It is now 9:11 p.m. on Sunday, September 11, 2011. In an effort to commemorate the tragic events that devastated thousands of fellow New Yorkers and changed the world ten years ago, the following movies are offered in an effort to help readers remember September 11, 2001, and/or help them to remember what being American truly means. Today, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we remember those who were lost, those who fought, and those who embodied the American spirit on that dreadful September day.
1. World Trade Center
In the biggest budget, most polished September 11 movie to date, “World Trade Center,” there is a palpable feeling that transcends politics. The film’s astonishingly faithful re-creation of the emotional reality and devastation of the day produces a powerful form of depressing yet empowering nostalgia. Furthermore, Director Oliver Stone transforms what has, in many circles, become a staple of political ideologies and personal beliefs into a public tragedy and turned it into something genuinely stirring and depressing. Stone’s film offers both a harrowing return to a singular, disastrous episode in the recent past and a refuge from the ugly, depressing realities of its aftermath.
9/11 showed us what human beings are capable of. The evil, yeah, sure. But it also brought out the goodness we forgot could exist. People taking care of each other for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. It’s important for us to talk about that good, to remember. ‘Cause I saw all of it that day.
2. Yankee Doodle Dandy
“Yankee Doodle Dandy” was one of the best World War II-era patriotic propaganda films, and it has proven itself enduringly popular in the decades following its release. The film succeeds almost entirely on the performance of James Cagney as legendary song-and-dance performer George M. Cohan – brilliantly capturing the works of one of America’s greatest home front heroes. The musical sequences are among the best in any film of the era, and if audience members don’t recognize Cohan’s name, they may have heard of some of his biggest hits: “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
3. United 93
In the most intimate portrayal of the citizen-heroes aboard United Airlines Flight 93, “United 93,” Director Paul Greengrass uses handheld camera work to give impression that viewers are on the plane. Furthermore, Greengrass enhanced the authenticity of the film through the use of actual air traffic controllers, pilots, flight attendants, military personnel, and Ben Sliney, the FAA’s national operations manager, who made the decision to shut down all air traffic operations in the United States on9/11. Moreover, Greengrass conducted extensive interviews with the families of those who died in the crash to ensure that the passengers were accurately depicted. Due to the graphic nature of the film it is not the most highly recommended movie to watch, however it is among the most emotionally taxing.
The only other movie on the list to rival the emotional passion and power of “United 93,” the television documentary,“9/11,” provides an exclusive first-person view of the events on the tragic day. The film features the cameraman unintentionally following the New York firemen as they battle against one of the most extraordinary events of world history, while the film also includes studio interviews with most of these people throughout the film, just to emphasize the personal, reflexive nature of the events. There is a disturbing and extremely depressing atmosphere clouding the filming as the audience listens to the disturbing sound of occasional human bodies crashing against the portico outside. Furthermore, viewers hear an enormous rumbling, trembling maelstrom, as the second tower collapses. As if the noise weren’t enough, the challenging and unyielding dedication of the firefighters to the clean-up and attempted rescue efforts will somber any audience.
5. Battle LA
“Battle Los Angeles” may seem somewhat out of place on this list, seeing as it is a depiction of the American Marines’ battle against unknown alien life forms, the whole film is virtually a chivalrous Hallmark card to the United States Marine Corps. Political beliefs aside, the United States Marines have an inspiring mentality, dedication, and passion to protect the American way of life, which is brilliantly illustrated in this film. Their numerous acts of courage and honor, both in real life, and in rouse the viewers’ patriotic pride. These marines serve as reminders of the strength of the American resolve.
6. Reign Over Me
Although an extremely uncharacteristic role, Adam Sandler portrays a mourning and emotionally barren 9/11 widower brilliantly in “Reign Over Me.” As Sandler shuffles around his empty apartment, locked away from humanity, lost in grief, the audience is surprisingly moved by his emotionally charged performance. The film provides a unique look into the emotional devastation the September 11 attack had on the family members of the victims.
7. Crossing Over
Through a carefully balanced range of characters,“Crossing Over” tackles some of the most emotional and pressing problems surrounding post-9/11 American immigration. Primarily focused on the multicultural hot pot of Southern California, the mosaic-like story oscillates between various, unrelated immigrants, and the American citizens attempting to help or hinder them. When a zealous Muslim teenager, Taslima (Summer Bishil), the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, delivers a naïve essay on the September 11 hijackers at school, the speech doesn’t prompt any soul-searching. It isn’t meant to. In fact, it’s designed to illustrate how appallingly bigoted everyone in this rainbow coalition actually is, and how much the 9/11 attacks have affected Americans’ views on immigrants.
Although panned by many current critics as a cheesy, implausible film, “Armageddon” has one of the most heartwarming and patriotic speeches in cinematic history. Unable to do the Presidents poignant, powerful, and passionate speech justice, it is simply transcribed below:
I address you tonight not as the President of the United States, not as the leader of a country, but as a citizen of humanity. We are faced with the very gravest of challenges. The Bible calls this day “Armageddon” – the end of all things. And yet, for the first time in the history of the planet, a species has the technology to prevent its own extinction. All of you praying with us need to know that everything that can be done to prevent this disaster is being called into service. The human thirst for excellence, knowledge; every step up the ladder of science; every adventurous reach into space; all of our combined modern technologies and imaginations; even the wars that we’ve fought have provided us the tools to wage this terrible battle. Through all of the chaos that is our history; through all of the wrongs and the discord; through all of the pain and suffering; through all of our times, there is one thing that has nourished our souls, and elevated our species above its origins, and that is our courage. The dreams of an entire planet are focused tonight on those fourteen brave souls traveling into the heavens. And may we all, citizens the world over, see these events through. Godspeed and good luck to you.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger
“Captain America: The First Avenger” does not do the tragic events of September 11, 2001 justice. However, “Captain America” does an impressive job representing Americans’ responses immediately following the tragedy. Following the collapse of the World Trade Centers, American servicemen leapt into action – risking, and in many cases, sacrificing their lives to save the innocent victims of the horrific attack. These ordinary men and women showed that America and all that it embodies, would not collapse, even when attacked by 197 tons of screaming steel. Their heroism serves as a reminder and a representation of the power of the American dream – even when in the midst of a nightmare.