Monday, November 11, 2013

Favorite War Movies

Truth told, war movies are not my favorite genre. That said, there is nothing quite so visceral as a well done battle scene, and not much as gut-wrenching as a film that cuts to the heart of war. The simple fact of the matter is that war is, unfortunately, one of the most innately human things depicted on the screen. That said, I have to say thanks to all of my fellow vets out there. Enjoy Veteran's Day and check out one or more of my...

5 Favorite War Movies

5. Apocalypse Now
General: Francis Ford Coppola
Conflict: The Vietnam War
This is Francis Ford Coppola at a time when he could seemingly do no wrong. We follow Benjamin L. Willard, played by an amazing Martin Sheen, go on a manhunt for one of the United States' own, Col. Walter E. Kurtz. Apparently, Kurtz has gone crazy and needs to be eliminated. Marlon Brando delivers the goods as the nutso colonel. The rest of the cast also turns in stellar work. Included are Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, and a pubescent Laurence Fishburne. They help deliver Coppola's anti-war vision to the screen. This is arguably the best movie ever made about Vietnam.

4. Glory
General: Edward Zwick
Conflict: The Civil War
An oft-neglected component of American history, both educational and cinematic, is the contribution of black soldiers to the efforts of the Union Army during the Civil War. More than any other, Glory is the film that drives home the point that African Americans were not merely spectators in the decisive battle over the legality of slavery. Cpt. Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is tasked with heading up an all black company. They are given only menial task which gives us ample time to get to know them. Boy, do we ever, thanks to stellar work from Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Andre Braugher (making his big screen debut), among others.

3. Schindler's List
General: Steven Spielberg
Conflict: World War II
Schindler's List is different from most war movies in that the focus is not on the people actively fighting. Here, our protagonist is Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson). He's a German businessman who is a member of the Nazi party. However, his life becomes saving Jews from persecution and execution while maintaining the appearance of loyalty to the Nazi's. It's an epic in every sense of the word. This includes its villain, Amon Goeth, played by Ralph Fiennes being as unlikable as is humanly possible.

2. Full Metal Jacket
General: Stanley Kubrick
Conflict: The Vietnam War
Let's just get this out of the way, now. The opening half of Full Metal Jacket is the best depiction of boot camp ever committed to film, period. What R. Lee Ermey does as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is nothing short of perfect. The same goes for Vincent D'Onofrio as Private "Pyle". I've seen both men in many things since but whenever I do, this movie immediately comes to mind. The second half, which includes neither, has been so overshadowed, people seem to forget it even exists. I'm not here to tell you it's just as good as the first half, but I will say that is excellent in its own right.

1. Saving Private Ryan
General: Steven Spielberg
Conflict: World War II
What Saving Private Ryan does better than perhaps any movie not made during the silent film era is tell its story through action. Sure there's plenty of exposition in the name of character development, but it's the battle scenes that not only thrill us, they tell us what's going on. Of course, what's going on is the seemingly impossible extraction of one soldier, Private Ryan (Matt Damon) from the front lines of World War II after it is learned that his three brothers have all been killed. Damon is good, but as his commanding officer, Tom Hanks is great. It's some of his best work, in my opinion. The rest of the cast is also great and too numerous to name. And yes, the Omaha Beach scene that opens the movie is the most tense battle scene of them all.

Some other great war movies (chronologically)...

Paths of Glory (1957)
The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Patton (1970)
Das Boot (1981)
A Soldier's Story (1984)
Platoon (1986)
Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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