HAMMY’S TOP 10…WAR FILMS

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was released last week. We’ve seen World War II done to death, in cinema, video games and books. But I trust Nolan to deliver something new and unique in the sub-genre. But it got me to thinking about the war genre as a whole. What are my favourite war films? Of course, the list could consist solely of World War II films, as there are plenty of them. However, I always try to broaden my horizons, especially when it comes to war films. I like to find something a little…different! So here are my Top 10 War Films!

  1. 9th Company

Must Afghanistan become the battleground for so many countries? Russia became involved in a war in Afghanistan during the Cold War. It was their Vietnam moment, and appropriately this film borrows liberally from Vietnam War films. It’s structure mirrors Full Metal Jacket a little, with the first half about a brutal drill instructor terrorizing army recruits. However, the second half follows the army recruits as they fight in Operation Magistral against heavy odds. Like all good Vietnam films, it’s hard to watch at times and unrelenting in its exposure of the pointlessness of war. Butthe focus on a little-covered war heightens emotional involvement.

  1. Joyeux Noel

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Two armies during World War I halt all hostilities on Christmas Day to play a spot of football. They laugh, exchange photographs, talk about girlfriends/wives/babies, and refuse orders from superiors to fire on each other. Of course, by Boxing Day, the festivities are over and war returns. Sometimes, Joyeux Noel’s sentimentality can be too saccharine, but more often than not it raises a tear or two. It’s one of the most moving war films I’ve ever seen. You’ll never think of Silent Night in the same way after watching this film.

  1. The Hurt Locker

I didn’t like The Hurt Locker when I first watched it. I did fall asleep during it. I returned to it months later and loved it. During the first time, I could only think of the (then) on-going Iraq War. Was it exploiting a war? However, I put that to the back of my mind (and watched it earlier on in the day). I found myself on the edge of my seat for most of the film. It’s gripping. The tension running throughout the film put beads of sweat on my face. There’s less about the futility of war (more specifically, the Iraq War) and more about the effect it has on soldiers. That’s a refreshing take concerning the Iraq War. It’s a film willing to  say that soldiers even take pleasure in war, not a sadistic pleasure, but the simple pleasure of “being a man.” Guns are ingrained into male brains from childhood. To fire a gun is a little boy’s dream. For a war film to admit that is brave enough.

  1. Patton

It’s a little long in the tooth, but this is a World War II film that gives us something different. We follow the career of George S. Patton in the last two years of World War II. George C. Scoot embraces the character fully, becoming Patton in more ways than simple mannerisms or ticks. From the very beginning, when Patton addresses an audience of troops on the need to win, he captures the audience’s attention and rarely lets it go. We see his highs, we see his lows. It’s not a hagiography, but a nuanced insight into the pressures of having high command during a massive war. It’s compulsive watching.

  1. Letters From Iwo Jima

I don’t care much for Flags Of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood’s companion piece to Letters From Iwo Jima. They focus on the same battle during World War II, but I struggled to empathise with the characters in the former. In the latter, however, the supposed enemies turn into more complicated characters than their American counterparts. Giving the enemy a shade of grey is nothing new, but seeing the Japanese struggle with their national duty is eye-opening. All too often, we are presented with the simplistic view that the Japanese were convinced they were on the right side of World War II. To see their inner struggles is relevatory.

  1. Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War

How many films are there about the Korean War? How many of those are from the Korean point of view? This is a rare film indeed. We follow two South Korean brothers who are conscripted in the Korean War. The elder brother comes to love the simplicity of cold blooded murder, and eventually ends up joining the North Korean side. This forces the younger brother to search his sibling out to rescue him. Yes, it’s an old story, two brothers divided by war, but here the novelty of the war adds extra poignancy to it. Sometimes it’s hard to follow if you’re not familiar with the Korean War, but persevere. It’s worth it.

  1. The Deer Hunter

Along with World War II, the Vietnam War sub-genre has been covered extensively in film. Some of the films are the most critically acclaimed films ever. However, I always find myself going back to this and Full Metal Jacket. I’ve never taken to Apocalypse Now, but maybe I need to rewatch it. The Deer Hunter serves up far more than the infamous Russian roulette scene hints at. We follow three American steelworkers who are irrevocably changed after their Vietnam experience. Like the best war films, it’s grim and unrelenting. It’s hard to watch at time (the aforementioned Russian Roulette scene is unbearable). But The Deer Hunter makes you angry, in the best possible manner.

  1. All Quiet On The Western Front

“You’re going to be soldiers, and that’s all.” That’s the point of most war films, but it’s told most elegantly in this World War I film. Based on the famous book, it doesn’t need gore and on-screen brutality to express its message. If any war seems pointless, both in terms of causality and casualty numbers, it’s World War I. Men being commanded to run into certain death in great numbers, lions led by donkeys, etc. Here, in All Quiet On The Western Front, all the beliefs associated with The Great War are on show. But it’s also subtle and tender.

  1. Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick delivers the essential Vietnam War film. People always remember the first half, with Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman bullying new army recruits. His dialogue alone is reason enough to watch this film. He’s endlessly quotable. It’s both funny and horrific, especially his terrorization of ‘Gomer Pyle.’ However, the rest of the film is equally necessary and watchable, but for entirely different reasons. While Hartman is the dehumanizing force inherent in the army, turning people into murder machines, the second half explores the consequences of that. And it’s brutal viewing. You may laugh in the first half, but your smiles will turn to grimaces towards the end.

  1. Empire of the Sun

Is this Steven Spielberg’s most underrated film? It’s often forgotten when Spielberg is talked about. But not only is it directed by Spielberg (one of my favourite directors), but it’s based on a book by J G Ballard (one of my favourite authors). What we are given from the two is a World War II story that’s about a boy in a Japanese internment camp. That boy is played by Christian Bale, in one of his best roles. He may only have been thirteen but he emits an aura of sorrow and foreboding that’s incredible for someone his age. Not only that, but the film offers us a different view of World War II, that of a British boy, brought up in China and forced into a Japanese interment camp. Spielberg at his best.

Honourable Mentions

Downfall

Enemy At The Gates

Inglorious Basterds

Platoon

Saints+Soldiers

Waltz With Bashir

Agree or disagree? Any you’d take away or add? What is your Top 10?

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6 thoughts on “HAMMY’S TOP 10…WAR FILMS

  1. thefilm.blog July 26, 2017 / 1:53 pm

    I think I’d have had to have The Great Escape in there, plus Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now – I admire your attempt to not have too many WWII films though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hammy Reviews July 26, 2017 / 5:11 pm

      I’ve never taken to Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan. Need to rewatch and re-evaluate at some point! But yes, I forgot about The Great Escape…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. John Freeman July 26, 2017 / 5:32 pm

    Definitely add Apocalypse now.

    If we can expand to tv id like to add band of brothers, the Pacific and generation kill

    Oh and you have missed a trick with omitting saving private ryan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hammy Reviews July 26, 2017 / 7:20 pm

      I do need rewatch Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan, but my first viewing of both never really did anything for me!

      Like

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