Top 5 American Historical Epics
The United States of America has had a very eventful history for only being about 250 years old. There's enough drama in every decade of American history to generate thousands of sweeping cinematic epics. Some of these epics are critical in their view of American history. Some are full of praise and pride. The best of them often combine both voices into something that is realistic about America's origins but hopeful about its future. We took a poll here the Open Air Cinema offices and came up with the American historical epics that make us want to break out the old inflatable screen - movies that are perfect for a long night of outdoor cinema.
The Last of the Mohicans
(Michael Mann, 1992)Michael Mann isn't exactly known for his historical epics - in fact,В The Last of the Mohicans is the only one of Mann's movies that isn't set in the 20th century. But Mann proves that he is just as adept in portraying the bloody battles of the French and Indian War as he is with car chases and giant explosions. Not only does Mann keep the action interesting, but he and co-writer Christopher Crowe managed to also wring a coherent story out of James Fenimore Cooper's original novel, largely regarded as one of the most unreadable classics in American letters. And, of course, when it comes to historical epics you can't possibly go wrong with Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead. An easy crowd-pleaser for anyone who loves a good historical epic.
Gangs of New York
(Martin Scorsese, 2002)Scorsese might have achieved his fame telling stories of the Italian mafia, but his brutal, unflinching look at the harsh, violent life of Irish immigrants in 19th-century Manhattan is as deserving of praise as any of his earlier, more celebrated works. Gangs of New York combines rich historical detail with gritty, realistic performances that are as memorable in their small moments as they are in their epic one. Moreover, Scorsese does some of his best directing in this film, with tracking shots that steadily glide through the intricate network of squats in the Five Points and wide shots perfectly framed by the ramshackle recreation of an America long gone. В The result is a proper historical drama that doesn't get lost in its own pomp, even during some pretty maudlin moments. Plus, again, Daniel Day Lewis.
(Simon Wincer, 1989)Lonesome Dove is technically a TV mini-series. However, thanks to its sweeping scope, its flawless cast, and its beautiful depiction of the untamed west, this 4-part adaptation of Larry McMurtry's celebrated Texas saga not only breathed new life into the Western film, but made us remember why films about cowboys and gunslingers captivated us in the first place. There is hardly an on-screen duo moe charming that Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as two aging Texas Rangers hungry for one last adventure. And there are very few westerns which so adeptly combine the basic elements of Greek tragedy with the influence of the great John Ford. Lonesome Dove is hands down one of the best 6 hours you'll ever spend.
Gone with the Wind
(Victor Fleming, 1939)Gone with the Wind is a classic historical epic in the sense of huge sets, beautiful costuming, and tour-de-force performances. But it's also a must-see for any serious student of film. While not a perfect film by any means - Fleming's portrayal of African-Americans in this movie is infamously problematic - it is a well-shot, well-written portrayal of life in the South on the eve of the Civil War. Featuring more than its share of iconic scenes and iconic performances, Gone with the Wind has all the pomp, romance, and overwrought drama that we've come to associate with the cinematic epic even today.
(David L. Wolper, 1977)Out of all of the American historical epics that you could watch, Roots is probably the one that you should absolutely see. Alex Haley's intergenerational saga of American slavery is somehow unflinching in it brutal treatment of country's darkest chapter and yet still an inspiration to those who see the enduring strength of one family as it struggles to survive and thrive against all odds. Unlike many antebellum stories before it, Roots maintains an air of dignity, never once falling to ugly stereotypes or even broad strokes of sentimentality. Rather, it reads like the best of historical texts - factual of its times, but never shying away from the personal human elements that help us connect to and understand the past.