Welcome to my reviews of the top five movies of all time, according to me. The truth is the top five is really about whatever you think, and whatever works for you. Movies are no different. There are films I don’t like that critics do (Driving Miss Daisy). And there are films that critics loathe and gets awards for worst movie of the year, and I actually kind of enjoy (Hudson Hawk). I realize that some of that is all about expectations. When everyone likes something and you watch it, sometimes it cannot live up to expectations. And sometimes when everyone hates something, you are pleasantly surprised because it’s not as bad as you thought. And while I am definitely not going to be putting Hudson Hawk on any ten best list, at any time, it does give on perspective about what you think about a movie. (Although if you put Pink Flamingos on a best list, despite respecting John Waters as an auteur, I am going to give you a wide birth, and really wonder about you if you like chicken.) While I try to give a good analysis, this list is ultimately about my perspective. So here you are getting a list of what I think.
And on that note, I am going to repeat that once again, for those of you new to my reviews for my top five, I am plagiarizing myself. I know. Please get off the floor. Banging your head against wood flooring cannot be good for your health. And if you find a doctor who says so . . . I think a second opinion is called for. Just saying. I had another blog that I did just film reviews on. It didn’t last long. So given the Academy Award season (do I have a right to call it a season?), I figured I would use some blogs I have made in the past and bring them over to this blog. I repeat. This is not a film review blog. It’s a parenting blog, who occasionally reviews things that or relevant, or not so relevant. I enjoy the writing, and for those who have read in the past, I always throw in new commentary. Because I can. And because I like to laugh at myself. Who takes themselves seriously all the time?
With that in mind, I come to the number two movie on my list. Originally told from one to five, now told from five to one. (Maybe I will get the hang of this blogging thing yet.) Enjoy my second favorite movie of all time . . .
Day 2 – Glory
(Ok, I keep flipping back and forth between this one and my number one selection, and I am sticking it an number two here. I do have the right to change my mind. Sometimes.)
My Big Admission
(Wait for it. Wait for it.) I have to admit at the beginning of the article today that I am a Civil War fan. This isn’t to say that I am a fan of war. (People who are fans of war have problems. Serious. Psychological. Problems.) And this isn’t to say that I think even what we consider to be just wars are good. War is a terrible thing, even when they are done for the best of reasons. War should never be a first response. It should only be the response when all other options seem to have failed us. (Now that I have that out of the way, I will step down from my soapbox) I am also not the kind of person who has gone to Civil War Reenactments, or any reenactment for that matter. While I do think dressing up in period costume is cool, I am not always sure of the purpose of the people putting them on, unless for historical study. (Or because Cosplay is cool. I didn’t write this that long ago. And somehow I thought dress-up wasn’t cool?!?! I guess I have to give up my cool parent card now.)
But I have been a Civil War history nut since I was 10 years old. When I was 10 I went to the school library and picked up a large history book of the Civil War. (Because that’s the kind of crazy I am.) It contained information on each and every battle, troupe movements, and the generals who were in command. It put each battle in context of the larger civil war itself. I was enthralled. I wanted to learn each and every thing I could about the era as possible. I wanted to learn about the time period, from the History of Slavery, to the onset of the Civil War, to the Emancipation Proclamation and beyond. I wanted to learn it all. (I sound strange. Hmmmmm….. Carry on!) And when I was 10 I knew just about as much as any 10 year old possibly could about the War Between the States.
I Am Not Smarter Than a Fifth Grader
Obviously it’s been over 30 years since then, and as anyone who has watched the game show Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader can attest, we forget a lot in the intervening time period. (What was my name again? Oh that’s right! I remember. Crazy Pants.) Now, I could tell you a little bit about some of the major Generals and their history. Ken Burn’s documentary on the Civil War helped me recall some of the names and faces of the major players involved in the conflict, but nothing can match the knowledge I had at 10 years old. (I was the bomb at ten. Anyone want to go back and date a ten year old me? No? Rats!) Suffice it to say, I have known a lot, and forgot a lot in the interim.
