Top Ten Memorial Day Movies

patton2There aren’t any war movies this Memorial Day, unless you like superheroes fighting each other, but there are movie staples of the Memorial Day Genre (my patent pending), which are essential viewing on your TV screen.  There might be dozens upon dozens of war movies in existence and you might even glimpse some of them as you scan the channels this holiday, but I’ll bet there are a few gems way more inspirational and way more emotional than any of the others.  The purpose of Memorial Day is to remind us of the sacrifice of others, and I’d like my favorite Memorial Day movies to do that, I think.

10.  Patton (1970) – There are plenty of war movies about the politics or about military men but most of the best Memorial Day movies actually show war.  But Patton deals with politics AND war, so you get the best of both worlds.  George C. Scott’s performance is legendary.  Some parts of the movie are haunting and emotional, as Patton recalls war and its influence on the landscape.

9.  Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) – This movie or maybe Midway (1976) are maybe my favorite procedural war movies.  Most of the interest in this movie is because of the cast and because of the scenes of planning done by the leaders.  I think movies like this typified the genre so much that they stopped making them.  Guys planning the war over a big map was defined by these movies, and is today only part of an adventure movie as a stereotype.

8.  Full Metal Jacket (1987) – Like George C. Scott, Lee Ermey’s performance as the drill sergeant is legendary.  It’s really the highlight of the movie.  The direction by Stanley Kubrick and the details are the other reasons.  This movie borders on a tale about brainwashing, which ends badly for Lee Ermey’s character and several others.

7.  Born on the Fourth of July (1989) – I’m not sure who did a better job in this movie, Tom Cruise or Oliver Stone.  Or maybe the script writer.  They’re all good.  It strikes an emotional cord against war, not for it, and doesn’t show any battles or strategy or anything like that. The subject of this movie is Vietnam, so war is a bad thing, and we see how it affects the characters psychologically and physically.  Tom Cruise didn’t win at the Academy Awards for his performance, but the nomination is justified.

6.  Saving Private Ryan (1998) – Honestly, I don’t like this film, but it deserves to be here.  It’s just not a pleasant movie.  It’s got a depressing and moody tone, like Born on the Fourth of July, but worse.  Now we’re in the middle of the war (again) and we see some bad things happen to good people, so I guess the movie is about sacrifice in the face of the horrors of war.  I think the movie creators actually create good people to tear them down.  I can’t watch the death of Private Mellish without cringing or turning away.  

5.  Flags of Our Fathers (2006) – This film is based on a best-selling book.  I’m not sure which has a better script, this movie or Letters from Iwo Jima, both directed by Clint Eastwood.  I think maybe this one has the better characters, while Iwo Jima has the better plot and story.  Flags of Our Fathers certainly is sad and depressing, which seems to be a common theme on this list.  This movie isn’t as anti-war as Born on the Fourth of July, but only one of the characters ends up successful in life.  Pretty sad.

apoc24.  Apocalypse Now (1979) – This film is on this list because of the cinematography.  It’s not on the list because of the plot, which is quite plodding and slow in places.  I think I like Platoon a lot better because of the pace of that movie, but Apocalypse Now certainly wins over every movie on this list in the mood department.  The mood and the atmosphere are perfect in re-creating Vietnam. 

3.  Paths of Glory (1957) – Stanley Kubrick creates an almost perfect movie.  The subject becomes a perfect opportunity to contrast human beliefs against an emotional situation.  Kirk Douglas is also perfect in this movie, as Colonel Dax.  He’s in every scene, almost.  His walk down the trenches is the best part of this movie, even though it has no dialogue.  He’s in a hopeless situation and you’d think he’d show more frustration, but Douglas shows more sadness than anger.

2.  Platoon (1986) – Platoon is another Oliver Stone movie which shows the emotion in war.  It also shows men being pushed over the edge, which is different from most movies on this list.  Again, actually BEING in the situation with the men gives us the opportunity to see this happen.  It works.  This movie won Best Picture at the Academy Awards for that reason.

  1.  Glory (1989) – Glory is a great movie with great characters.  It doesn’t actually show a lot of the horrors of war on-screen, so it’s on television a lot more than movies like Apocalypse Now, which I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.  It does show discrimination and injustice, which is different, at least.  Every man in the film seems to die honorably.  You feel for them.  The score composed by James Horner is also better than any film on this list, and the ringing song of the boys’ choir is amazing.