiday (Memorial Day!), but this week I have a guest blogger (sort of).  For Memorial Day, I thought that this list's theme should revolve around Soldiers and how they fit into the compendium of our Pop Culture (i.e. TV, Film, etc.).  I was struck with the idea to list the best Soldier Movies of all-time, but there was one SNAFU: I am not a big fan of Soldier Movies.  Don't get me wrong, I love a well-formed story that revolves around any character or set of characters (Soldiers, included!), but when it comes to movies about war (and often the violence that inherently goes with war!) I believe Saving Private Ryan is really my only favorite (and that's really because of the talent involved!).  Beyond that, there are only a handful of movies (meaning like 5) that would qualify as my favorite Soldier Films.  So, for the list of 10 this week, I turned to one of the people I trust the most and the person who knows me better than anyone else in the world (mainly because he grew up with me!): My older brother!  He is a huge fan of Soldier Movies and has many favorites, but he had the task of whittling it down to 10 FAVORITES.  So let's go through what he came up with and what makes these films so distinctive:


Kelly's Heroes (1970)
One of the few war films that cleverly blends comedy, action and "buddy" tropes.  It is ably helped by a gifted ensemble that includes Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles and Telly Savalas (to name a few!).

Von Ryan's Express (1965)
Based on the novel by David Westheimer, this film was a critical and box-office success in 1965 starring the indomitable Frank Sinatra as an American pilot captured by Italian troops in World War II.  The film was noted in its time for using real military vehicles shot on location and its award-winning visual and sound effects (which in 1965 was trailblazing).

Gettysburg (1993)
If you want to see one dramatic representation of the immense tale that can be told about the Battle of Gettysburg, then you must see this film.  It is extremely comprehensive in its narrative (running over 4 hours!) and gives a graphic visual picture of a time we still today try to understand.  The film is powerfully and expertly cast with a dynamic ensemble that includes Tom Berenger (Platoon), Martin Sheen (The West Wing), Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) and Stephen Lang (Avatar).

The Longest Day (1962)
It was inevitable that Hollywood would try their hand at giving the world a dramatic interpretation of the D-Day Normandy landings.  20th Century Fox pulled out all the stops and hired an all-star cast (and I mean all-star!).  Among the many many names cast in this massive film (in either a large part or a cameo) include John Wayne, Sean Connery, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Rod Steiger, Robert Wagner, Robert Ryan, Roddy McDowall, Red Buttons, Peter Lawford, Richard Beymer, Sal Mineo and I could go on but I'm running out of room!

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
I've told you how I feel about this film.  When you add Steven Spielberg with Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, you get an amazing and poignant film that you will never forget.

Where Eagles Dare (1968)
This film is part "mission" movie (like Saving Private Ryan), part conspiracy-mystery film (like North By Northwest) and part buddy-buddy movie (like Lethal Weapon).  Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood star in this critically-acclaimed film about soldiers on a mission to save an imprisoned officer from the German SS.  Burton delivers an (as usual) fantastic performance as a British officer that makes it his business to hide the truth at every corner.

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece is one that must be (and has been) studied in film classes all over.  His re-imagining of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness set amidst the "horrors" of the Vietnam War is considered by many to be the ultimate in storytelling.  Featuring an A-list cast that includes Martin Sheen (in a role that almost killed him), Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall (in a scene-stealing Oscar-nominated performance as a "napalm-loving" Sargeant).

The Great Escape (1963)
It is the ultimate Prisoner of War movie (sorry to that John McCain film!).  The cast (which includes Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner and Charles Bronson) is brilliant and the music (that unforgettable theme!) is perfect.  This Soldier Film would have no problem being in my handful of favorites.

The Dirty Dozen (1967)
For its time, this was considered one of the most violent of war films (at a time when other violent films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch were massive hits).  Lee Marvin (everyone's favorite old codger) plays a tough-talking Army Major who must command a rag-tag bunch of felonious soldiers through a dangerous and top secret mission.  The film's plot has become so iconic and has been parodied left and right in other films and various TV shows (like The Simpsons).

The Guns of Navarone (1961)
Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean (who wrote the screenplay and novel of Where Eagles Dare), this film has become one of my brother's all-time favorites (Seriously, I think it would be in his Top 20).  The story follows an Allied commando team that tries to destroy a German fortress along the Aegean Sea.  The cast is led by a top-form Gregory Peck and a steely cool David Niven (plus it includes a bravura-over-the-top performance from Anthony Quinn).

Glory (1989)
Edward Zwick has directed his share of powerful and poignant films over the years (Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, etc.), but none of them have touched the magnitude that is Glory.  Told from the point of view of the legendary Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (dynamically played by Matthew Broderick), it tells the tale of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which was the first official regiment to accept black soldiers.  The movie has an amazing story to tell with a great ensemble cast that includes Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes and (in his Oscar-winning supporting role) Denzel Washington.

A special shout out of thanks to my big brother for sharing his favorite Soldier Films with me (and by extension, this blog!).  And, in honor of Memorial Day, a special thanks to all the Soldiers (past, present and future) out there for all they do in the name of their country.  We shall think of you this upcoming weekend and always!

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