When we go to see newly-released films, we often want to see something that will make us laugh or at least be predictable.
The real world has enough unpredictable twists and turns, so seeing a straightforward movie that we know will have a “happy ending” is generally preferable. However, there are certain historical films that we need to watch at least once. The reasons can vary from we should be informed about our past to the films can help us better understand our current world.
The following list includes 10 historical films, starting with the most recent, that ought to be watched or re-watched in 2018.
1. Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” (2017)
I highly recommend that any aspiring journalist, like myself, go see “The Post” while it is still in theaters. The film follows Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper — The Washington Post. Set in the early 1970s, Graham and The Post’s editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) must decide whether or not they should publish the Pentagon Papers. The classified documents detail the U.S.’ controversial involvement in the Vietnam War. The government’s response toward The New York Times and The Washington Post’s publications highlights the importance of the First Amendment and freedom of the press.
“'In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.'”
2. Joe Wright’s “Darkest Hour” (2017)
Once the “Darkest Hour” can be streamed, I hope to see it both for Gary Oldman’s acclaimed performance and due to my interest in the era. The film takes place during the early 1940s when Winston Churchill (Oldman) is fresh into his role as Britain’s prime minister. The film depicts the growing governmental tensions as Nazi Germany spreads throughout Western Europe, and the United Kingdom is forced to hold its own or else risk defeat.
“You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”
3. David Mrnka’s “Milada” (2017)
I recently wrote a review encouraging people to watch the film “Milada,” and it is worthy of reiteration. The film is highly relevant in the context of the Time’s Up movement, given that Milada Horáková (Ayelet Zurer) was a fierce advocate for gender equality. Throughout the film, Horáková, with the support of her husband Bohuslav Horák (Robert Gant), strives to free Czechoslovakia from Communist rule.
“Is every woman with an opinion hysterical to you?”
4. Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” (2017)
“Dunkirk” is a film driven by action rather than dialogue, and for that reason it is a powerful testament to human will and perseverance. Although the characters are not personalized, it makes each of them more relatable since they represent human emotions. Additionally, as I mentioned in my film review, the actors performed in such an authentic way that they could be anyone; your brother, father or grandfather. More so, the lack of insight into their lives shows that World War II, and in particular Operation Dynamo, was bigger than any one person.
Commander Bolton: You can practically see it from here.
Captain Winnant: What?
Commander Bolton: Home.
5. Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” (2016)
“Hidden Figures” follows three black female mathematicians who worked behind-the-scenes at NASA during the Space Race. The film features real-life mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). Although they needed to overcome obstacles due to sex and race discrimination, the women were responsible for the successful landing of Friendship 7, and ought to be remembered in history for their previously overlooked accomplishments.
“I plan on being an engineer at NASA, but I can't do that without taking them classes at that all-white high school, and I can't change the color of my skin. So I have no choice, but to be the first, which I can't do without you, sir.”
6. Ryan Murphy’s “The Normal Heart” (2014)
After watching “The Normal Heart,” I developed a greater understanding of the severity of the HIV-AIDS crisis in the 1980s. An overlooked era of U.S. history, the film chronicles the lives of gay men in New York City from 1981 to 1984. During the time, writer/activist Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) and others formed a prominent HIV advocacy group, and sought to inform gay men of the dangers of the still unknown disease. Likewise, they strove to expose the gross negligence of Ronald Reagan’s administration in regards to their lack of acknowledgment of the crisis.
Ned Weeks: What exactly does your title mean in terms of our plague?
John Bruno: We prefer not to use negative terms. It only scares people.
Ned Weeks: Well, there's 3,339 cases so far and 1,122 dead. Sounds like a plague to me. I'm scared, aren't you?
7. Sean Mathias’ “Bent” (1997)
“Bent” is a must-see film because it portrays the experiences of homosexuals who were persecuted in Nazi Germany following the Night of the Long Knives. The persecution of homosexuals is overlooked when we study the targets of Nazi Germany. Additionally, the film highlights how courage can be found in being true to oneself and how it affects the protagonist.
“I love you ... What's wrong with that?”
8. Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” (1993)
I have watched “Schindler’s List” a couple of times over the years, and each time I get something new out of the film. The film follows Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who is a businessman that arrives in Krakow, Poland in 1939. At the film’s inception, he is opportunistic and employs Jewish workers in his factories to his own profit. However, as Polish Jews begin being deported to concentration camps, he bribes Nazi officials to spare many lives.
“It's Hebrew, it's from the Talmud. It says, ‘Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.’”
9. Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939)
The first time that I watched Capra’s film was for my history course, “The 1930s in America.” Recently, I watched the end of the film when I was home for the weekend, and I was amazed by the fantastic acting of James Stewart, who portrays Jefferson Smith. When Smith is appointed to the United States Senate, he has big ideas that he hopes will benefit young American boys. However, he quickly learns that there are members of the government who lack the morals and ethics that he grew up believing were commonplace. Ultimately, he is forced to defend his character before the Senate floor and his fellow Americans, and Stewart’s performance drives home the importance of ethics on every level.
“You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that.”
10. Archie Mayo’s “Black Legion” (1937)
Mayo’s film is another one that I watched in my course, “The 1930s in America.” It was easily my favorite film that we watched, and is incredibly relevant to our socio-political climate in the current-day United States. The film follows Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart) as he joins the Black Legion, a group branched off from the Ku Klux Klan that founds itself on anti-immigrant sentiments. As the film progresses, it shows white, midwestern men attacking those that they feel do not belong in “their” country. Reflecting on the xenophobic tone, it is eerily similar to the reports of New York scammers posing as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to steal money from individuals fearful of deportation.
“Furthermore, your idea of patriotism and Americanism is hideous to all decent citizens. It violates every protection guaranteed by the Bill of Rights contained in our constitution.”