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What a weird year for movies. I haven't seen a film in a theater since Vin Diesel's "Bloodshot" in early March and the release schedule has been decimated by theater closings brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Top Gun: Maverick" looms large over 2020. The film first lost its summer release date and then the producers (wisely, it turns out) gave up on a Christmas release. We won't see the movie until July 2021 and that's only if the recovery goes according to plan.
There's also "No Time to Die," the James Bond movie that was completed over a year ago and was the first major release to pull the plug this year. Daniel Craig's last performance as 007 is now scheduled for spring, but that date is starting to look a bit questionable if things don't turn around soon.
Still, a few movies found their way to theaters and quite a few more went with a streaming-only release to get in front of audiences in a timely fashion.
This list comes with a caveat. Until this year, I'd seen every Christopher Nolan movie in a theater on or before opening weekend going back to "Memento" in 2000. I didn't see "Tenet" in a theater and I haven't yet given up and watched it on home video. Is it good enough or military enough to make this list? I just don't know, but I'm not spending time in a closed space with a bunch of people I don't know anytime soon.
Still, there were plenty of excellent movies to watch this year and these are the best.
1. "Da 5 Bloods"
Spike Lee follows a group of Vietnam veterans in the current times as they revisit the country for both a reunion and as part of a scheme to recover buried treasure. Things don't go according to plan and their past traumas don't stay buried. Lee made the movie for Netflix, so it was never planned for a big theatrical release.
2. "The Outpost"
Director and Army veteran Rod Lurie tells the story of the Afghanistan War's 2009 Battle of Kamdesh at Combat Outpost Keating in a movie that deserved a wider audience. Scott Eastwood and Orlando Bloom star in the film about an incident that resulted in Army Staff Sgts. Clinton Romesha and Ty Carter receiving the Medal of Honor for their actions.
"The Outpost" is now on home video and streaming on Netflix.
3. "News of the World"
Director Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks previously worked together on "Captain Phillips." Hanks is a captain again in "News of the World," this time a Civil War veteran who travels the southwest performing stories from newspapers for illiterate and itinerant workers, many of whom are fellow war vets.
Hanks' Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd somehow finds himself saddled with the task of delivering an orphaned white girl raised by the Kiowa tribe to distant white relatives in Texas and must negotiate hostile territory and even more hostile white men to get her there.
It might be a strain to call this a military movie, but it does take place in a post-war environment decimated by the Civil War. The fallout of that conflict hangs over every scene of this beautiful and epic western.
Universal has decided to release this movie in theaters only on Christmas Day. That means a lot of people won't be able to see it right away because either their local theaters are closed or they aren't ready to go back to the ones that are open.
Keep an eye out for future release plans. This is one of the very best movies of the year and one of Tom Hanks' finest performances ever.
4. "Desert One"
Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple takes on the Carter Administration's 1979 failed raid to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran. In spite of remarkably poor intelligence on the ground in Tehran, Delta Force came up with a workable plan that had a decent chance of success.
Unfortunately, mechanical issues with some of the transport vehicles created obstacles that not even the most special of operators could overcome. The mission was aborted and became an international embarrassment for the United States.
Ronald Reagan was elected a year later, in no small part because Carter had been unable to return the 52 hostages from Iran.
"Desert One" is available on home video and streaming on Kanopy.
5. "The Last Vermeer"
A Dutch Army captain is on the hunt for Nazi collaborators in the aftermath of World War II and stumbles upon an art dealer who appears to have sold a newly discovered and impossibly rare painting by the legendary Johannes Vermeer to German Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring.
The truth that slowly emerges is far more complicated and raises some questions about the fine line between resistance and collaboration. The movie from first-time director Dan Friedkin features outstanding performances from Guy Pearce ("The Hurt Locker," "L.A. Confidential"), Claes Bang (Dracula in the 2020 Netflix series) and Vicky Krieps ("Phantom Thread").
"The Last Vermeer" is still in theaters. Keep an eye for it once it comes to home video and streaming.
A comet is about to slam into planet earth and cause an extinction-level event. Gerard Butler is a structural engineer who's having marital problems with his wife, played by Morena Baccarin. The family is chosen to be part of a program that flies a small group to a remote bunker in hopes humanity can survive the disaster.
The U.S. Air Force plays a big part in the plan's logistics and airmen are providing humanitarian support to the population who's getting left behind. It's a movie, so the family's journey is far more complicated than just showing up at Robins Air Force Base and hopping onto a plane, but director Ric Roman Waugh makes the drama worthwhile.
"Greenland" skipped a theatrical release in the USA and is now available to rent from online streaming stores.
Tom Hanks wrote and stars in this movie based on "The Good Shepherd," a lesser-known novel by C.S. Forester. Hanks plays Commander Ernest Krause and follows him as makes his first Atlantic crossing leading a convoy of troop and supply ships.
The waters are infested with German u-boats and the inexperienced commander is tested as he tries to evade their attacks. The movie focuses on the actual crossing and comes in at a brisk 90 minutes.
"Greyhound" is available to stream on Apple TV+.
Chris Hemsworth plays Tyler Rake, a broken-down special ops veteran picking up work as a mercenary. He's roped into rescuing the son of a Indian drug lord but learns that he's expendable and not supposed to succeed at his mission.
That pisses Rake off and he sets out to save the boy and extract his own revenge. This is Hemsworth's best role outside of the Marvel movies and there's already plans for a sequel. This could become a signature series for Hemsworth and producers Joe and Anthony Russo (who directed the actor in the "Avengers" movies).
"Extraction" is available on Netflix.
9. "The Last Full Measure"
The movie focuses on efforts to upgrade Air Force PJ Lt. William Pitsenbarger's Vietnam War medals to a Medal of Honor. The all-star cast includes William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, John Savage and the late Peter Fonda as the older versions of the men who survived Operation Abilene in 1966. Sebastian Stan is the congressional aide assigned to investigate the upgrade, and he comes to respect the men who served as he learns about Pitsenbarger's life and death.
"The Last Full Measure" is streaming on Hulu and available on home video.
A U.S. platoon that's part of the WWII invasion of Italy is sent on what seems like a suicidal reconnaissance mission into the Alps. They're guided by an Italian partisan (Franco Nero) who may or may not be on their side.
The men are haunted by their sergeant's execution of a civilian before their mission. Did he send them into the mountains in an attempt to eliminate any witnesses?
"Recon" is available on digital home video.
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