It's an unusual holiday, Memorial Day is. It's about recognizing sacrifice and loss and grief rather than celebrating achievement.
Besides paying tribute to men and women who have died in war, Memorial Day has always been a harbinger of the beginning of summer. It's a day for outdoor activities, both solemn and festive, in most of the country. In Florida, of course, summer is usually a time for spending more time indoors, not outdoors.
You can stay in the air-conditioned coolness of your home and still pay tribute to women and men who sacrificed their lives for the rest of us.
Toward that end, here are just a few great movies that can help make for a great and appropriate Memorial Day.
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"Glory": A phenomenal film with a great cast and a fact-based Civil War story of unimaginable honor and bravery. Memorial Day was invented to honor our Civil War dead, and this is one of the greatest Civil War films ever. Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman give some of the best performances of their careers.
"The Longest Day": If not the greatest World War II film ever, certainly the most epic, with a cast of a thousand stars, from Paul Anka to John Wayne. It took five directors to make this three-hour film that details the D-Day invasion from the fighting man's perspective.
"Tora! Tora! Tora!": A complicated and distinctive look at the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that looks at both sides. It puts at least some of the blame on American politicians and top brass, which makes the terror and the loss of American lives all the more tragic.
"Saving Private Ryan": Steven Spielberg's great World War II film beautifully handles both the sweeping epic nature of mega-battles, with its jarring and lengthy depiction of the Normandy Invasion, and the intimate personal relationships among soldiers.
"Coming Home": An anti-war film, certainly, but one that shows how much Vietnam military people sacrificed -- even those who didn't die in battle. Jon Voight's character is based on Ron Kovic, the same veteran that Tom Cruise played in "Born on the Fourth of July." Notable for employing many actually disabled Vietnam vets in small roles who improvise scenes in which they talk about the war.
"Flags of Our Fathers": It's difficult to name any film as Clint Eastwood's "best" as a director, but this account of American heroism during the battle of Iwo Jima has to be a contender. Its sibling film, "Letters From Iwo Jima": details the same events from the Japanese side. They're both great films, but this is the one to choose for Memorial Day viewing.
Finally, a few films that didn't quite make the list: "Paths of Glory," certainly a powerful tribute to soldiers' sacrifice, but the soldiers aren't American so it's not ideal for Memorial Day; "Born on the Fourth of July," which didn't make the list because "Coming Home" did; and "The Big Red One," a strong film that spans both world wars, reportedly better in its 'restored" version with lots of material that was cut for the theatrical release.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.