DVDs for the History Lover on Your Gift List

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It’s Christmas season again, and you have to find a gift for that history-loving friend or family member. My historian mother and I collaborated to bring you this list of history-based movies (in no particular order) that will save your frazzled nerves when you invest in these as your gifts. Note that almost every one received some sort of Oscar nomination, often winning in big categories. History can be exciting!

1. Amazing Grace
51py4iu9axl-_sy400_The story of William Wilberforce in the late 18th century and his 20-year personal drive to get slavery abolished in England, this movie is very accurate historically and a film with high quality work on every level.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

2. The King’s Speech
513yqp06jjl-_sy400_Winner of four Academy Awards, including best picture of 2011 and best actor for Colin Firth, as well as nominee of eight more Oscars, this powerful movie tells of the unexpected ascension to the British throne of King George VI upon the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII and his personal journey to overcome his stutter. The first king in history to be required to speak regularly to his subjects directly, in this case over the radio, the stutter is a serious concern that no one has been able to help him address until he meets Lionel Logue, an unconventional speech therapist. This movie put effort into being realistic most of the time, even taking some of the lines from the real Logue’s diary.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

3. The Imitation Game

51i-vetvwfl-_sy400_In the World War II race to break the Nazi Enigma machine that encrypts messages, mathematical prodigy Alan Turing devises the prototype of the first computer. The movie shows the way Turing has to fight to build his machine while simultaneously losing his personal fight against the legal system’s prosecution of gay men. This movie, which was nominated for a 2015 Best Picture Oscar, does exaggerate many of the details, such as the isolation of Turing and the fact that Turing did not invent his machine but merely made one invented by the Poles to be more effective. However, the film does follow the sense of Turing’s life and struggle to help with the war effort as well as later challenges for being gay. This movie did a good job of bringing this hero back to life.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

4. Saving Private Ryan

41q18r2jsal-_ac_sx348_sy500_ql65_A blockbuster movie when it was released in 1998, this movie depicts the horror of the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944 using what veterans described as the most realistic images of the actual war they had ever seen. The first 24 minutes get intense in battle, but after that, the movie follows the plot of trying to locate a soldier whose three brothers had been killed in the war, so his family could have at least one soldier come home. This was a genuine military program inspired by the sinking of five brothers on one ship. The movie won five Academy Awards and was nominated for six more, including Best Picture.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

5. Schindler’s List
51t-qozolll-_ac_sx354_sy510_ql65_Steven Spielberg’s tribute to a hero of the Holocaust, this movie tells the story of Oskar Schindler, who used his own resources and factory to save many Jews from being murdered. A real piece of filmography art, this movie, though very dark as befitting its subject matter, will appeal to both cinephiles and historians. The movie garnered 12 Oscar nominations, with seven wins including Best Picture.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

6. Amistad

51ti6cn6icl-_sy400_Another Spielberg movie, Amistad tells the spellbinding true story of a ship in 1839 that illegally kidnapped people from Africa to unconstitutionally import them to the U.S. as slaves; however, in this unique case, the prisoners managed to overthrow by their captors. Since America outlawed the import of slaves from Africa after 1808, the fate of these prisoners hinged on proving their origin as Africans instead of Cubans, as claimed by the ship’s pirates. Anthony Hopkins was nominated for an Oscar for his amazing job as John Quincy Adams, who defended these Africans before the Supreme Court. This movie brought awareness of a rare victory during America’s evil past with slavery.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

7. Apollo 13

517gtoyhpfl-_ac_sx354_sy510_ql65_When asked to talk about history, many people will not immediately bring up the Space Race, but that formed a significant part of the history of the Cold War. Directed by Ron Howard and starring an A-list cast, Apollo 13 recreates in incredible detail the mission to the moon that almost never came back. With stunning special effects and excellent acting, this movie won two Oscars and was nominated for seven more, including Best Picture.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

