For those of you who didn’t know, I’m a filthy liberal. It’s true. But I’m not some crazy social justice type. Instead, I’m part of what’s call the “libertarian left.” However, just because I am a filthy liberal doesn’t mean I am naturally opposed to the military. Time was, before my head injury, I wanted to go into military intelligence. One of many things in life that Lady Luck saw fit to take from me. I can’t play contact sports, or serve. However, the movies have provided me with some good depictions of the life. Sure, there are the ones that are basically “America, Fuck Yeah!” The Movie, but then there are the ones that actually look at war and what it means to fight. Or at the very least just have a very honest depiction of fighting it. These are the films that have stuck with me in that regard. Or, and I’m just being honest here, some of them are just cool. I’m not above liking a movie for having cool shit. The shame of my pseudo-intellectual bravado. Here are the top 10 war movies that I like.
10. Green Zone
Made by the same guy who did the first three Bourne movies, this film tells the story of an Army unit commander who ends up getting caught in a labyrinth of intrigue, all on a quest to find out the truth behind the WMDs in Iraq. This movie surprised me, when I first saw it. See, the United States military is VERY protective of their image. They have to approve movies depicting them before they get released. So a film that is critical of military intelligence and isn’t nice about it is more than a little but of a shock to think that that got past their censor. But then, you realize that Iraq was a giant cluster-fuck and with so many dead and wounded, they probably don’t feel all that bad throwing the government and the people who got us into that mess (that we still aren’t technically out of to this day. We still have troops there) under the bus. This film has flaws. The hand-held shake-y cam can get annoying in chase sequences. But it is a good look at what happened to this country and where everything went wrong.
9. The Patriot
Now we go to the war that started this country in the first place. I do loves me some historical fiction. Now, the cynic in me does recognize that this film is pretty much just Braveheart, but during the American Revolution. But there is a lot of flavor to this movie. Mel Gibson’s character is what holds it all together. Taking the role of Capt. Benjamin Martin, he leads a force waging a guerilla war against the British. What I like about this film is the characters. You get to know Martin and his forces. Everyone has personality. Even the British are not just shown as pure evil. Pompous and arrogant, but there are those among them who recognize that they need to be decent to the colonists. What’s more, you see that the issue of starting a nation wasn’t as clear-cut as history can make it out to be. There were those who opposed forming a Union. Not the most complicated film, but worth your time.
8. Top Gun
Remember when I said that there would be films on this list who are here strictly because of cool factor? Yeah…this is what I’m talking about. Thing to know about me – I think that fighter jets are fucking rad. The F-22 Raptor is the coolest thing in the world. So a movie all about being a fighter jockey and learning to dog-fight? I am all over that. Sure, this movie is cheesy as fuck. It is 80’s to the max! ALL of the 80’s cheese is in here. And the lengths they go to in order to make Tom Cruise look tall is just adorable. But then they play Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone” again (no joke, they play it three times in this movie) and I am saying “fuck yeah!” to the screen again. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.
7. Eye in the Sky
Another film that is very critical of the military. However, since the primary focus is on the British, with the Americans merely as the partners in this mission, it makes more sense to me how this film got past the censor. Telling the story of a British and American military operation to take out a British national in Africa, this movie looks at the ethics of drone warfare. What’s more, they don’t just paint the whole thing as black and white. One of the things that I love about this movie is the fact that they go so far to make sure all sides are heard. And they let you, the viewer, come to your own conclusion about whether what they did in the end was right or not. I like when movies respect my intelligence enough to let me come to my own conclusions. Not only was Helen Mirren amazing, but the final role of Alan Rickman, and it was pretty fantastic. If you haven’t seen it, you really should.
When I heard that they were making a film about a tank crew during World War II, I was curious to see what that would end up being. I mean, it’s a different concept. Something you don’t think about is how many people it takes to make a tank work. It’s not just one dude in there. And during World War II, this was a time when we had German artillery outmatching us. A LOT of people died inside of tanks during this war. So we have a movie following the exploits of an American tank crew and their vehicle, doing their best to succeed and survive in the most talked-about war in history. I was surprised with how good this movie was. Can add its name to the list of great movies that few people saw.
