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A film veteran remembers: my top five war films

3 years agoby:

It would probably be more apropos if this editorial focused on "films that explore the veteran experience" or some such category more specific to yesterday's importance.  But I haven't seen a wide enough selection of films which cover that topic, so my list would hardly be anything close to a qualified or considered opinion.  So here's what I'm going to do - part of Veterans Day is, to my mind, not just about honoring the human beings who participated in combat.  It is also about remembering, for both good and ill, the effect and/or cost of war.  It is about the power of the thing, the transformation it enacts on anyone who is impacted by it.  And we are all impacted by it. 

So here are my top five war films, from the perspective not of a one-time member of the armed forces but someone who has seen a lot of films.  These are not necessarily my favorites, but rather the most powerful out of those that I have seen.  And I'd be curious to know what films would make up your own version of such a list.  So after checking out what I have to say, go ahead and strike back below and let me know your top five!

PLATOON.  I caught PLATOON for the first time on TV about six years ago, during the village burning scene.  I then had this very trippy experience where I started crying and rocking back and forth and saying "I didn't mean to do it" over and over and over again.  Still don't know what that was about.

Platoon 250

ENEMY AT THE GATES.  Loving this film flies in the face of my semi-complaints about Bigelow and Boal taking liberties with the truth about military life in THE HURT LOCKER , but I guess it's just one of those things where I somehow first saw it when I was ten years old and it irrevocably stuck with me.  The heartbreak, the casualty of innocence (there we go with PLATOON again), the sacrifice, the sorrow and the barbarity, and three sides of war not often seen on film (at least as of GATES' release in 2001): the human face (and heart) of the propaganda machine, the Russian side of WWII, and the life of a sniper.  Great score as well, one that still ends up on my iPod to this very day.

Enemy At the Gates 250

STALINGRAD.  Going along with the setting of the last film on this list, this is one tough motherf**ker of an experience.  A German film that uses the microcosm of a single platoon of German soldiers to illustrate the greater suffering and dismay experienced by an unprepared German army as it invaded Russia.  Because you just don't invade Russia.  I'm guessing things will turn out a bit better for John McClane than it has for folks like Hitler and Napolean, but he's also John McClane and after the borderline superheroic events of the last DIE HARD movie there's little room for argument really.

Stalingrad movie still

MUNICH.  Now I know this far from a "war film" in the traditional sense.  But it IS about a certain kind of war, and you can bet your white and blue britches that the Jewish operatives portrayed in the film dealt with the results and heavy cost of their violent actions.  While not my favorite Spielberg film (that honor belongs to HOOK or RAIDERS), I firmly believe that it's his finest.  Deeper than many critical accusations would have you believe, and both more AND less forgiving (paradoxical, I know) than expected, MUNICH is a triumph of filmmaking and a fascinating exploration of the wide-reaching ramifications of every act done in the name of proactive defense.  And in the name of offense.  Like I said - the film doesn't take sides, and is significantly better for it.

Munich 250

THE GREAT ESCAPE.  It's important to remember that there are survivors.  That there are are all kinds of definition for the word "victory."  That there are all kinds of wars, great and small and in between.  And that the most dire of situations can spark the most inventive, passionate, and life-affirming responses.  The men portrayed in THE GREAT ESCAPE serve as heroes in the best sense of the word, soldiers who inspire through the unrelenting pursuit life rather than by the dealing out of death.  As for the movie itself... well, I think it's fair to say that it ain't too shabby.  The textbook definition of "stellar cast," for one.  Nigh-on perfect filmmaking for another.  I watched it once specifically with a eye towards how I might remake it should I ever be given the chance.  And I couldn't find a single thing I would change.  Maybe I was biased by nostalgia, or maybe this is just an example of superb filmmaking.  I'm going with the latter choice.

