By Alex Castle
It’s starting to look like Ben Affleck’s Argo is the front-runner for the Best Picture trophy at this year’s Academy Awards, what with the Golden Globes and the SAG awards it’s already racked up. I’m not sure Argo was literally the best picture of 2012, though I liked it a lot; I thought what worked best about it was the way it evoked the chaotic atmosphere of post-Shah Iran and the palpable sense of dread the hostages must have felt. Likewise, Argo‘s main competition for the big prize, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty gets the facts of the hunt for Bin Laden but also the way that search changed the people who led it.
The best historical dramas do this: they show us not just what happened, but what it felt like when it happened. Here are some of our favorite movies dramatizing real events, all available at Blockbuster stores, from Blockbuster By Mail, and instantly at Blockbuster On Demand.
The early days of the United States space program are beautifully brought to life from Chuck Yeager’s breaking of the sound barrier to John Glenn’s triumphant orbit of the Earth, with a great young cast of future stars including Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard, and Fred Ward. Not a lot of three-hour-plus movies are this compelling, but I could sit through this one twice in a row.
The only triumph greater than a successful space mission is the rescue of the astronauts from a space mission gone completely pear-shaped. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon play the astronauts forced to improvise their way back to Earth in a craft not remotely designed for it, with a near unbearable sense of anxiety on the ground as NASA tries to bring them home safely.
Oliver Stone has made quite a few historically-based dramas, but probably the least, shall we say fanciful, is the one about Ron Kovic, a gung-ho Marine volunteer who ends up paraplegic, badly shaken by the horror of war, and an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. Tom Cruise earned an Academy Award nomination in the role, proving (to some) that he could actually act.
Forest Whitaker won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ugandan president Idi Amin, shown here through his relationship with his Scottish-born personal physician (James McAvoy). The doctor is a fictional character, but a clever framing device to show the Amin’s rise and the facts of his bloody reign in the 1970s.
Two lower-rung city desk reporters at the Washington Post cover the arraignment hearing for a bunch of burglars caught breaking into the ritzy Watergate Hotel, and keep tugging at the thread of the story until they find themselves literally bringing down the president of the United States. The painstaking, mundane work of investigative journalism has never been better depicted.
A few years after resigning the presidency in disgrace, President Richard Nixon inexplicably granted a series of filmed interviews to a British journalist everyone had pretty much dismissed as a lightweight. Suffice to say, Nixon misjudged his opponent. Frank Langella’s performance as the former president is great precisely because it is not an impression of him — rather, Langella plays the emotional truth of the fallen leader, and it is by turns heartbreaking and infuriating.
Rep. Charlie Wilson (R-TX, Tom Hanks), teamed with a CIA operative (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a rich society widow (Julia Roberts) to fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union by arming the Mujahadeen to defend itself from the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan. What could possibly go wrong?
U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford’s memoir of his experience in the Gulf War is interesting not for how brutal and bloody it was, but for how boring and restless it is to be a trained killer in a theater of war, with no opportunity to kill.
When a U.S. helicopter was shot down in Somalia during a 1993 raid on Mogadishu, the mission to capture warlord president Mohamed Farah Aidid became a matter of damage control. Mark Bowden’s nonfiction book and then in this film by Ridley Scott chronicles one of the most tense, terrifying, and superbly executed operations in modern U.S. military history.
Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen are both excellent as Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Tony Blair in this fascinating account of the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death. The Queen and her daughter-in-law had a tense relationship, and her reticence to grieve publicly was controversial at the time.
The doomed fourth 9/11 plane, meant by its hijackers to hit the White House, was instead taken back by its passengers as they gradually realized what was happening, through phone calls to their loved ones. This film dramatizes those events, pieced together from the plane’s black box recording and the phone calls from the passengers.
Based on the nonfiction book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” Matt Damon plays an Army intelligence officer who, searching Baghdad for WMDs and coming up empty time after time, begins to smell a rat.