And now for a little change of pace this week, here’s a list of my Top Ten War Movies in honor of Memorial Day. Everyone should never forget…with the inclusion of these into your collection.
I figured what the hell, let me attempt to dive into my own list, and attempt to do some justice to a hotly debated movie genre…war movies. The ability of fighting forces across the world to hurt people and break things has evolved over the years, and so have the war movies, as many have done with the dramatic death in … friend’s arms, and a lot of them usually get killed by snipers, with gore splattered on nearby troops with CGI precision. I don’t mean for it to sound too peacenik or anything, but if you take a look at the early movies and contrast with what we see in a big budget armed forces movie now, there’s a helluva more realism to it than in the past. From Lee Marvin’s The Big Red One to Letters From Iwo Jima, war movies have changed considerably in even just that 20 year span.
So in light of the holiday in the US, in case you aren’t hip-deep dealing with people at the beach or in a mall buying 2 for 1 dress pants somewhere, here is my recommended list of the Top 10 war movies. I’m going by ones in my collection; so don’t complain if Force 10 From Navarone or some other film isn’t here. Do with this list what you will. And considering the genre, 8 of these have Dolby 5.1 soundtracks at least, so I’ll try to do what I can to not mark out for great sound. Through some red meat on the grill, turn the sound system up and toast those who have served to defend the nation’s freedoms.
10. The Bridge on the River Kwai. David Lean’s fact-based epic about a stretch of rail that WW II POWs were forced to construct for the enemy leads to one of the most memorable scenes in film. Two of the actors in the film accepted this film as part of some risky choices, Alec Guinness had been more known for his comedic acting, and William Holden, who had won an Oscar for another war movie named Stalag 17, had taken a pay cut for some back-end points from the profit. The movie was a huge hit winning 7 Academy Awards; Holden spent the rest of his life split between working occasionally and traveling the world. And Guinness, who won for Best Actor, would go on to other films, including some science fiction one in the 70’s. Two versions of the DVD are available, but the two-disc set has some pretty nice extras to boot. It’s a thrilling film until the end, and worth checking out.
9. Band of Brothers. Not a movie of course, but the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg produced 10-part miniseries for HBO warrants plenty of attention. Based on Stephen Ambrose’s book, the story details the experiences of Easy Company, 506th, in the 101st Airborne. The group is largely unknown except for a few familiar faces (Ron Livingstone of Office Space being one), but the story is more about the men. With over 11 hours of film, it goes by its own pace, you see the Company form and put through its paces, and as the series progresses, you see the older members replaced, and new members brought it, as any Army unit would. Watching the series in one sitting is impossible, and some parts of it are average, but as a whole, you identify with the troops very easily, cry when they fall, and feel good when they don’t. The Hanks/Spielberg duo is rumored to be looking into producing a similar miniseries based in the Pacific theater; they’ve got their work cut out for them based on what they’ve already done.
8. Saving Private Ryan. When Hollywood had its turn with Vietnam movies, they turned their attention to World War II, and Steven Spielberg’s movie that he made for his father helped a lot of people realize the sacrifices that their forefathers made to protect and defend the freedoms we have. Sure, there were downfalls to this in America, notably dopey books made by TV news anchors, but to be born into an economic depression and be a teenager or young adult going off to war, maybe we don’t have it so bad after all. And there’s the first 30 minutes of the film at Omaha Beach, shot by handheld camera, which is among the most effecting opening sequences in film.
7. Das Boot. It’s amazing that the guy who directed this film directed such piles of crap like Outbreak, but Wolfgang Petersen directed a taut WWII thriller about a German U-Boat captain and his attempts to thwart Allied shipping routes in the Atlantic with the idea in mind to make it as cramped as possible. Men sleeping in bunks on top of each other, walking through hallways so tight that 2 men fitting through would be a miracle. With a 3 hour runtime, you really become a part of the crew. Based on a German miniseries, there is an even more astounding FIVE HOUR release of this classic, so make sure you come prepared when you watch it.
