40 must-watch movies to consider yourself a film buff

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The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The war genre isn’t my favorite of the classic film world, but as WWII dominated the U.S. in the ‘40s, I’d be remiss not to mention one. The Best Years of Our Lives is a straightforward, pull-no-punches depiction of life after wartime when three vets return home to a world much different than when they left. The three soldiers (played by Dana Andrews, Fredric March, and Harold Russell) struggle to find new jobs in a landscape where they’re perceived as too old, underqualified, or — in Russell’s case — disabled, and they also learn to cope with the changes to their various personal relationships.

What distinguishes Best Years from every other war movie of the ‘40s is Harold Russell himself. Russell was an actual war veteran who lost both arms during training. He was equipped with hooks for the rest of his life, and William Wyler cast him to convey the life of a wounded soldier, many of whom came back from the war crippled in various ways. Russell remains one of the best depictions of disability in cinema and creates his character, Homer Parrish, as a man adapting to life on a different level than his peers. The little adaptations that come from when a screenwriter is actually working with a disabled person are fantastic. The rest of the cast is top-notch, but it’s all about Harold Russell, and the Academy actually awarded him with two separate Academy Awards for this role.

Where to Watch It: TCM will air it August 22 at 5 pm ET. You can also rent it on Vudu.