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The Three Films That Best Honor Those Who Were Lost on 9/11

These movies perfectly capture the tragedy of that awful day — and the spirit it inspired in so many

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, gave way to countless stories of tragedy, desperation and pain.

They also gave way to stories of bravery and unity. Amid the rubble and devastation of a terrorist attack that changed this country forever were people helping each other and first responders running toward certain danger.

The country will live with the scars of that fateful day always. Those who lost loved ones or were there amid the chaos live with deeper scars, unimaginable to those simply shocked by what they saw on a television screen or heard on the radio.

While the events of that day remain fresh even now for those who witnessed the carnage firsthand, some creative people have managed to capture on film a fraction of the humanity, bravery and sacrifices that were so evident that day.

Here’s a look at the movies that best honor those who were lost and those who survived the events of Sept. 11.

1.) “United 93” (2006). Paul Greengrass wrote and directed this film about what happened aboard United Flight 93 on 9/11. Once terrorists hijacked the plane, their plan was foiled by passengers who banded together.

Those brave citizens no doubt saved an untold number of lives — but all of them perished when the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

Before “United 93,” Greengrass made his name with pictures such as “The Bourne Supremacy.” He used shaky-cam tactics with his cameras to capture action. While it felt a bit nauseating at times in his “Bourne” movies, the technique worked perfectly for “United 93.”

Using unknown actors, the heart-wrenching film felt like a documentary given the way Greengrass moved about the small setting of the plane. “United 93” is a definitive salute to those aboard Flight 93 — those who lost their lives in a moment of unity and heroism that should never be forgotten.

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2.) “World Trade Center” (2006). When director Oliver Stone took on 9/11, many people thought he’d infuse his “JFK”-style conspiracies into the proceedings — but he proved naysayers wrong here.

What’s often forgotten about Stone is that he volunteered for the Vietnam War — and walked away with a Purple Heart. He’s a man with many not-so-nice things to say about America, but he has the utmost respect for the men and women who wear the uniform.

“World Trade Center” is his salute to those lost on 9/11. He created a spellbinding character piece starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña. The picture follows two Port Authority police officers (Cage and Peña) who become trapped under rubble after planes hit the twin towers.

The characters are based on real people — John McLaughlin and Will Jimeno — who managed to survive unbelievable odds. Both men, along with their wives, served as consultants on the script.

“We got involved because we felt it needed to be done accurately.”

“We got involved because we felt it needed to be done accurately. We wanted to do the right thing, and I think the filmmakers wanted to do the right thing, too,” Donna McLaughlin told The Guardian.

At a time that many need a restored faith in the power of the human spirit and the unity that can come in times of great struggle, “World Trade Center” is just the patriotic jolt.

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3.) “September 11” (2002). This was an experimental movie in which filmmakers from around the world provided short stories about how 9/11 affected people in specific regions. There were 11 movies in all.

“September 11” was a reminder that the terrorist attacks changed not only America but also the world. Ripple effects were and are still felt on a global scale.

The short film in the bunch that deserves particular notice is the one representing the United States. Directed by Sean Penn, it’s a devastating yet beautiful movie about grief and how it is unfortunately in the worst of times that we see the best in people and the world.

Penn focused on a retired cop (Ernest Borgnine) who rarely leaves his apartment and grieves for his late wife. The man has flowers, left alongside his late spouse’s grave, that refuse to grow — they get no sun. It’s only when the twin towers fall that they start to bloom. In a fleeting moment of joy, the man’s world comes crashing down as he realizes his wife will never see those flowers bloom.

It’s a gut-punch of a film with complex things to say about tragedy. While Penn would not be everyone’s first choice to make a movie representing America’s reaction to September 11, he managed to capture the devastating feelings amid national tragedies through one small story of a man, his late wife, and some flowers.

The film can be seen for free on the video streaming service Vimeo.

Watch Sean Penn discuss his movie in the video below:

This piece originally appeared in LifeZette last year and has been updated.

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PopZette editor Zachary Leeman can be reached at [email protected].