The Great Escape old school poster

Extra Tidbit: During the "Russian Roulette" sequence in THE DEER HUNTER, Robert De Niro always insisted that there be a live bullet in the gun being used. Christopher Walken, meanwhile, made sure to check before every take that there wasn't a live round in the chamber.
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+2
8:02AM on 11/13/2012

War movies are always great

You said you were 10 years-old when you watched Enemy at the Gates. Damn, that just made me feel old.
Anyways:
1.Saving Private Ryan,
2. The Dirty Dozen
3. The Bridge Over the River Kwai
4. Schindler's List
5. Born on the Fourth of July
You said you were 10 years-old when you watched Enemy at the Gates. Damn, that just made me feel old.
Anyways:
1.Saving Private Ryan,
2. The Dirty Dozen
3. The Bridge Over the River Kwai
4. Schindler's List
5. Born on the Fourth of July
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+2
2:42AM on 11/13/2012
1. Apocalypse now
2. Das boot
3. Schindlers list
4. Born on the Fourth of July
5. Platoon
1. Apocalypse now
2. Das boot
3. Schindlers list
4. Born on the Fourth of July
5. Platoon
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1:52AM on 11/13/2012

agreed....Great Escape!

1. The Great Escape
2. Saving Private Ryan
3. Tae Guk Gi: Brotherhood of War
4. Band of Brothers (if this counts?)
5. A Bridge Too Far
1. The Great Escape
2. Saving Private Ryan
3. Tae Guk Gi: Brotherhood of War
4. Band of Brothers (if this counts?)
5. A Bridge Too Far
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11:09PM on 11/12/2012

All Good War Films

1) Schindler's List
2) Glory
3) Platoon
4)Patton
5) All Quiet on the Western Front
6) The first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan
1) Schindler's List
2) Glory
3) Platoon
4)Patton
5) All Quiet on the Western Front
6) The first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan
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-1
9:39PM on 11/12/2012

What?

Wow. One of the worst lists I've ever seen on Joblo.
Wow. One of the worst lists I've ever seen on Joblo.
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9:35PM on 11/12/2012

Paths of Glory

You motherfuckers.
You motherfuckers.
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+1
5:05PM on 11/12/2012
Using a broad definition of a War Movie my list goes as this:
1) Schindler's List
2) Apocalypse Now
3) Saving Private Ryan
4) Inglourious Basterds
5) Full Metal Jacket
Using a broad definition of a War Movie my list goes as this:
1) Schindler's List
2) Apocalypse Now
3) Saving Private Ryan
4) Inglourious Basterds
5) Full Metal Jacket
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1:04PM on 11/12/2012
All but one of my favorite war films have been mentioned. Arguably the most gruesome of all and in any case my favorite:

Come and See.
All but one of my favorite war films have been mentioned. Arguably the most gruesome of all and in any case my favorite:

Come and See.
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+3
12:06PM on 11/12/2012

Top War Films

1. Saving Private Ryan
2. Schindler's List
3. Letters From Iwo Jima
4. Born On The Fourth of July
5. Apocalypse Now
6. Black Hawk Down
7. Steel Helmet
8. Band of Brothers
9. Bridge On The River Kwai
10. Empire of The Sun
1. Saving Private Ryan
2. Schindler's List
3. Letters From Iwo Jima
4. Born On The Fourth of July
5. Apocalypse Now
6. Black Hawk Down
7. Steel Helmet
8. Band of Brothers
9. Bridge On The River Kwai
10. Empire of The Sun
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11:08AM on 11/12/2012

Munich?

Munich is not a war film at all so you trolled us by adding it to top 5 war films. Full Metal Jacket, Apocalyse Now, Glory, even War Horse are better choices than Munich.
Munich is not a war film at all so you trolled us by adding it to top 5 war films. Full Metal Jacket, Apocalyse Now, Glory, even War Horse are better choices than Munich.
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12:36PM on 11/12/2012
I would argue that more and more we are having wars that are fought with covert operations rather than outright combat. Intelligence people and field operatives part of organizations such as the CIA or Mossad or MI6 or what have you serve their countries just as much, are just as valuable, and just as changed by their experiences. So I guess I'm going with the idea that, to quote Solid Snake, "war has changed." What we define as war is growing increasing malleable. That being said, I do
I would argue that more and more we are having wars that are fought with covert operations rather than outright combat. Intelligence people and field operatives part of organizations such as the CIA or Mossad or MI6 or what have you serve their countries just as much, are just as valuable, and just as changed by their experiences. So I guess I'm going with the idea that, to quote Solid Snake, "war has changed." What we define as war is growing increasing malleable. That being said, I do understand your disagreement. APOCALYPSE NOW would have probably made my list if I hadn't thought of MUNICH.
11:04AM on 11/12/2012
Platoon is my all-time favorite war movie. It is also one of the most intense films I have ever seen, and I always feel completely drained when the affair is over.

