Top 10 War Movies of the 21st Century (Video Edition)
With LONE SURVIVOR becoming the first surprise of 2014 at the box office, it seems a good time to go back and look at one of the most popular genres of film: War. With over a hundred years of movies to dig through, this list will instead focus on the best war films released since 2000. Believe me, there have been so many good ones it was hard to get this list down to ten. But, these represent both the best made and most entertaining war films of the last 14 years. If your picks didn't make the list, feel free to add them to the talk backs below.
Not a movie but rather a mini-series, HBO's GENERATION KILL is a stark and realistic portrayal of the 2003 invasion of Iraq from the creators of THE WIRE. Like that series, GENERATION KILL pulls no punches in showing an accurate representation of life amongst the U.S. Marine Corps' 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. Featuring Lee Tergesen, Alexander Skarsgård, James Ransome, and Billy Lush, GENERATION KILL is not glossy, cinematic, or Hollywood but a must see nonetheless.
World War II movies come in all shapes and sizes, but when you put the writer and director of THE USUAL SUSPECTS together, the results are going to be phenomenal. Not a battle film but a thriller centered around the July 20th Plot to kill Hitler by his own troops, VALKYRIE takes us into a view of one of the biggest bruises on the 20th Century and shows that not all of those under his command followed Hitler blindly.
Combine Steven Spielberg as producer, Paul Haggis as screenwriter, and Clint Eastwood as director and you get the reverential WWII film FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. By itself, FLAGS is a well made and respectful film about the soldiers who fought at Iwo Jima and the iconic flag-raising after the battle, but what really makes this film special is the companion movie LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Giving equal play to both the American and Japanese experience during the same event is something rarely seen from a major studio. By themselves, the films are good, but together they are momentous.
War movies can be approached from numerous angles and the most common when dealing with the Holocaust is to show the heroes and fighters who survived the unspeakable evil of that time period. What Roman Polanski does with THE PIANIST is show neither a fighter or a hero but rather the ordeal of what an average person dealt with during the atrocities inflicted by the Nazis. Władysław Szpilman is played to perfection by Oscar winner Adrien Brody as a man who happens to be a brilliant musician in a time where playing the piano eventually saves his life. A difficult movie to watch and also one of the most haunting portrayals of this era put to film.
Since the release of GLADIATOR in 2000 and LORD OF THE RINGS in 2001, there has been an ongoing attempt to film an epic historical war film with the scale and grandeur of those two movies. Ridley Scott combined both his Russell Crowe starring Best Picture winner with Peter Jackson's elf star Orlando Bloom for the brilliant KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. While the theatrical version has some holes, the Director's Cut is one of the finest pre-20th century set war movies of all time. A great cast tackling a divisive religious event provides for a truly entertaining adventure.
The Battle of Stalingrad remains one of the biggest events of World War II and yet there are few films about it as good as ENEMY AT THE GATES. Joseph Fiennes and Jude Law are excellent as soldiers fighting for the Red Army who become romantically entangled with a fellow soldier played by Rachel Weisz. The battle scenes are harrowing but it is the drama between gunshots that makes this a must see. Plus, you have never seen a more awkwardly quiet sex scene in your life.
When you think of war movies, you rarely see anything set in the Napoleonic War, especially set at sea. But, the much beloved Aubrey–Maturin series of nautical novels came to life in Peter Weir's MASTER AND COMMANDER. Reunited A BEAUTIFUL MIND co-stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany lead an amazingly filmed movie with epic sea battles that have yet to be rivaled on the big screen.
Another war movie that isn't about the war itself, Quentin Tarantino's homage to spaghetti westerns and war movies is just the kind of exploitation film that make movies great. Who hasn't fantasized about killing Hitler? Great performances from Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Michael Fassbender highlight this revenge flick that has the right amount of humor mixed with buckets of blood from dead Nazi scalps.
A difficult movie to watch, LONE SURVIVOR is not about character development or choosing sides in the 'Merica versus Muslims debate. This is not a Red State or a Blue State movie. LONE SURVIVOR is a portrait of what soldiers do to survive in the most extreme scenarios that they are trained to deal with. Director Peter Berg drops you into the line of fire in a way few films have been able to do as effectively. Not a movie that will address the political machinations of war but an enduring example of what being in a war is like for those of us who are lucky enough not to have to.
Wars are not always fought cleanly and ZERO DARK THIRTY shows us that in torturous detail. The hunt for Osama Bin Laden was never going to be a fair and balanced one and Americans had to get their hands dirty. Lives were lost, many very painfully, but the end goal of finding the man behind September 11th and countless other acts of terror was the goal. Whether you agree with it or not, ZERO DARK THIRTY will forever be looked at as the summary of those events. Watching it is not easy but it most certainly will stick with you.
As with LONE SURVIVOR, BLACK HAWK DOWN portrays an operation gone horribly wrong. With a cast ten times as large as that film, Ridley Scott gives us soldier after soldier that we watch fall to the enemy bullets in Mogadishu. Every actor including Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner and Sam Shepard deliver performances that will stick with you long after you have seen this movie. It is hard to not describe this movie as action-packed, because it is, but despite the lack of character development we get to know each soldier as if they were people we really knew and that drives home the horror even more.