My First Experience with the Film
So when I was a sophomore in high school and a friend mentioned to me about a Civil War movie coming out, I was excited. But I had one major hurdle to cross. I know for some of you out there, you won’t understand this, but for those who do, I was not able to watch rated R films at that time. (I know for some of you who were allowed to watch The Terminator at five, this comes as quite a shock.) I couldn’t just walk into a movie and watch one. I know some of my friends who could pass for 17, but I could not. (I could barely pass for 13. Although people thinking I’m only 30 now does have its advantages.) It just so happens that I lucked out. When my parents had been told by people that they trusted at their church that there was an amazing Civil War movie out with minimal “adult issues,” except some accurate depictions of violence in war, they allowed me to go. I remember sitting back for my first R rated movie, and a Civil War movie at that, excited to there for the show. (Woo hoo! R-rated movies at fifteen. Hooray! Wow, was that a different era.)
Unknown at the Time but High Powered Cast
The Cast was high powered, although I would say that at the time they weren’t necessarily all that well known. And those who were did not necessarily have the type of resume that you would think warrant a big screen historical epic of that magnitude. First there was Matthew Broderick, probably the primary male lead of the piece. He was best known for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He had done some musical theater as well. (I know some of you hated him in the lead role. I didn’t. So phooey on you! Wow I’m old) While I enjoyed Ferris immensely, being one of the quintessential 80s movies dealing with uniquely first world problems of teen angst, I would never have thought he had the capacity for such a dramatic effort. (And yes, I know some of you still don’t.)
Then there was Cary Elwes, he of the amazing romantic comedy, The Princess Bride, a classic fairy tale, more on the comedy end of the spectrum. He had done some other minor work previously but nothing with the depth of Glory in mind, and nothing that I had seen.
Then there was Morgan Freeman, which if you have read my previous piece on “the movie which will remain nameless until Sunday,” will note that he did have some movie background, specifically Lean on Me up to that point. (Ha ha! I avoided spilling my favorite film here.) And he had made Driving Miss Daisy, which had come out that same year. But aside from that, he just had a ton of TV work that he had been involved with. I remembered him from the Electric Company, which I occasionally watched as a child. I had seen Lean on Me, and that made me hopeful, but that was about it. (I know. I dated myself again. Ugh!)
Denzel Washington, who would earn an academy award for his performance, had been in mostly TV work with the exception of Cry Freedom (also nominated), which I wouldn’t watch until after I had seen Glory. He was definitely a promising actor, but nothing would prepare me for his role of Private Trip.
And there were tons of smaller roles as well. From the Irish Drill Sergeant to Andre Braugher, as Thomas Searles, one of Robert Shaw’s close African-American friends who would join the first African American regiment, to Bob Gunton’s portrayal of General Garrsion Harker, as a conniving war profiteer, the roles were plentiful and amazingly well written. I could go on and on. (Shall I? I guess I shall. But not about every individual actor.)
Freddy Francis, the cinematographer of Glory, had done some amazing work in black and white on The Elephant Man, and had done some rich work in otherworldly lands, working with David Lynch once again, in Dune. (From Dune to Glory? Is that like From Dusk Til Dawn without the vampires? Nah!) These experiences would serve him well in Glory, dealing with both intimate moments, which would capture the men dealing with private reflections, or the singing of the men before a battle, to more wide sweeping moments, such as Robert Shaw setting his horse free and walking through his men out to the front of the lines before the battle. He was able to capture beautifully the chaos of war, and at the same time preserve the humanity of each individual soldier involved. (It’s like a Hallmark Postcard for war pictures. Beautiful and sanitized, without saying what we really think.)
