You will notice an anti-war stance with this list. John Wayne is noticeable by his absence! The films have a common mission and that is to tell the truth as the writers and directors see it. Before I receive a deluge of comments on why ‘Saving Private Ryan’ isn’t included, I think that the first 20 minutes are remarkable but the rest of the film is a let down.
10. Paths of Glory
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1957)
The setting is World War I and the plot, adapted from the novel of the same name, is inspired by a true story. Kirk Douglas gives a fine performance as honorable French officer, Colonel Dax. Following the order of a suicidal attack, which ends in failure, the military brass demands that three of the soldiers involved are made examples of. They are put on trial on trumped up charges of cowardice and mutiny, their only hope being Dax, who takes on their defense.
Directed by Robert Altman (1970)
The futility of war, expressed through black humor, is the driving force and the movie is superior to the long running TV series that followed. The surgeons and nurses of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital do the best they can to cope with the constant flow of wounded men from the Korean War. Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper (Elliot Gould) are a great double act. There’s even a song to go with the sound of helicopters. Sing along to ‘Suicide is Painless’.
8. Das Boot
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (1981)
The claustrophobic world of submarine warfare is vividly portrayed in this World War II story, told from the German perspective. Set in 1942, the action takes place on a U-Boat, whose mission is to destroy Allied shipping and block essential supplies from reaching Britain. We are caught up in the rookie crew’s tense world, including being stranded with their air running out. The Captain and much of his crew question the Nazi warlords who sent them to war. There are several versions of the film and it was also presented as a TV mini-series.
7. Born on the Fourth of July
Directed by Oliver Stone (1989)
Based on Ron Kovic’s book of his experiences in the Vietnam War, Oliver Stone and Kovic co-wrote the screenplay. It won the Oscar for Best Director and anyone who says that Tom Cruise can’t act should see this. Kovic is as gung ho patriotic as they come when he enlists in the Marine Corps and can’t wait to ship out to ‘Nam. He comes back paralyzed from the chest down. As he tries to re-build his life, he is faced by terrible conditions in the Vet’s hospital, hostility and indifference. His beliefs are turned upside down and he campaigns against the war and for the rights of servicemen through the Vietnam Veterans Against the War organization.
6. Schindler’s List
Directed by Steven Spielberg (1993)
Spielberg reached a new maturity in his adaptation from Thomas Keneally’s book. Filmed in black and white, there is an authentic feel to the story of businessman, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson). He opens a factory in occupied Poland and employs Jewish workers as cheap labour. On good terms with German officers, his motive is to simply make a profit. Gradually, he is moved by the plight of the Jewish population and he uses his position to save hundreds of Jews destined for the Concentration Camp. Ralph Fiennes is chilling as SS Officer, Goeth. It won the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. The best moment is Schindler’s reaction to a little girl in a red coat.
5. Full Metal Jacket
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1987)
Another examination of the Vietnam War, this brutal tale follows a squad of US Marines from Boot Camp to the Tet Offensive. Drill Instructor, Sergeant Hartman makes life hell for recruits, particularly for Private Gomer Pyle, who is slow and overweight. The Marines then have to survive street battles in Vietnam, which Kubrick skilfully created on location in England. This movie is like a slap in the face and the closing shots of the marines singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song gives you goose bumps.
4. Oh, What a Lovely War
Directed by Richard Attenborough (1969)
This is the most unusual war movie ever made. Told through the medium of the music hall, it was adapted from a successful stage musical. British soldiers satirize the absurdity of World War I with altered lyrics to popular songs. The life of the working class soldiers are contrasted with the officers and the aristocracy. Jingoistic recruiting (‘We Don’t Want To Lose You But We Think You Ought To Go’) gives way to the disillusionment (‘Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire’). A stellar cast features Lawrence Olivier, John Mills, John Gielgud, and Maggie Smith. The film ends with a shot of row upon row of white crosses.
3. All Quiet on the Western Front
Directed by Lewis Milestone (1930)
Another look at the horror of World War I, this time, from a German perspective. It is a visually inventive adaptation from Erich Maria Remarque’s novel and, despite its 1930 release, stands up as a classic today. A class of students are swept away in a wave of enthusiasm to enlist and serve the Fatherland. The boyhood friends are anticipating glory but meet with a harsh reality. Paul (Lew Ayres) is the central character and Kat is the hardened veteran who tries to help the recruits. There are some memorable scenes, such as the butterfly, just out of reach in the trenches, and the ghostly march past of the dead. The film won the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director.
2. Apocalypse Now
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1979)
This surreal trip through the Vietnam War took its inspiration from Joseph Conrad’s book, ‘Heart of Darkness’. Army Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is ordered into the jungle in Cambodia to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Reports have come through that Kurtz, who is AWOL, has gone insane and is commanding a private army. Willard arrives to find that the locals worship Kurtz. This movie is famous for the difficulties encountered in its making. Sheen had a heart attack, severe weather destroyed sets and Coppola had to accommodate an overweight Brando. It’s a wonder it got made at all but the result is a disturbing journey into the dark souls of lost, human beings. ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’.
1. The Thin Red Line
Directed by Terence Malick (1998)
Unfortunately overshadowed by ‘Saving Private Ryan’, which came out in the same year, this is a masterpiece of cinematography. The slow paced story is based on the autobiographical novel by James Jones and concerns the Battle of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific in World War II. The men from C-Company reveal their personal lives and their different viewpoints, bonding together as their courage and beliefs are tested. It’s strange to describe a war film as poetic and lyrical but this one is. Interspersed with the fighting, there is beauty and compassion. The lesser-known actors are every bit as compelling as stars, such as Sean Penn and Nick Nolte. Written by Anne Iredale