To all of the men and women in uniform, we here at Screencrush wish you a Happy Memorial Day. Please know that your daily sacrifices are truly and deeply appreciated by each and every one of us, even those who spend their days sitting on the couch watching TV and movies and not protecting the free world. Since chances are strong that you have the day off, how about a movie marathon? Considering the reason for your day off, how about a thematically appropriate movie marathon? Here are our suggestions for what to watch.
One of many World War II films produced while the war was still in progress, 'Sahara' may be an American propaganda film at its core, but that doesn't stop it from being an absolutely riveting watch that'll have you fist-pumping the air. The great Humphrey Bogart stars as the commander of a tank crew who find themselves stranded in the desert after a German bombing run. They team up with other stragglers (a motley crew of international soldiers, ranging from British to Sudanese) and the ragtag allies soon find themselves in defense of the only water source for hundreds of miles...with a much larger German force right at their doorstep. 'Sahara' is an exciting (if not particularly deep) film, anchored by the typically phenomenal Bogart. Although the film was made to energize audiences during wartime, that energy translates perfectly to a modern setting.
Although the TV miniseries 'Band of Brothers' may offer the definitive depiction of the Siege of Bastogne during World War II's Battle of the Bulge, the Oscar-winning 'Battleground' is noteworthy for being the first film about one the most brutal engagements in the entire war. Made only four years after the war's conclusion, the film is about as far from the propaganda-heavy 'Sahara' as you can get, focusing on just how terrifying and difficult the life of a soldier truly is. It all makes sense when you look at the credits: director William Wellman was a World War I veteran and screenwriter Robert Pirosh (who won an Academy Award for his work here) was a World War II vet. Both of them knew just how devastating war can be and they tell this story with authenticity, care and total respect for the men who died at Bastogne.
Sometimes, you just want to watch a bunch of evil Nazis get what's coming to them. In 'Where Eagles Dare,' you get to see a truly ridiculous number of Nazis meet their maker at the hands of one of the most badass duos in film history: Clint Eastwood (the strong, silent American commando) and Richard Burton (the charming, roguish British agent). The two of them lead a team to infiltrate a German-held castle in the Alps and rescue a captured American general. They leave behind a body count that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger's John Matrix rethink his career. 'Where Eagles Dare' is one of the best action films of the 1960s and while it doesn't have the realism that makes 'Battleground' so powerful, it has plenty of Clint Eastwood unloading machine guns into hordes of the 20th century's greatest villainous force. What more could you ask for, really?
What more can be said about 'Saving Private Ryan' that hasn't already been said? Easily one of Steven Spielberg's greatest movies (which is high praise in of itself), the film won five Oscars and forever changed the way cinema depicted the harsh realities of war. Although the opening D-Day sequence (still chilling and horrifying all these years later) remains the highlight, the rest of the film is truly underrated, a modern take on the classic "Men on a Mission" subgenre. Although the film's final sentimental moments remain controversial among film buffs, it's impossible to deny the respect that Spielberg (and the film) have for the men and women in uniform.
'Inglourious Basterds,' in addition to being an absolute blast, is a movie that's well aware of the history of WWII films. In fact, it feels very much like 'Sahara' in that it wouldn't be out of place if it was made in 1943 as a morale-boosting film. Like so many of the films actually made during the war, it's not beholden to actual history and does whatever it wants, no matter how much it contradicts what really happened. As a thematic recreation of films of the era, 'Inglourious Basterds' proves fascinating. However, it's other cousin is probably 'Where Eagles Dare' because writer/director Quentin Tarantino is well-aware of just how satisfying it is to watch Hitler get his butt handed to him.
As you've probably noticed, every other film on this list has been a World War II movie. Since it's the last war that everyone in the world agrees was fought for just reasons, it easily lends itself to great stories of Good vs. Evil. However, war in the real world is built on shades of gray. 'Restrepo' is a powerful documentary about troops in Afghanistan that was made by two filmmakers who actually risked life and limb to embed themselves with the soldiers (one of them, Tim Hetherington, was killed a year after the film's release). It's not an easy film to watch, but it's a film that must be watched. No news report can ever properly depict the hardships that go with serving in a warzone and no fictional film can truly capture the sacrifices that these young men and women are making on a daily basis. 'Restrepo' is a 93 minute reality check, a heartbreaking reminder of what we ask our soldiers to do.