EDITORIAL: The 10 best movie volunteers
The creative powers that be over at Examiner.com where my writing gets published have informed me that April is National Volunteer Month and have encouraged the topic as an “editorial project.” As always, they rarely mention or insinuate connecting movies to these “editorial projects.” Therefore, I constantly challenge myself to create a movie tangent to these topics. So, for National Volunteer Month, I present the top ten movies that feature volunteer work. Though dominated by military volunteers, the following list is a nice selection of stories and movies. Check a few of them out this month!
10. Volunteers-- The cheesy tenth place selection for this list goes to a movie simply titled Volunteers. A forgotten movie on the multiple Oscar winner's resume, back when comedy was his specialty, Tom Hanks stars as a spoiled rich kid who trades places with his Peace Corps college roommate to dodge his financial debts in Southeast Asia. Reteaming with his Splash co-star John Candy and directed by Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), this is the movie where Tom met Rita Wilson, his future wife. (trailer)
9. Flyboys and Red Tails-- Though trained as pilots, the Americans in both of these high-flying movies volunteered their services where others didn't in their respective wars. In Flyboys, before America's involvement in World War I, 38 young American pilots (led in the film by James Franco) join the French and their famed Lafayette Escadrille to battle the Germans. In Red Tails, the famed Tuskegee Airmen (commanded by Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in this version) make up the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Force that outperforms the Jim Crow laws and their white counterparts during World War II. (trailer and trailer)
7. Full Metal Jacket-- When it comes to military recruits, all walks of life are collected to represent the men in uniform. They become a team but originate from different places, backgrounds, and traits. A great example of that is the collection of men together in the hard-edged Full Metal Jacket from director Stanley Kubrick. If you don't get the differences and challenges of volunteers, R. Lee Ermy's drill instructor will constantly remind you of your shortcomings. (trailer)
7. Gallipoli-- America is not the only country with ordinary young small town citizens who take up arms and join the military. Australia has a great story or two as well, including 1981's Gallipoli. A young Mel Gibson and Mark Lee play rural western Australian track stars who enlist in the Australian Army in England's conflict against the Ottoman Empire in Turkey during World War I. Peter Weir's haunting film is a brilliant loss-of-innocence tale and the beginning of the birth of Australia as an independent nation. (trailer)
6. (TIE) The Dirty Dozen and Inglourious Basterds-- Not all soldiers and volunteers are saints. Both of these movies feature prominent outcast types volunteering to do the messy heavy lifting, off-the-books, for the U.S. military during World War II. InThe Dirty Dozen, Lee Marvin trains and leads a platoon of convicted felons (including NFL star Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, John Cassavettes, Telly Savalas, and Charles Bronson) as a pre-D-Day invasion force behind enemy lines. In Inglourious Basterds, Brad Pitt forms a revenge squad of Jewish soldiers (including "The Bear Jew" Eli Roth and Til Schweiger) who scalp, maim, and murder Nazi officers undercover. Even though both groups are brutal, they count as excellent movie volunteers. (trailer and trailer)
5. The Alamo and Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier-- One of history's most honored and famous examples of volunteer efforts were the approximately 200 Texans and volunteers, including the folk hero Davy Crockett, who valiantly perished battling 2000+ Mexican soldiers, under the command of General Santa Anna, across a 12-day siege at the Alamo mission near San Antonio, Texas. The story of the Alamo was made into two prominent films, 1960's 3-hour epic (trailer) directed by and starring John Wayne and 2004's modern take (trailer) directed by John Lee Hancock and starring Jason Patric, Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Wilson, and Dennis Quaid. It was also prominently featured from the point of view of Davy Crockett, played by Fess Parker, in Walt Disney's classic Davy Crocket, King of the Wild Frontier in 1956. That imagery of Fess Parker swinging his rifle, out of ammunition, with the last of his energy is iconic.
4. 12 Monkeys-- In order to earn a pardon as a convicted criminal, James Cole (Bruce Willis) allows scientists to send him through time from a contaminated post-apocalyptic future to a 1990s past in hopes of stopping a virus that has turned mankind to a subterranean population. He has points deducted for being a criminal, but earns points for volunteering to don this complicated get-up. (trailer).
3. The Hunger Games-- For big sister Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) to take her younger sister's place in the 74th annual Hunger Games in Panem takes major guts, especially in knowing her fate is a duel to death against 23 other teenage combatants. Some would say it's just what a good and strong big sister would do, but I think it's harder than that. Major Kudos, kid! (trailer) (full review)
2. Captain America: The First Avenger-- Sorry, Katniss, but shrimpy-yet-noble Brooklynite Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) volunteering for the "Super Soldier" project had a more daunting task to overcome than you did. You had just 23 other kid opponents. Captain American had thousands of Nazis with laser beams, bullets, and flamethrowers. Kidding aside, the noble hero that Steve Rogers embodies personifies the heart of a volunteer who retained his strong values while gaining new-found physical strength. (trailer) (full review)
1. Glory—The volunteering black soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, most coming right out of fields and bondage, led by Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington (who always makes my editorial lists), and Andre Braugher, are, by far, the best volunteers in the history of cinema. Risking racism, inequality, ridicule, and hostility, those fine men showed their mettle and value fighting beside their white peers during the Civil War. Glory is the great movie example of volunteers and one of the most patriotic movies in history. (trailer)