50 Viewing Choices for Memorial Day


In no particular order, here are 50 films and television events that are worth your time and which to one degree of realism or another, honor the sacrifice we remember today:

Saving Private Ryan

Besides bringing the sights and sounds of war to the screen like no other film, this movie asks the audience what they have done with their lives to make such sacrifice worthwhile

The Great Escape

The most entertaining war movie of all time, with the greatest cast.

Blackhawk Down

Battle scenes only surpassed by Saving Private Ryan, this film illustrates the esprit de corps of the American soldier like few other films.

Casablanca

Okay, it might not be about a soldier—though you could say it’s about the recruiting of one—but it is the greatest movie ever made, and it’s a call to resist tyranny.

The Dam Busters

A superb retelling of the greatest air strike of all time, incredible special effects for its time.

The Story of Gl Joe

From Ernie Pyle’s dispatches, features a great Robert Mitchum performance and a realistic grunt’s-eye view of war.

The Deer Hunter

Everyone focuses on the Russian roulette scenes, but few American films portray who fights our wars and how their towns deal with it like The Deer Hunter.  Note how the hometown people great their warriors when they return and how they send them off.  There is no moral equivalence between the Americans and the communists–Michael, the protagonist puts himself between danger and his friends at every turn, which the communist forces commit beastly atrocities.  Liberal critics read irony into the singing of “God Bless America” at the end, but the actors play it heartfelt and it made me bawl like a baby.

Patton

The best biography of an American warrior ever.  Period.

Sergeant York

Gary Cooper’s Oscar winning performance as the Quaker sharpshooter who became America’s greatest WWI hero gets the A-list Howard Hawks treatment in this winning film.

We Were Soldiers

The true story of the first big battle of the Vietnam war is magnificently filmed, yet intimate in its story of war both on the battlefield and at home.

The Caine Mutiny

One of Humphrey Bogart’s great performances.  Pay close attention to Jose Ferrer’s closing comment on the men we count on to keep us safe in peace time.

They Were Expendable

John Ford’s tribute to PT boat crews is one of the first realistic WWII movies, taking place when the outcome was very much in doubt.  A great film, overlooked by many.

Gettysburg

Sure, it’s long.  But the battle at Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge are well worth it, as are some moving scenes that remind us that in many cases close friends were on opposite lines facing each other.  Jeff Daniels leads a great cast.

To Hell and Back

Audie Murphy plays himself and recreates his Medal of Honor heroics.

30 Seconds over Tokyo

The Doolittle Raid, very well told, even if the Japanese enemy is a bit over the top.

Sahara

Humphrey Bogart and a tank crew stranded in the desert behind enemy lines.

Bridge on the River Kwai

David Lean’s best “big” movie. Most known for Alex Guiness’s portrayal of an officer who lets personal ambition get in the way of the objective, but still has heroic turns by William Holden and Jack Hawkins as the commandoes sent to destroy the bridge.

Back to Bataan

The best of John Wayne’s wartime propaganda-tinged films, though Flying Tigers, and The Fighting Seabees are well worth your time as well.

The Cruel Sea

Classic British film about the dangerous—and freezing—convoys to Russia in WWII.

Sands of Iwo Jima

Do I even need to say why?  One of the Duke’s best performances.

Run Silent, Run Deep

The best film about American submariners.

Heaven Knows Mr. Allison

Marine Robert Mitchum and nun Deborah Kerr are stranded on a Japanese occupied island in the South Pacific.  Even better than it sounds.

The Longest Day

The best of the Big Hollywood treatments of a Big Battle.  Unfairly panned in some circles.  Far better than Battle of the Bulge and other similar films.

The Big Red One/A Walk in the Sun

Two classic looks at a combat unit slogging its way across Europe in WWII, both films were likely big influences on Saving Private Ryan.

Best Years of Our Lives

WWII vets return home and try to adjust to civilian life.  A deeply moving and perfect film for Memorial Day.

Twelve O’ Clock High

General Gregory Peck struggles with sending bomber crews out to the slaughter of daylight bombing before the P-51 started providing fighter escorts all the way to the target.

The Patriot

Rousing Revolutionary War drama, far more historically defensible than some critics tried to portray it.

Glory

Suffers from Edward Zwick’s usual Big Event direction, but still a potent drama of a black unit fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War.

Three Kings

In the Gulf War, a group of vets set out to steal Saddam’s gold, but ultimately, like the Magnificent Seven, their better instincts take over as they protect a village from the savage Revolutionary Guards.

Von Ryan’s Express

Frank Sinatra is great as an American airman who buts heads with Brit Trevor Howard as leads his POW camp out of Italy in the chaos between the Italian surrender and the Germans retaking control of the front.

Friendly Persuasion

Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire shine as Quakers caught up in the Civil War.  A classic American film that needs to be rediscovered by modern audiences.

Operation Crossbow

A huge cast tries to stop German rockets from falling on England in a rousing mix of fact and fiction.

Guadalcanal Diary

Anthony Quinn is terrific in this surprisingly realistic look at the famous battle, made in 1943, only a year later.

Stalag 17

The humor seemed edgier in the 1950s, but this Billy Wilder classic is still one of the greats.

The Password is Courage

The true story of Charley Coward who actually ran an intelligence ring out of a POW camp.  Hoooogan!

The Colditz Story

Nearly as entertaining as The Great Escape, the true story of what happened when the Germans gathered all their most incorrigible Allied POWs in one place to control them better.

Reach for the Sky

Seek out this great British bio pic of Douglas Bader, a pilot who loses his legs in an accident, then becomes on of the greatest Spitfire aces of the war—and even manages to escape a German prison camp, ultimately sent to Colditz Castle as one of the incorrigibles.

The Guns of Navarone

Pure impossible mission action heroics don’t get any better than this, as a great cast led by Gregory Peck actually improves on Alistair MacLean’s greatest novel.

Where Eagles Dare

Yes, it’s over the top, but Alistair MacLean’s effort to recapture the magic of Navarone nearly succeeds and is great fun.

The Dirty Dozen

Lee Marvin and a great cast in a slightly cynical but rousing action film.

Inglorious Basterds

This modern Dirty Dozen has about as much regard for WWII history as The Good the Bad and the Ugly does to the Civil War, but it’s just pure cinematic wish fulfillment on a grand scale.

Band of Brothers

The standard by which war miniseries are measured.

The Pacific

Overcrticized because of producer Tom Hank’s stupid comments, and comparisons to Band of Brothers, this is still a major achievement, and shows the hardship of the island war against the Japanese like no other film.

Winds of War/War and Remembrance

The grandaddy of WWII big TV productions is a bit soapy and grandiose but a pretty good overall picture of the war

Liberty!

PBS turned Thomas Fleming’s book into an excellent overview of the Revolutionary War.

Ken Burns’ The Civil War

Whatever its flaws, this is still PBS’s greatest achievement

Taking Chance

Watching this HBO film about a soldier escorting a fallen comrade’s body across America is an overwhelmingly emotional experience.  The perfect Memorial Day tribute.

Das Boot

Yes, it’s about the enemy, but it’s also at it’s core an anti-Nazi film—not to mention one of the greatest war movies ever.  Besides, the German Navy was probably the most resistant of the German armed forces to Nazism.

Now, what do you think I missed?  Have at it.