Saturday, September 23, 2017

Great War Movies, part II

This is a contination of the list from two weeks ago. Check out the first part first!

21. Good Morning Vietnam
This schmalzy movie has no business on the list. It's not a war movie, it's a love story with questionable casting on a questionable background with questionable story choices. Nothing of this is any way recommendable. It should rather be forgotten.

22. Schindler's List
A terrific movie that you absolutely need to watch, but what the fuck is it doing on this list? It's not a war movie.

23. Saving Private Ryan
I have a new appreciation for this movie after not really liking it for quite some time. It's use of camera-work is breathtaking, and the first 20 minutes have basically spawned a new genre all by themselves. I love that the movie doesn't shy away from moral complexities like war crimes and doesn't exonerate one side, and also features strife within the platoon. In the end, the German soldiers are becoming a bit one note, and making them all into Waffen-SS seems a bit too easy a way out of the dilemmas set up in the first half. But it remains absolutely worthy.

24. Black Hawk Down
Once you understand what actually happens in this movie, which is not an easy task, it's really well done. However, it suffers from the problem that the Somalis are overwhelmingly portrayed as an amorphous mass that has no personality nor motive, and the context of the military mission never becomes entirely clear, nor the consequences of what's happening. Instead, the movie ends on the "no one wants to be a hero, but sometimes it turns out that way"-note that really serves to destroy much of the good the movie build up in the beginning. It's a technical accomplishment and works narratively, but its politics are troubling.

25. Jarhead
A movie that shows how boring war is is a gutsy move. I can appreciate what it is trying to do, especially in portraying the psychological effects, but I wouldn't watch it again. Unsurprisingly, it's pretty boring.

26. The Admiral
I have never seen this movie nor heard about it before this list.

27. Fury
Fuck that movie and get it off this list or any list right now. It starts gritty and interestingly enough, but in its second half, it degrades into a boiler-plate story about comically well-supplied and numbered German troops that attack the tank like the orcs attacked Helm's Deep. If you speak German, I reviewed this piece of shit here:

28. American Sniper
Another one that needs to be taken down asap. There has been a lot of ink spilled over this one, so I don't want to add too much, but really, it's depiction of the war and its outrageous white-washing of the realities of counter-insurgency are contemptible.

29. Beasts of No Nation
Another one that gets mainly points for what it's trying to do. Showing the grim realities of child soldiers in Africa, it's a disturbing and moving picture, and the acting is top-notch, but the narrative is bungled and never clicks together into a coherent whole. Additionally, the main character remains a cipher, which might be intended but doesn't really serve the movie.

30. Hacksaw Ridge
Haven't seen it yet, so I'll have to abstain.

This concludes the list. I'm glad not to find some movies on it (like Gettysburg, Stalingrad (both the German and the Russian one), Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter and The Patriot). I have a few additions to make, though:

1. Paths of Glory
How you can excise a 1950s movie brave enough to face the issue of soldiers defying inhuman orders is beyond me. Sure, it doesn't exactly hold up today, but instead of putting these adventure-y types of movies in you could have made some space for this one.

2. Ran/Seven Samurai
Where is the love for samurais? Either one of these Kurosawa classics would have deserved a place on the list for reasons that should be obvious.

3. Inglorious Basterds
I know it's fictional, but where "Django" is one of the best, if not the best, movies about slavery in the US, this one is high up there about the persecution of Jews and the Resistance fighting in France. Especially in historic movies, the best are often those that eschew accuracy for coherent themes.

4. Glory
Not that this is an especially great movie, but its topic of black American soldiers in the Civil War is such an undercovered one that it really should be on the list.

5. Letters from Iwo Jima
How did this one slip? Letters from Iwo Jima, clearly the superior to Flags of Our Fathers, should be on any list, finally giving the Japanese a real human face instead of making them into caricature, and depicting the American juggernaut as just that, instead of artificially placing American soldiers in the situation of the underdog all the time. It also wisely eschews any heroic narrative and truly goes for the question of surviving, because our main character is rather a coward who wants to live - a sentiment I can sympathize with.

6. Band of Brothers/The Pacifc
Another omission I don't really understand. Both HBO series are great in their own right and vastly different from one another. You should really watch  these.

7. Kingdom of Heaven
I really love this movie. Again, for German speakers, check out my review (, but, whatever you do, watch the Director's Cut. It's vastly superior over the theatrical version, which was a commercial and critical failure. This movie needs a bit of a commitment, but its themes are commendable and well-woven into a great narrative. You need to watch or rewatch this.

8. The Wind that Shakes the Barley
A harrowing account of the Irish Wars in the early 1920s, this movie manages to get our sympathies for two IRA fighters and then brutally divides them once independence is achieved, serving as a parable for revolution vs. evolution that puts neither character squarely in the right or wrong.

9. Master and Commander
While definitely guilty of presenting war as an adventure, the movie is just vastly entertaining and extremely well done, and there's a dearth of good movies about sailing ships anyway, so check this one out. It also has great atmosphere and is wholly recommended.

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