March 10, 2007

Best War Movies

As I was checking some of my AOL mail yesterday, their website had a countdown of Moviefone's "Top 25 War Movies" of all-time. Granted, I haven't seen a decent portion of those listed, but even based on the descriptions offered, I was a bit flummoxed at how some made the cut -- and how a few didn't make the list.

#22: "The Thin Red Line." This movie, released shortly after "Saving Private Ryan," bored the bejeebies out of me. It deals with the Pacific war during WW II, and as the narrative states, "For those who prefer moral complexity and visual poetry to macho bonding and gore, it was this film, not 'Saving Private Ryan,' that won the battle of WWII flicks in 1998." I like moral complexity and visual poetry as much as the next guy, but as I said, it was too friggin' much (especially the "poetry" part) for a war flick.

#20: "M*A*S*H*." I like the TV series better. Seriously.

#18: "Patton." Only #18?? This George C. Scott masterpiece from 1970 is a must-see for any WW II buff. Scott is a magificent sonuvabitch.

#17: "All Quiet on the Western Front." I first saw this is in my "History of American Foreign Policy" class at UD my sophomore year (with Prof. Gary May, who's still there, and still quite the leftist I hear!). For a flick made in 1930 it's a remarkable testament to the horrors of war. The ending is beyond classic.

#16: "Letters From Iwo Jima." Why haven't I friggin' seen this flick, yet, dammit??

#15: "Three Kings." Say whaaaaaaat???

#14: "The Longest Day." A must-have for any war movie list.

#13: "Glory." Possibly the best movie made about the Civil War. Denzel Washington got an Oscar for his role as a royally pissed off soldier who's fighting only because he can. Morgan Freeman, as always, is also incredible. The only downside is the horrendous miscasting of Matthew Broderick as Colonel Shaw.

#11: "The Deer Hunter." Freaked me out as a teenager, and still does to this day. DeNiro, John Savage and Chris Walken are insanely phenomenal in this Vietnam era flick.

#6: "Das Boot." I'm so glad this made the top ten. Be sure to catch it in the original German for the full effect. As the review states, this movie shows these Ratzi submariners as real people (many actually were, after all!) who just want to do their job, survive, and go then go home like anybody else. Drop your heart ending.

#5: "Full Metal Jacket." Better than "Platoon," this movie would have gotten the Oscar nod had it been released before its Oliver Stone competitor. It's a movie in two parts: First, we're in boot camp, and then "in the shit" in 'Nam. Matthew Modine is superb, but as the review says, it's Vincent D'Onofrio as Pvt. Pyle that'll freak you out. Lee Ermey's Gny. Sgt. Hartman is unforgettable, too! This could possibly be my #1 war movie choice.

#4: "Schindler's List." 'Nuff said. Except that I'll add that Ralph Fiennes' pathological Nazi is quite disturbing.

#3: "Saving Private Ryan." This film is worth it if not only for its approximately 20-minute opening D-Day montage. It is so grippingly real you'll find yourself having to relax your grip (from the theatre chair) and telling yourself to actually breathe.

#2: "Platoon." Oliver Stone's best movie in my opinion, stars Charlie Sheen as an idealistic patriot who volunteers for 'Nam ... and who quickly becomes disillusioned. Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger are awesome as dueling sargeants Elias and Barnes. Well deserved Oscar, but "Full Metal Jacket" is better. (See above.)

#1: "Apocalypse Now." I'm sorry, but although this is a good war flick, there's no way it should be in the number one spot. Martin Sheen plays a soldier whose task is to find a rogue Marlon Brando. Some classic moments (Robert Duvall as a nutso officer obsessed with surfing), but it gets too ... psychadelic in the latter half of the film which can cause folks to either go "Huh?" or just plain lose interest. At least it did for me.

NOTABLE OMISSIONS:

-- "Enemy at the Gates." Jude Law plays expert Soviet marksman Vassili Zaitsev during WW II. Excellent portrayal of how the communist propaganda machine worked even in the middle of near-annihilation (the Battle of Stalingrad), not to mention how despicable the Soviets treated their own soldiers (gunning them down themselves during a necessary retreat from the Nazis). Ed Harris plays a German officer determined to zap Zaitsev. The cat-and-mouse game that follows is nerve-wracking. (Link.)

-- "Midway." Simplified and views sort of like a history textbook, but when it was released in 1976 it was dubbed as being filmed in "Sensurround"!! Anyone remember that? I did, 'cause I saw it in the theatre as a boy. Super all-star cast features Chuck Heston, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum, and once the action gets going it's hard to turn that channel (since it's now a TV movie staple). We (meaning, the US) really were luckier than the Japanese, as Fonda's Admiral Nimitz ponders. (Link.)

-- "Black Hawk Down." Perhaps not technically a "war" movie (the US action in Somalia a war? Or, a "mere intervention?") but it sure is one to your average joe. Virtually the entire film is like "Private Ryan's" first 20 minutes where the tension level is nigh unbearable. Also noteworthy for showcasing the United Nations "military" as the sham that it is. (Link.)

-- "The Killing Fields." Harrowing tale about the fall of Cambodia to Pol Pot and the US withdrawal from Southeast Asia based on NY Times reporter Sydney Schanberg's The Death and Life of Dith Pran. Newcomer Haing S. Ngor, an actual Cambodian refugee, is simply superb as Pran, as he makes his way through the morbid killing fields to his reunion with Schanberg -- and freedom. (Link.)

