Reading time: 6 minutes
By Michael Vecchio
Saving Private Ryan (1998) Dir. Steven Spielberg
Surely amongst the first titles to come to mind if asked to name a World War II movie, Saving Private Ryan is yet another Steven Spielberg masterwork, that more than any other film celebrates the bond of brotherhood.
It is a film that intelligently features a wide range of emotions and moods; from its unflinching and grisly opening 30 minutes (sequences continually held to this day as amongst the most immersive and brutal ever made), to the quiet moments of camaraderie between the squad of US Rangers, it is shows that solders are seldom concerned with who killed the most enemy soldiers. Instead, it is that even through the immense trauma that is warfare, the bonds of affection and love may see us through.
Winner of five Academy Awards (including Spielberg’s second for Best Director) and selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, Saving Private Ryan is a complete and heartfelt embrace of the Greatest Generation. It honours the tremendous sacrifice made by all who served to protect the ever-elusive dream of freedom.
The Founder (2016)- Dir. John Lee Hancock
The Founder is a fascinating and entertaining film that has given a rare spotlight on the history of one of the most enduring symbols of modern Americana. We all know McDonald’s, but few of us will know of its intriguing history, that may be more appetizing for some then the food on its menu.
In 1954, traveling salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) zigzagged across the United States attempting to sell various items with varying degrees of success. It was not however until he sold eight milkshake makers to a pair of entrepreneurial brothers in California that he would seal his fate forever.
Richard and Maurice McDonald had revolutionized the burger market with their exceptionally fast service, quality food at a cheap price (a hamburger, fries and a Coke sold for 35 cents!) and ingenious vision into cost reduction. To say that the original McDonald’s restaurant was a miracle would be an understatement, and with the savvy and determined Kroc now privy to their enterprise it would not be long before the local wonder the brothers created would become a global phenomenon.
Ultimately however this story is more than just a look at how a small burger joint in San Bernardino, California ended up serving over 99 billion. It is about the risks, the lows, and the joys that come with creating something new and knowing who to trust and when. And the three men who learned that the hard way.
Milk (2008)- Dir. Gus van Sant
The worldwide movement for gay rights has long been a slow and often difficult course. Yet despite all the obstacles, the recognition and promotion of the LGBT community has grown enormously in the last 50 years.
In the context of the United States, there is perhaps no more significant cultural figure in the fight for gay equality than that of Harvey Milk, the activist and politician who was assassinated in 1978. Harvey’s life story and subsequent election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was movingly dramatized in the 2008 film Milk.
Harvey Milk was both assertive and still plagued with doubts and for his lead performance, Sean Penn would win the Academy Award for Best Actor; indeed throughout his life Harvey Milk was always steadfast in his belief that American society could change, and yet the hurdles that presented themselves would plant seeds of hopelessness in all who fought for greater rights.
Milk is an emotional, inspiring, and informative work of cinema that rightfully spotlights the struggle faced by the gay community (and that is still prevalent today) and the paladin of their cause. A man named Harvey Milk, who ultimately became a martyr of sorts and forever sparked a greater acceptance of those who were so long repressed.
Quiz Show (1994)- Dir. Robert Redford
Game shows have been extremely popular in the Western world, especially in the United States since their inception with the dawn of television over 60 years ago; with titles like Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (among many others) game shows are often viewed as both fun and informative for the entire family. But what if the outcomes of the games you loved were predetermined or fixed?
Thus the premise of director Robert Redford’s Quiz Show. Chronicling the real-life scandal revealed between 1956 and 1958, several contestants on numerous game shows were exposed as having been given correct answers and later forced to throw matches. Broadcasters like NBC were implicated, and prominent game show champions like Herb Stempel (Golden Globe nominated John Turturro) and Charles Van Doren were publicly disgraced for their complicity in the scheme.
The revelations led to investigations and testimony before the United States Congress, and laws were passed to ensure stricter enforcement of integrity on any publicly broadcast television competition.
Intriguing, dramatic and with a keen eye for the time period, Quiz Show was nominated for Best Picture and Director at the Academy Awards, and effectively illuminates a lesser-known chapter in the history of American television.
The Assassination of Jesse James, by the coward Robert Ford (2007)- Dir. Andrew Dominik
The Western is an undoubted staple of cinema; with its clearly defined heroes and villains, wide and desolate vistas, and thrilling horse chases and gunfights, it is not difficult to see why the genre has captivated generations of viewers. And yet for all its thrills, the Western has not always been totally historically accurate. Indeed many films are fictional and only loosely based on reality.
Australian director Andrew Dominik aimed to produce a different kind of Western film with The Assassination of Jesse James, by the coward Robert Ford. It is a movie that contained all the elements of the classics, but that anchored itself around true history. Starring Brad Pitt as the infamous outlaw Jesse James (1847-1882), the film follows the string of train robberies and other crimes by the James Gang, while a new recruit, Robert Ford, is secretly planning to collect the bounty on Jesse’s head.
Because of the knowledge of events to come (the title itself revealing as much), there is little element of surprise to the film, yet Dominik still manages to create tension and a sense of uncertainty. How will the titular assassination occur and when? Through commendable performances by both Pitt and Casey Affleck and a wonderful sense of time and place, the movie also asks the question: who is the villain and who is the hero? Filmed on location in Western Canada, The Assassination of Jesse James, by the coward Robert Ford, is a methodical and thought-provoking Western that also provides plenty of historical intrigue.