The Great Escape - just a terrific film overall. If you hadn't put it in your Top 5, I might've left it off because I tend to lean toward mean and gritty with my war movies, the better to remind myself why I hate war so much.

Apocalypse Now just plays like a slow ride to Hell. As bad as the shoot was, I'm grateful that they
Platoon is my all-time favorite war movie. It is also one of the most intense films I have ever seen, and I always feel completely drained when the affair is over.

The Great Escape - just a terrific film overall. If you hadn't put it in your Top 5, I might've left it off because I tend to lean toward mean and gritty with my war movies, the better to remind myself why I hate war so much.

Apocalypse Now just plays like a slow ride to Hell. As bad as the shoot was, I'm grateful that they were able to make something worthwhile out of it. The anarchic spirit of the film at once enhances what is going on, while also at times coming off as perhaps a little self-indulgent. That's not exactly a criticism, just part of why I prefer Platoon.

Downfall - before Inglorious Basterds decided to do the unthinkable and rewrite history(!) this was the movie that seemed to come long and explore WWII from a new angle. Specifically, the last days of the Third Reich, as told by Germans, with none other than one of Germany's most celebrated thespians as the Fuhrer. Bruno Ganz successfully transforms himself in one of the most fearless performances, both emotionally and symbolically, that I have ever seen. It also made me take note of the actor Christian Berkel as the conflicted Schenck (Berkel has since become the go-to actor for playing Nazis of all stripes).

Das Boot - I only finally watched this movie this year. My God, talk about claustrophobic! But I see why it's such a classic. It really is just about a flawless film in every way.

While movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Saving Private Ryan and The Bridge on the RIver Kwai are also great films, I haven't seen them in many, many years. Stalag 17, The Hurt Locker, Three Kings, and The Thin Red Line are all good films.
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10:46AM on 11/12/2012
I'm going to have to go with Saving Private Ryan, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, and Platoon. Love all these movie and I think they show what war does to people and sacrificies that were made during these wars.
I'm going to have to go with Saving Private Ryan, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, and Platoon. Love all these movie and I think they show what war does to people and sacrificies that were made during these wars.
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9:44AM on 11/12/2012
1. Saving Private Ryan
2. The Hurt Locker
3. Sands of Iwo Jima
4. Black Hawk Down
5. Full Metal Jacket

Honorable Mention: Band of Brothers & U571 (guilty pleasure)
1. Saving Private Ryan
2. The Hurt Locker
3. Sands of Iwo Jima
4. Black Hawk Down
5. Full Metal Jacket

Honorable Mention: Band of Brothers & U571 (guilty pleasure)
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9:38AM on 11/12/2012
One of my favorites has always been 'Glory.' The perfect film to watch between now and Christmas (regardless if you celebrate or not) is 'Joyeux Noel.' I highly recommend watching it then reading about the true story after the film.
One of my favorites has always been 'Glory.' The perfect film to watch between now and Christmas (regardless if you celebrate or not) is 'Joyeux Noel.' I highly recommend watching it then reading about the true story after the film.
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9:33AM on 11/12/2012

My top five

Saving Private Ryan, Hamburger Hill, Black Hawk Down, Platoon, Sands of Iwo Jima
Saving Private Ryan, Hamburger Hill, Black Hawk Down, Platoon, Sands of Iwo Jima
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9:25AM on 11/12/2012
My top five would be: The Great Escape, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, Empire of the Sun, and Battle of Britain. Also, I'd give Honorable Mention to "Band of Brothers" series from HBO. I really really enjoy this miniseries.
My top five would be: The Great Escape, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, Empire of the Sun, and Battle of Britain. Also, I'd give Honorable Mention to "Band of Brothers" series from HBO. I really really enjoy this miniseries.
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9:13AM on 11/12/2012
Good list! I would add "Das Boot" (Mini-Series)
Good list! I would add "Das Boot" (Mini-Series)
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