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The five 9/11 films that get it right

This week's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has us remembering the movies that best address a terrible day—and its aftermath.


25th Hour (2002)

An early stab at the subject turns out to be one of the most complex: Spike Lee's gritty tale of a drug dealer's final day of freedom was backgrounded with an intentional wealth of post-9/11 detail, linking personal catastrophe to global reckoning. The Tribute in Light introduces a city on edge, followed by a bruised mood throughout—and even a scene before Ground Zero: an argument between guilty friends wishing they'd done more.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

Michael Moore's pop-doc diatribe against George W. Bush traces the tragedy's political fallout, but it's Moore's uncharacteristic restraint regarding the attack itself that sticks with you: sounds of disorder playing over a black screen. His refusal to reduce the event to news footage seen ad nauseam around the world somehow restores the moment's unimaginable sense of horror.—David Fear

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United 93 (2006)

Premiering to tears and thunderous applause at the Tribeca Film Festival (itself founded in the wake of 9/11), Paul Greengrass's shattering re-creation of the doomed flight avoided jingoism—it even introduced a realistic bit of motivation for the iconic "Let's roll" line. The movie's script was a collaboration between the director and improvising actors, informed by hours of interviews with the victims' families.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Man on Wire (2008)

Tightrope-walker Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire stroll between the two towers obviously predates 9/11 by many years, yet it's hard not to view James Marsh's extraordinary documentary about the feat as a ghost story. You're constantly reminded of the human achievement that went into building those skyscrapers—and that Petit's stunt is now impossible to repeat.—David Fear

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Margaret (2011)

Though there are no images directly related to the events at Ground Zero, the devastation nonetheless looms large in Kenneth Lonergan's masterful portrait of a privileged NYC teen who witnesses a horrifying bus accident. Her emotional fallout—at home, with friends, in the classroom (where 9/11 is heatedly discussed)—shows how the raw feelings of that petrifying day lingered long past the event itself.—Keith Uhlich

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