Hunter [1980]

Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, The Deer Hunter is simultaneously an audacious directorial conceit and one of the greatest films ever made about friendship and the personal impact of war. Like Apocalypse Now, it's hardly a conventional battle film--the soldier's experience was handled with greater authenticity in Platoon--but its depiction of war on an intimate scale packs a devastatingly dramatic punch. Director Michael Cimino may be manipulating our emotions with masterful skill, but he does it in a way that stirs the soul and pinches our collective nerves with graphic, high-intensity scenes of men under life-threatening duress. Although Russian-roulette gambling games were not a common occurrence during the Vietnam war, they're used here as a metaphor for the futility of the war itself. To the viewer, they become unforgettably intense rites of passage for the best friends--Pennsylvania steelworkers played by Robert De Niro, John Savage, and Oscar winner Christopher Walken--who may survive or perish during their tour through a tropical landscape of hell. Back home, their loved ones must cope with the war's domestic impact, and in doing so they allow The Deer Hunter to achieve a rare combination of epic storytelling and intimate, heart-rending drama. --Jeff Shannon

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