|Scene from Joyeux Noël (Source)|
This was a very hard list to pare down to just ten. My first cut at the list had over 30 movies on it, so I figured I needed some firmer criterion than "Oh yeah, I really like that one." After much thought I decided to include movies which I thought were very accurate historically and which also elicited a powerful emotional reaction from me upon seeing it for the first time. (And still cause an emotional reaction when I watch them.) I didn't try to rank these movies from top to bottom because, quite frankly, a film's position in the list could vary depending on what I was in the mood for on any given day. So, this top ten is in no particular order, consider it a list where all the films are equally good in my eyes. But there is one film which I consider to be "first" among equals. (The first on the list.) So here we go...
While there are a few inaccuracies in the film, for the most part the film was very true to life. And death. One minor detail which I was completely unaware of until just recently, concerned the scene right after the Americans had broken through the initial defenses and were mopping up behind the beach. Two German soldiers come out of a trench with their hands up, obviously beseeching the Americans not to kill them. Which the Americans promptly do.
Turns out the two "Germans" were not German at all but were Czechs drafted into the German Army. A nice touch which your average movie goer wouldn't notice. There were all sorts of folks drafted into the Wehrmacht who were in Normandy. Including a number of Koreans. No, I'm serious, there's actually a movie based on that little-known fact, My Way.
This film did, and still, evokes strong emotions. We would do well to remember the men who stormed those beaches. It is my considered opinion that those who fought for freedom in World War II, did indeed, "earn this..."
This movie has a huge cast of great actors, which added to my enjoyment of the film, but what I really liked about the movie was that it was based on the Cornelius Ryan book of the same name. It's not just the Americans at Normandy. The British, the Canadians, the French, and the Germans are represented as well.
A magnificent film which, I think, has to be on any list of great war movies. Seeing that American helmet on the beach at the beginning of the movie has always stayed with me. Always will I think.
This is a very accurate film which portrays the German U-Boat sailors extremely well. Seventy-five percent of whom did not survive the war, in fact, most of whom still lie in their boats on the bottom of the Atlantic.
For those who must know, Das Boot, translates to "The Boat," which anyone familiar with naval parlance would tell you is what a submarine is called. The term U-Boat (U-Boot auf Deutsch) is short for unterseeboot, literally "under sea boat." For what it's worth, I prefer the director's cut and I always watch the movie in German, my German is rusty enough that I need to turn the subtitles on but watching it in English is just a "no go" for me.
For me, the final scene where the U-Boat captain lies mortally wounded, watching his boat sink at it's pier, so many of the crew dead or dying in an air attack on their home base, is emotionally wrenching. It doesn't matter that these are men serving an evil cause, most of whom didn't think of it that way, they are still men who when called to serve, did so. At great cost.
To survive all the perils of a wartime patrol only to die upon reaching home port, describes very well the trials, tribulations, and eventual destruction of the German submarine fleet. It also drives home the ultimate futility of war.
While the lead up to the attack itself is interesting, and pretty well done in my estimation, it is all only prelude to that moment when the Japanese aircraft roll into their attack runs. The shock on the part of the Americans as they realize that this is the real thing. An armed enemy is attacking. The time for negotiations is over.
I can only image the thoughts and feelings of the men of Enterprise as they returned to Pearl to see the shattered remains of the battleships and the devastation inflicted by the Japanese. From what The WSO says, steaming into Pearl Harbor today, manning the rails and rendering honors as they passed the wreck of the Arizona, it's a hard thing to remember. A hard thing to think about.
This movie has that impact on me.
Our Shermans could, and did, destroy Tigers (and Panthers, another tough opponent) but, as in the film, it usually took the Sherman having to get in close for it's weaker gun to be effective. Also, typically, a number of Shermans would be destroyed before the Tiger was.
But the guys who manned the Shermans were tough bastards, and the film shows that. The ending is a bit unbelievable to some. But, without spoiling the ending, the Waffen SS, who are "Fury's" final opponents, were rather infamous for attacking heedless of casualties and with ofttimes very little tactical finesse.
This is an awesome tank movie and, as I like to say, does for the WWII armored force what Saving Private Ryan did for the infantry, show the absolute horror of war for the men serving in those respective branches.
Another film that I left the theater feeling somewhat shaken by what I had just seen.
The story of Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts is a familiar one to me, having grown up in New England.
My great-great uncle Pliny was there at the final battle depicted in the film, the assault on Battery Wagner. So there's a personal connection as well.
A great film about men whose country treated them terribly, yet they still fought for her. This film stirs such emotions in me that it's hard to even write about it. Let's just say this...
George C. Scott does an excellent job in the lead role. Though truth be told, his voice is way too gravelly and low pitched, which is always somewhat jarring when watching actual footage of the real Patton speaking.
Still and all, an excellent film. The last lines of which always haunt me, "All glory is fleeting..."
Japanese troops seized the city after hard fighting and proceeded to act more like an ancient barbarian horde than a modern army. Buildings were destroyed, Chinese POWs executed out of hand, women brutalized and raped. Men, women, and children murdered without mercy.
This film (the version I saw was in Chinese and Japanese with English subtitles) depicts all of that. It's not a film for the faint of heart, the atrocities are depicted with brutal realism. This film goes a long way towards giving one an understanding of why the Japanese are still hated in many parts of Asia.
They have long memories over there. From this film, I could see why.
Many times people see the Jewish victims of the Nazis in World War II as being herded to their deaths placidly, like cattle. Of course, most film footage of those events was taken by Nazi cameramen who had a vested interest in showing the Jews as being less than human.
This film, based on a true story, shows the Bielski brothers and how they went from ordinary people to extraordinary heroes. The Bielski brothers were Polish Jews who fought back against the Nazis.
Very moving, well-written, and well acted. Daniel Craig (he's not just James Bond) and Liev Schreiber give powerful performances as the two older brothers.
Most excellent, well worth your time.
This film, like the previous one, is based on a true story. Despite the horrors of war, the men in the trenches, not yet completely brutalized by trench warfare, stop the war. They meet in "No Man's Land" to celebrate the birth of the Savior. This really happened. No, the generals were not happy about it. (When are generals ever happy?)
Back in the day when Blockbuster still existed, back when you could go to the video store and browse the various titles on offer. Back when you didn't have to know which movies you might want to see, The Nuke and I went to our local video emporium to select a couple of films to watch on a Saturday night. We had no specific films we wanted to see, just one of those "let's see what they have" kind of nights. (I miss that. A lot. One of the problems with online shopping is the inability to really browse, just wander the aisles only half paying attention until something strikes your fancy. One of the things I really dislike about these modern times. And why I still spend a lot of money at Barnes & Noble!)
We picked up one movie, a fairly recent release at the time whose title escapes me, yeah, not a very memorable film I guess. Then I saw the box for Joyeux Noël and brought it to The Nuke's attention. We both thought, "What the heck, let's watch it!" It was well-worth it. Sure, the movie was a little Hollywood-ish, perhaps a tad overblown, but the sentiment was superb. We both loved it. (I think The Missus Herself did as well, I can't recall The WSO's reaction. No doubt she enjoyed it, her tastes and mine are similar.)
If you can find this movie, especially at this time of year, watch it. It's worth your time.
So there you have it...
Not what you were expecting for my list of top ten war movies? I am a mixture of stubborn realist, hard core historian, little boy, and hopeless romantic. Sometimes that's reflected in my taste in movies, books, and music.
But there it is. What's in your top ten list of war movies?