Today is Veteran's Day. It is a time when we step back for a moment to honor the bravery and sacrifices of our nation's soldiers. Men and women who give everything, up to and including their lives, all in the name of protecting this country and all that it represents. Also known as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day in other parts of the world, the holiday always falls on November 11, commemorating the anniversary of the 1918 armistice that brought an end to World War I.
The history of film is rife with stories pulled straight from the front lines. War stories make great cinema, both because they serve up gripping tales of heroism and because they honor those who take on such acts in the real world. So today, in honor of the veterans from wars past and wars ongoing, we give you this small selection of classics to spend some time with. It isn't an "all time" picks list; just some suggestions. And make sure you click the pic at the top of the post to check out our Veteran's Day photo gallery for some cool vintage stills.
"Saving Private Ryan"
It's not a true Veteran's Day movie marathon without Steven Spielberg's World War II-set classic, "Saving Private Ryan." Tom Hanks stars as Captain John Miller, an Army Ranger who survives the storming of the beaches at Normandy in 1944 only to be sent with his squad off into dangerous territory to retrieve the young Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), who gets a free pass to go home after his three brothers fall at earlier points in the war. It's an all-too-realistic, if occasionally melodramatic, look at the grim realities of America's entrance into World War II.
"Band of Brothers"
If "Saving Private Ryan" can be said to have a sequel, "Band of Brothers" is it. Produced by Spielberg and Hanks as a 10-episode miniseries for HBO, the story follows the soldiers of Easy Company, of the US Army 101st Airborne division, during World War II. It runs through their training and first experiences on the ground in Europe all the way through to the end of the war. Everything you see is based on actual events, with each episode opening on newly recorded talking head interview snippets featuring the actual soldiers depicted in the series. An extraordinary work of fiction/non-fiction, and superior to "Private Ryan" in every way.
It was a toss-up on this list, between "Platoon" and Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket." Oliver Stone's Vietnam-era classic won out in the end because it is so frequently overshadowed by Kubrick's masterwork. This is an incredible war movie, based in part on Stone's own experiences as an infantryman. The story focuses on Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), a young newcomer to a seasoned squad of soldiers in Vietnam. As the green recruit tries to acclimate amidst a group who know brotherhood through the risks they've shared, he comes to know an uglier side of the war as divisions rear up from within.
"The Hurt Locker"
Veteran's Day isn't only about honoring heroes of past wars. The United States has been embroiled in an ongoing conflict for a debatable number of years, and young soldiers are still fighting overseas to this day. Earlier this year, Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq War-set action/thriller "The Hurt Locker" hit theaters, with high praise following behind it. The story follows a bomb disposal unit in a war zone which is notorious for IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices which can be disguised to look like something as innocuous as roadside trash. It doesn't matter if you're running headlong into heavy enemy fire along the northern coast of France or carefully, ever-so-carefully pulling apart a homemade explosive: either way, you're a hero.
Veteran's Day is a day for solemn remembrance, yes, but that doesn't mean you can't insert a little levity into your memorializing. "Stripes," directed by Ivan Reitman, is just what you need. Starring Bill Murray and Harold Ramis in their pre-"Ghostbusters" life as misfit new recruits, the story follows them from basic training to Cold War-era Europe, where playful hijinx very nearly trigger an international incident. As with most comedies, it's all about the performances. There are some memorable ones here from the stars, as well as John Candy, John Larroquette and Warren Oates.