-- "Gallipoli." Post-"Mad Max" Mel Gibson stars as one of two Australian mates who heads off to fight for the British Empire in Turkey during WW I. Sensational acting and scenery, this is a classic anti-war war flick. (Link.)

-- "Master and Commander." Perhaps not technically a "war" movie but it sure has plenty of military action. Russell Crowe is terrific as Jack Aubrey as he and his crew aboard the HMS Surprise track down a [superior] French vessel. The most realistic naval movie I've seen, I believe. (Link.)

Posted by Hube at March 10, 2007 09:55 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

My Comments:

Patton should have been higher. As should The Great Escape. I love the Great Escape and will randomly quote Patton.

Letters from Iwo Jima was excellent. Much better than I expected.

Full Metal jacket disappointed me. Maybe it's because my father told me it was unrealistic and not at all the way things are done in the Marines. I couldn't shake the feeling too that Private Pyle would never have been allowed to stay in that long.

Apocalypse Now I think is viewed through the lens of the statement it's trying to make rather than on its own merits. If you hated the Vietnam War, you like it in no relation at all to its actual merits. I agree its overrated. I found it confusing and muddled.

Oh, and I'll second The Longest Day as a great movie.

Posted by: Paul Smith at March 10, 2007 11:46 AM

Paul: I have heard that about FMJ, too. I dunno, maybe 'cause it's so damn well acted I can overlook that. ;-)

Posted by: Hube at March 10, 2007 01:49 PM

My personal fave? The Dirty Dozen. Love it. And I completely agree with the M*A*S*H movie being not quite as good as the series. Patton makes me want to slowly claw the eyeballs out of my head, though. How about Tora!Tora!Tora!

Posted by: Browein at March 10, 2007 10:15 PM

The Dirty Dozen was good. Another "not-quite" war movie I love is The Final Countdown.

Posted by: Paul Smith at March 11, 2007 07:26 AM

Dirty Dozen is a great call!
What about Zulu? That is a great war movie!
If they are considering Deer Hunter a war movie, then it should be #1. It is far and away the best film.

Posted by: Digby at March 11, 2007 11:32 AM

I have a had time categorizing some of those films as "war movies." Is the Pianist really a war film? Schindler's List? They are certainly films set during the war, but they aren't what I think when someone says "war movie."

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist at March 12, 2007 09:24 AM

Three Kings my left nut. Sure, it was fun, but no way does it compare to, say, Kelly's Heroes or The Eagle Has Landed, or even Guns of Navarone. The Longest Day was awesome, but so was A Bridge Too Far, also by Cornelius Ryan.

Paul, say what you will about Full Metal Jacket (based on The Short Timers, by Gustav Hasford) but the author's younger brother, Eugene, was my platoon sergeant and assured me it was at least 95% accurate.

Posted by: G Rex at March 12, 2007 12:42 PM

Sand Pebbles?

Tora Tora Tora!?

60 Seconds Over Tokyo

Ran? (If this is considered a war movie)

Guns of Navarone?

The Great Raid?

Band of Brothers? (not a film but worthy of mention here IMNHO)

Posted by: Duffy at March 12, 2007 02:25 PM

I have to say I agree with many of your comments. I think "Cold Mountain" was a better Civil War film than Glory, but it only touches on battle field stuff a but so I can see why it was not included.

Likewise, I think the best WWII film is Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17".

William Holdens performance as Sefton cuts through the corny BS that is the bread and butter of many WWII films.

Posted by: Jason at March 13, 2007 12:16 AM

SGT York : it treats Yorks faith and courage with equal respect.

Black Hawk Down: it is great, partially, for what it lacks... hollywood stereotypes. it is shocking to see US Soldiers portrayed as the Skilled, Intelligent, Disciplined (Young) Professionals that they are.
if you are tempted to think the battle scenes are "over the top" remember this quote from one of the vets... "in reality there were much more rockets (incoming)"


Posted by: steamboat willy at March 13, 2007 12:44 PM

Speaking of Mel Gibson: Breaker Morant.

Posted by: Callimachus at March 15, 2007 02:10 PM

No one remember's "Path's of Glory" with Kirk Douglas? I think its one of, if not, the best WW1 movies of all time.

Posted by: Zee at March 16, 2007 06:09 PM

I picked up "Das Boot" and "Sgt. York" from the library last week. They are both great movies. I found myself rootin' for the Germans in "Das Boot" several times. I had to remind myself that these were Nazi killers responsible for the deaths of thousands of our people. It's only a movie, though. "Sgt. York" was interesting but I had a problem with this movie. It just didn't seem like a war flick to me. The site was slow on my piddling dial-up so I didn't see the entire list, but I wonder if "Heaven knows, Mr. Allison" was listed. It stars Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr as a Marine and nun stranded on a Pacific island during WW II. There are some very powerful scenes in this movie and I would recommend it if you can find it.

Posted by: Al at March 16, 2007 10:33 PM

#2 "Platoon" ?

I say "HAMBURGER HILL" outclassed the movie Platoon.

Platoon, the book was excellent but the movie was a total disappointment.

Posted by: Rebel Radius at March 25, 2007 12:03 AM

Are u serious?! Platoon easily outclassed "Hamburger Hill". of course its a good movie, but there's no way it beats platoon!

Posted by: Der at April 25, 2007 09:21 PM

Euhm, other films you MUST have seen before making a top 20 => The Grey Zone (uprising in jew camp) ... When trumpets fade ... The lost battallion (WW1)

Posted by: Jeanlachean at March 11, 2008 03:59 PM