Ed Zwick up to this point in time had done mostly TV work, with the exception of the film About Last Night, which in no ways would lead one to believe what he was capable of here. With Glory, Zwick was able to tell a sweeping tale of the first African American Regiment to see battle during the Civil War. Between his deft directing, and Kevin Jarre’s brilliant screenplay, Zwick was beautifully able to display the chaos and riggers of war with an initial battle where Shaw seems to be utterly lost in the midst of everything going on. We got an insight into both Shaw’s thinking and experience.
From there he was able to develop the characters of the men who would ultimately lead this regiment into battle, as well as the men themselves. With small moments of watching the doctors treat Private Trip’s (Denzel Washinton’s) back as a result of being whipped for deserting his post, to larger grandiose moments where the soldiers, and later Shaw himself, refuse to take their pay because they were being underpaid just because they were black, Zwick develops these characters so that by the time they enter battle we care about them as individuals. After training, we are brought into the early battles and experiences of the Massachusetts 54th regiment. Finally Zwick leads us through the final battle, with James Horner’s operatic score playing in the background (Ok, maybe not Hallmark Card. Maybe war opera. I think I should quite while I’m ahead.), showing both the beauty of a unit moving as one cause to one purpose and the tragedy of losing these men for a battle that day they would eventually lose.
But the beauty of Glory and the importance of telling the story of all of these individual men and their heroic efforts during the Civil War is not in the displaying romantically their death. (Only a man could understand a romantic death sequence. For those women reading, watch the guys talk about movies in Sleepless in Seattle. Yup! That’s us. Crazy!) The beauty of these men was in rallying others to join their cause and come after them to fight a war, earning them their recognition as human beings, worthy of the same rights as others, and not as pieces of property. These amazing men ran the risk of certain death by a bullet or even being captured, because the south announced they would execute any black man in a Union military uniform, or any white men who was leading said unit. They were heroes. (I’ve got nothing more to say. Mic dropped!) Lincoln himself believed that the black soldiers were responsible for turning the tide of the war in their favor.
My Personal Reasons
So why is Glory in my top five movies of all time? I think you could run down the list. (I do have the list of reasons here. I swear. Somewhere. Oh yeah!) From the amazing writing and direction, to the incredible portrayal of these men, none of which you feel like you don’t know or aren’t rooting for by the time they get to the final battle, to the beautiful cinematography, I find myself enraptured in the piece every time I sit down to watch it. (Wow! I’m in love with a war movie. I’d worry about me if I weren’t already me, I suppose.) There are some movies that I can watch multiple times. But there are very few that every time I see it on I will stop and sit and watch all the way to the end. Glory is just one of those films. It’s a beautifully told historical epic. (Should I drop the mic again? Will it make a difference?)
This film is perfectly toasty (Yup. My crazy rating system once again. Ugh!)
*Up Next in the Top 5 Casablanca* (Which I hope you have read already because, you know, Casablanca.)
Thank you for coming to the fourth of my five reviews on my top five films of all time. I hope that you have enjoyed the series. I’ll put links to it at the end of this post if you haven’t read them already. They are well worth a read. Because me! Or something. It’s been a pleasure, not only re-reading my works, but getting a chance to edit them and having a new audience enjoy them. Plus it makes me remember why I love these movies, why I love talking about them, and why I love writing. (Always a bonus for a blogger.)
Why do you love movies? What are some of your favorite war movies? Leading Actors? Movies where you thought an actor did way more than you would have thought beforehand? I’m a fan of movies and I hope you love them too, not merely as things to enjoy, but as things that inspire and provoke us to be better people. Definitely leave comments about this movie, any of my questions, or the series of reviews as a whole. Just as a reminder, my number one rated film of all time comes out Sunday, just before the Oscars. Beat each other up over who is right about the best movie in the meantime. Carry on! (Ok, I mean beat each other up, metaphorically speaking. Sheesh!)
This is me, signing off again.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life
Number 1 : Shawshank Redemption
Number 3 : Casablanca
Number 4 : Gone With The Wind
Number 5 : Vertigo