6. Black Hawk Down. This is one I identify with fairly strongly because this occurred while I was serving, though I was a few thousand miles away. It’s hard to describe the end result and how it felt, because of the frustration involved. To paraphrase Henry Rollins, you want to strangle somebody, but there’s nothing and no one to grab. It was something we took on the chin. Whatever political and foreign impact this may have had should be left up to people smarter than me, but this film is a non-stop look at the events in Mogadishu in October 1993, and serves as a tribute to the men who fought (and died) in those battles. The 3 disc deluxe edition is an amazing, exhaustive look at the making of the film and the events themselves, and is the best war DVD out there.
5. Apocalypse Now. The first big Vietnam war movie, Francis Ford Coppola’s look at an Army Captain’s journey into Cambodia to kill a renegade Green Beret Colonel is many different things at once. It’s got huge action sequences that fill up the camera frame perfectly, it’s got humor with Colonel Kilgore, and it’s got madness. But who’s the crazy one, is it Willard, a mercenary with little attachment to anything or anyone except killing? Or is it Kurtz, who has a camp surrounded by mutilated bodies and many women and children? When we find out what Kurtz has to say, maybe he’s not as crazy as we think he is. This one has so many memorable and quotable lines it’s stood the test of time over the years, and Paramount has been grossly negligent is this film on DVD. First the regular version, then an extended 45 minute cut, and little else. With either version with the excellent documentary Hearts of Darkness, where Coppola’s wife Eleanor documents the production of the film, and even includes secret audio recordings of Francis going insane, and you’ll get the complete picture.
4. The Deer Hunter. Michael Cimino’s look at the effect that Vietnam had on four men in a Pennsylvania steel town still stands in my mind as the best portrait a war can have on people at home. Its pace is long and deliberate, and at times a bit excessive, but it’s to give you the idea if what it was like for the people who were still at home while the others fought. The movie may be more memorized for the Russian roulette scenes (and subsequent college drinking game) that it has spawned, but it is also memorable for another item; the funding for and creation of the Vietnam War memorial. The movie was nominated for 9 Oscars and won 5, including a spellbinding turn by a young Christopher Walken, but it includes amazing performances by Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro and John Savage, and it helped to give America an idea of the ordeal that some Vets went through.
3. Flags of our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima. Clint Eastwood’s ode to those who fought in the Pacific theatre’s bloodiest battles has just come out on DVD, with two movies telling opposite sides of the same conflict. In Flags, the Americans involved with the flag raising at Iwo Jima are shown as reluctant heroes, and in Letters, Eastwood makes the point of saying that the Japanese came into the combat knowing that they would not be leaving, resorting to suicide if need be. Thousands of people lost their lives, and Eastwood’s two-part epic looks and sounds outstanding.
2. From Here To Eternity. I have always said, and I will continue to say, that James Jones’ book based on soldiers living in Honolulu just prior to the Pearl Harbor attacks is one of the most amazing and timeless books I’ve ever read. Aside from the Army politics, you’ve one soldier in love with another’s wife, something I witnessed a couple of times when I was there, and you have another who fell in love with a prostitute, something I witnessed more than a couple of times when I was there. Maybe it’s the environment or something, I dunno, but a lot of the Army guys in the film don’t play by the rules and are SOBs, which can be said for a lot of the GIs I knew. The stuff being done now is mirrored from two generations before. The other thing that’s cool, and something the tourists don’t see, is that you still live in those barracks to this day. The Japanese fighter plans put some bullet holes in the roof, which you can still go up and check out, if you’re stationed at Schofield and adventurous enough. The movie is great, taking home 8 Oscars, including Actor, Actress and Director, and anyone who has EVER been stationed (or will be in the future) at Schofield should see this.
1. Platoon. Again, maybe it’s because I identify with it more, as it is both recent and personal to my own life (I also served in the 25th Infantry Division with director Oliver Stone), but this film served to wake up a previously unknowing movie public about the behavior and manner of GIs. Sometimes, they really weren’t saints; they were prone to taking drugs and doing what they could to survive in jungle warfare. You feel like you don’t want to be there; as I’m sure a lot of them didn’t want also. But in Stone’s story, supplemented by the efforts of military advisor Dale Dye, another Vet, it strives to be as honest as possible, and served as a social shift among those who did not serve and were opposed to the war. Those who protested made sure to embrace those they spat on 20 years before. That’s a movie that made an impact, and not many films can say that.
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this diversion, so that’s it for me this week, and as always high definers, keep the brightness low and the resolution high!