Cinema Saturday: 10 great films in a historical setting

Here's our list of 10 great films in a historical setting that move, inspire, and inform:

1. All the President's Men

Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman as the two reporters from the Washington Post whose dogged pursuit of the facts surrounding political espionage sponsored by the Nixon White House ultimately resulted in President Nixon's resignation. Travel step by step with the tireless reporters as they get doors slammed in their faces and stonewalled by just about everyone connected with Nixon, except the ever mysterious secret source, Deep Throat. Rated PG.

2. Schindler's List 

Amid the Nazi Holocaust, one man, Oskar Schindler, was moved by the plight of the Jews and risked everything to save a group of them, even buying them back from certain death. This magnificent, sweeping drama by Steven Spielberg succeeds where other films fail in providing genuine insight into the nature of Nazi brutality and also shows the hugely profitable forced labor system set up by the Nazis, along with the death camps. Rated R (brief nudity, violence).

Zero Dark Thirty

A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011. Maya is a CIA operative whose first experience is in the interrogation of prisoners following the Al Qaeda attacks against the U.S. on the 11th September 2001. She is a reluctant participant in extreme duress applied to the detainees, but believes that the truth may only be obtained through such tactics. For several years, she is single-minded in her pursuit of leads to uncover the whereabouts of Al Qaeda's leader, Osama Bin Laden. Finally, in 2011, it appears that her work will pay off, and a U.S. Navy SEAL team is sent to kill or capture Bin Laden. But only Maya is confident Bin Laden is where she says he is. Rated R.

4. American Sniper

Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle's pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can't leave behind. Chris Kyle was nothing more than a Texan man who wanted to become a cowboy, but in his thirties he found out that maybe his life needed something different, something where he could express his real talent, something that could help America in its fight against terrorism. So he joined the SEALs in order to become a sniper. After marrying, Kyle and the other members of the team are called for their first tour of Iraq. Kyle's struggle isn't with his missions, but about his relationship with the reality of the war and, once returned at home, how he manages to handle it with his urban life, his wife and kids. Rated R.

5. Patton

The man, the myth, the legend, all rolled into one in this great bio-drama starring George C. Scott. World War II Gen. George Patton is revealed as a man who loved war and whose only fear was that he might somehow be left out of the conflict. His superiors can almost assume Patton will fight a successful battle when needed and win. But they also know him as a man given to excess. Patton must therefore fight two battles, against the Germans, and against his own worst instincts. He constantly tests the patience of Generals Eisenhower and Bradley, egged on by another World War II super-ego, British Gen. Montgomery. But through it all, his phenomenal leadership abilities shine. Best Actor Oscar® for Scott. Rated PG.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird

An extraordinary drama that examines racism in the pre-civil rights American South from a child's eye, with the young children in this film finding the intense racism of adults to be a strangely curious phenomenon. Great performances by the child actors in this film, especially Mary Badham as Scout. Gregory Peck stars as the wise, benevolent lawyer defending an African American man falsely accused of the rape of a white woman. B&W.

7. Casablanca 

Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman in the drama many consider to be the finest American film ever made. This is a powerful love story set amid the everyday intrigue and danger of living in Nazi controlled North Africa. B&W.

8. Braveheart

When his secret bride is executed for assaulting an English soldier who tried to rape her, William Wallace begins a revolt and leads Scottish warriors against the cruel English tyrant who rules Scotland with an iron fist. William Wallace is a Scottish rebel who leads an uprising against the cruel English ruler Edward the Longshanks, who wishes to inherit the crown of Scotland for himself. When he was a young boy, William Wallace's father and brother, along with many others, lost their lives trying to free Scotland. Once he loses another of his loved ones, William Wallace begins his long quest to make Scotland free once and for all, along with the assistance of Robert the Bruce. Rated R.

9. We were Soldiers

The story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War and the soldiers on both sides that fought it. Rated R. 

"Most movies about the Vietnam War reflect the derangements of the antiwar Left. This film, based on the memoir by Lt. Col. Hal Moore (played by Mel Gibson), offers a lifelike alternative. It focuses on a fight between an outnumbered U.S. Army battalion and three North Vietnamese regiments in the battle of Ia Drang in 1965. Significantly, it treats soldiers not as wretched losers or pathological killers, but as regular citizens. They are men willing to sacrifice everything to do their duty — to their country, to their unit, and to their fellow soldiers. As the movie makes clear, they also had families. Indeed, their last thoughts were usually about their loved ones back home."

— Mackubin Thomas Owens, a Vietnam veteran, is a professor at the Naval War College. 

10. United 93

A real time account of the events on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers foiled the terrorist plot. Rated R. 

"Minutes after terrorists struck on 9/11, Americans launched their first counterattack in the War on Terror. Director Paul Greengrass pays tribute to the passengers of United 93 by refusing to turn their story into a wimpy Hollywood melodrama. Instead, United 93 unfolds as a real-time docudrama. Just as significantly, Greengrass provides a clear depiction of our enemies. United 93 opens as four Muslim terrorists pray in a hotel room. Several hours later, the hijackers’ frenzied shrieks to Allah mingle with the prayerful supplications of United 93’s passengers as they crash through the cockpit door and strike a blow against those who would terrorize our country."

— Andrew Coffin is director of the Reagan Ranch and vice president of Young America’s Foundation.