I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. My Father fought WWII in Europe and missed a couple of my birthdays. Like all my playmates, I watched every episode of “Victory at Sea” on a new thing called television. It was a series of documentaries describing important battles in that World War. Still, I missed seeing my Father in the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of the first Concentration Camp (Bergen-Belsen). And, of course, everyone saw films about WWII. Dozens of them.
With that as background, the other day I saw an article on the internet intitled: “The Top 25 War Movies of All Time.” You must have seen articles like it. They, often, are slotted following a main article. Their titles might be: “The Top 25 Shortstops Ever,” (Honus Wagner was number 1) or “The Greatest Rock Bands,” (the Stones were 4th, The Beatles were 1st).
In case you missed the WWII article, here are the selections for the top films. Each has a very brief comment.
- Apocalypse Now. Not just one of the best war movies, but one of finest films period. War can turn men into monsters.
- Zero Dark Thirty. Dramatizes what happened in the decade-long search for Osama bin Laden.
- Lawrence of Arabia. The story of T. E. Lawrence. Introduced many movie-goers to Peter O’Toole.
- Full Metal Jacket. Stanley Kubrick’s film message = The demoralizing of war.
- Saving Private Ryan. 20+ years later, the film’s opening 30-minute sequence (The D-Day invasion) still stands as iconic film-making. My choice for Best War Film). (See Tom Hanks below).
.Platoon. You can boil it down to a single image: Willem Defoe dying
- Bridge on the River Kwai. Won seven Academy Awards (eg, Best Film).
- The Deer Hunter. Have you forgotten Christopher Walken’s performance yet? How?!
- Gone with the Wind. It boils down to one sentence: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Imagine how that line played in 1939.
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.Before I saw it, I thought: “Two sailing ships. How good can it be?” Afterward, I thought: “Wow! Russell Crown and Paul Bethany: exceptional.
- Pattoon. George C. Scott won Best Actor. My Father did not recognize the film’s Patton. (ie, not an Oscar winner)
- Das Boot. One of, if not the best, submarine movies ever.
- Paths of Glory. “A righteous indignation at the unapologetic cowardice of the craven old men who sent others off to die on the field of battle.”
- Three Kings. Saddam Hussein steals gold from Kuwait, and George Clooney with friends steal it back.
- Schindler’s List. A German businessman saves thousands of Jews from extermination. Another great film from Spielberg.
- Hacksaw Ridge. The first Conscientious Objector to receive the Congessional Medal of Honor for rescuing 75 men.
- The Hurt Locker. “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”
- The Great Escape. True story, wonderful cast, Steve McQueen rides motorcycle as American and German.
- Beasts of No Nation. Movie about Child Soldiers in Africa. (Also starred Idris Alba. I had to mention him. Ever see him as Luther on PBS? Catch him if you can. Find out why he’s talked about as the next James Bond.)
- Empire of the Sun. Spielberg’s lament for the loss of a child’s innocence during wartime. The child is played by Christian Bale (pre-Batman).
- Black Hawk Down. 88 Americans died or were wounded in Somalia in 1993.
- Letters from Iwo Jima. Clint Eastwood’s better WWII film.
- Inglorious Basterds. Film goers meet Christoph Waltz, and in Quentin Tarantino’s film, Hitler dies differently.
- Dunkirk. A reenactment of the 1940 evacuation of 400,000 British and Allied soldiers.
- The Pianist. Adrian Brody portrays a pianist caught in WWII; wins Best Actor Oscar; kisses Halle Berry.
Who would be your choice (s)?