8. Tora, Tora, Tora

51lbyefk-dl-_sy400_When the movie Pearl Harbor came out in 2001, I was disturbed to see reviewers praise that movie for avoiding the stodginess of 1970’s Tora, Tora, Tora, which even as a pre-teen I found fascinating. While it might lack the special effects found in contemporary movies, this one knows how to take an already-known piece of history like the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and create tension and drama, as we learn the actual events that took place on that “day which shall forever live in infamy.” One thing that makes this movie unique, especially for 1970, is the way that it shows the events leading up to the attack from both the American and Japanese sides, even having both an American and Japanese cast. This movie won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects in 1971, and I still have nothing to complain about because the effects tie into the plot rather than exist solely to wow the audience. This has long been one of my and my mother’s favorite historical movies.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

9. Flags of Our Fathers / Letters from Iwo Jima

51kl10pf-kl-_sy400_Clint Eastwood tells the story of the World War II battle of Iwo Jima in his companion movies. The former tells of the men who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi that got depicted in the famous Marine Memorial and depicts our need to create heroes despite the reality. The latter movie tells the story of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese on the island, relying on letters written by these soldiers to convey their own tales. The latter movie did especially well critically, receiving four Academy Awards nominations.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

10. Lincoln

41lkz-eprl-_sy400_We all know about Abraham Lincoln, so Steven Spielberg made the interesting decision to focus on only four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life, the period in which he pushed through the 13th Amendment towards the end of the Civil War. A dark period in Lincoln’s life, the movie shows the pressure put upon the President as he tries to convince people in Washington that the conclusion of the Civil War must include the emancipation of all slaves, something that a lot of people thought of as two separate issues not necessary to address at the same time. A powerful movie, it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and won the Oscar for best actor.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

11. Glory

51ijgroiiql-_sy400_During the Civil War, even those fighting for the freedom of the slaves often refused to accept the contribution of freed slaves in the fighting. But Robert Gould Shaw formed the all-black 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. This unit had to fight the military institutions just to be allowed to participate in fighting for their freedom. Glory was the first major movie to portray the contributions of blacks to their cause during the Civil War. Denzel Washington received the Oscar for best supporting actor, and this movie made a significant contribution to understanding of both Civil War and African American history.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

12. Argo

51vnitom6zl-_sy400_During the Iran Hostage Crisis, six Americans managed to escape the U.S. embassy, and this led to a wild escape plan straight out of Hollywood. American CIA agents created a fake movie to be filmed in Iran as a way to help the Americans get free.The Best Picture Oscar winner of 2013, this riveting movie is about an event so bizarre that it would never be plausible as a fiction!

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

13. Thirteen Days

51wnlwuuxl-_sy400_In 1962, the U.S. got information that the Soviet Union was arming Cuba with nuclear missiles. This movie follows the efforts of Kenny O’Donnell, played by Kevin Costner, special advisor to President Kennedy, as he navigates the political situation. The movie has plenty of intrigue and drama as well as details in the personal lives of the characters, who have to be careful what public face they exhibit. Though not given great acclaim, this movie really deserves much more attention than it received. It grabs the viewer and doesn’t let go until the final closing credit.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

14. One Day in September
51c9zz964zl-_sy400_The only documentary in this list, this movie, which won as best documentary in 1999, is more exciting and fascinating than most regular movies. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli contingent, kidnapping a lot of them and ultimately killing 11. The movie interviews the only surviving terrorist and the wife of a murdered coach among many others. It highlights the blunders of the German police that cost lives. This documentary is a really powerful movie.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

15. Munich

51taq21krvl-_sy400_After you watch One Day in September, you should turn to Steven Spielberg’s Munich for the continuing story, when Mossad established a unit to find and assassinate each member of Black September, the terrorist group that murdered 11 Israeli Olympians. Rather than just telling the global story of the unit, the movie becomes more individual in the personal dilemma of the man put in charge of these killings. It becomes a more philosophical movie than one might anticipate, making the viewers think about the deeper implications of revenge and what it does to those who devote themselves to it. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, this movie earned a lot of acclaim.

To purchase this DVD for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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