Heading back into the wars of yesteryear. This time it’s the Civil War. Telling the story of the first black regiment in the Union army. I said before that I loves me some good historical fiction. But the thing that really makes this movie are the performances. It’s a fantastic cast all-round. We have Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and even Matthew Broderick. I’m with the nostalgia critic and thinking very little of Broderick as an actor. But every performance in this film is stunning. Looking at racial politics over a hundred years ago is harrowing. This film hinges on the strength of its cast as it’s a very character-driven story of these people and their own prejudices as they learn to accept each other. It’s not especially preachy, either. If you’ve forgotten about this movie, you really should revisit it.
4. Saving Private Ryan
There’s a reasonable argument to be made that this is the most famous war movie ever made. When it came out, this film was making huge bank and the critics couldn’t stop talking about it. And to be fair, there’s a reason why. We have Spielberg when he was at the top of his game, making a movie that opens on one of the most violent military engagements in history. Telling the story of a squad of soldiers who are on a mission to find a man whose brothers have all been killed and get him home. The cinematography of this film is graphic and unforgiving. If you’ve ever looked for an accurate representation of how awful this war was, you could do worse. Though I did have the same thoughts about Fury. Tom Hanks is what makes this film. I would argue he’s the best actor working today. When he dies, it is going to be a VERY sad day for me.
3. We Were Soldiers
Heading into a different war, now we get to take a trip to Vietnam. Telling the story of the first usage of helicopters to deploy troops into active combat zones, we have Mel Gibson back. Taking a new unit of his into battle, in a war that all of historians agree was a GIANT cluster-fuck. This movie is also pretty unforgiving in its portrayal of how bad war can be. You can feel the oppressive heat and terror these guys must have felt, with the enemy pretty much being unseen and all they can do is fire at the green and hope they hit something. This movie does tend to kiss America’s ass a bit, but given how Vietnam vets were treated like shit when they got home because of America’s attitude about the war, it does make you think that maybe they’ve earned a little adulation
For those who are wondering, this is basically where I would have Platoon, but I had to pick one or the other. It was close, but I chose this one. Mostly because I couldn’t take Charlie Sheen seriously in the latter film. Willem Dafoe ALMOST clinched it, but this film took the spot. Still, both are excellent films.
2. Black Hawk Down
A war film directed by Ridley Scott? Sign me up! This film is hardcore. Not only is the cinematography at the top of its class, but this has some HUGE names. I do love how many British people are in this movie doing their best American accents. I think the best of them was Ewan McGregor. But then, that dude is one of those actors that everyone forgets about, but always brings his a-game. Still, this movie had a ton of real talent in there. Josh Hartnett, William Fitchner, Tom Hardy, Jason Isaacs, and get this – Nikolaj Coster-Waldau before he had any name recognition. That’s right, Jaime Lannister was an American soldier in a movie. A sniper for Delta Force, to be exact. That’s cool. The violence is hardcore, and the performances are all great. Not to mention the cinematography is incredible. This film isn’t remembered the way it should be, but trust me, it’s worth your time.
And my favorite war movie is…
Those of you who have actually seen this movie are definitely scratching your heads at this choice. On top of some of the best war films ever made is a film that definitely has its flaws about the Civil War. Let me explain. This movie tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg. The turning point of the Civil War. Had the Confederates won there, who knows what would have happened. Historians will say otherwise, but I think they would have gone through to Washington. This movie has some VERY corny elements. The score being the biggest among them. However, the reason this movie ranks so high on my list is the performances. There are some real powerful roles in this! We have Martin Sheen as Gen. Robert E. Lee. One of the most beloved generals in American history. We have Tom Berenger as Gen. Longstreet. His role especially got to me. He doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Lee on several occasions. He has a realist perspective on what they’re doing, but can only follow his orders. It’s pretty great stuff. Lastly, we have Jeff Daniels, who is also one of my favorite actors. He’s playing Col. Chamberlain, a college professor turned soldier, leading a regiment against some of the worst fighting in the war. The corny bits are able to get past me mostly because you can tell this was a passion project of a ton of dedicated people. You can feel the passion in every performance. I love this movie. If you haven’t seen it, and you like the time period, do yourself a favor and check it out.
So, what about you all? What are your favorite war movies? Let me know down in the comments.
Until next time, a quote,
“They’ve gotta be tired, the Rebs. They gotta be close to the end if we are.” – Col. Joshua L Chamberlain, Gettysburg