The Second World War was perhaps the most momentous and world-changing historical event to occur during the era in which motion pictures have existed. Naturally, it’s been a popular subject to make movies about – hundreds of movies from even before the war was over right up to this week’s release of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’. How well that one stacks up to the classics remains to be seen. In the meantime, we’ll devote our latest Roundtable to some of our other favorite films about WWII.
As much as I love and praise ‘Saving Private Ryan’, I feel like there’s one perfect WWII film that’s underrated, overlooked (probably because all the dialogue is in Japanese) and wholeheartedly deserves more love. I’m talking about ‘Letters from Iwo Jima‘. Clint Eastwood made a pair of Iwo Jima films, one from the U.S. perspective and one from the Japanese perspective. The U.S. story wound up being the awful ‘Flags of Our Fathers’, which plunked around slower than the terrible piano-driven score. But the Japanese story is strong, intimate and beautiful. For me, it was easily worthy of landing in the Top 5 for 2006 and still stands among the best WWII films.
M. Enois Duarte
When it comes to the war genre, I’m particularly fond of those films which dare to look at the damage inflicted by warfare and not just at stereotypical scenes of battle and heroism. (Not to say I don’t also love that stuff.) I’m thinking of movies like ‘Casablanca’, ‘Atonement’ and ‘The English Patient’. However, for this week’s topic, the war epics ‘Das Boot‘ and ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ deserve special recognition for being even more daring. Both films challenge audiences to understand the same war from the unexpected perspective of the people who have been perceived and depicted as the enemy.
In Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 German classic, moviegoers experience the manic suspense and debilitating fear a soldier suffers while also trying to survive and do the best they can for their fellow soldiers. Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood’s superb portrayal of the Battle of Iwo Jima defies all expectations by asking his audiences to step into the shoes of the Japanese soldiers, to listen to the pains, the panic and the concerns of fighting for family and country they endured.
In both films, and the reasons why I love them so much, the filmmakers explore fear as a universal emotion experienced by all soldiers, not something unique only to one side of a war. They dare to make audiences empathize with the men the world has deemed as adversaries to what turned out to be the right side of history.
In a very deep genre, full of traditional and outlying films, I’m left thinking about two specific favorites: ‘A Bridge Too Far‘ and ‘Patton‘. Both are imminently rewatchable. ‘Patton’ provides a healthy depth while ‘A Bridge Too Far’ can boast of making good use of a star-studded cast. And yet there are so many other choices that could also be considered for just such qualities. Don’t make me choose! (Also, I hope that everybody who wants to, gets to see ‘Dunkirk’ in 70mm.)
Let me get this out of the way first and toss out some honorable mentions to several big titles that we’d be remiss not to mention: ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’, ‘Casablanca’, ‘The Dirty Dozen’, ‘The Great Escape’, and of course ‘Schindler’s List’. (I’m sure somebody will give me crap for not including ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or ‘The Thin Red Line’, but honestly neither is among my own favorites.)
Amidst all that and many others, it may seem strange to pick an animated movie for this topic. How could a cartoon possibly compare to some of the all-time great live-action epics about the war? Well, anybody who’s ever seen Isao Takahata’s 1988 anime masterpiece ‘Grave of the Fireflies‘ knows exactly what I’m talking about. In fact, I bet a number of you couldn’t stop tears from welling up in your eyes as soon as you saw the banner image at the top of this post.
If you haven’t seen it yet, this movie will absolutely wreck you. It’s a devastating emotional powerhouse. The tale of two young children struggling to survive on their own in war-torn Japan when their father doesn’t come back from combat is one of the finest examinations of the collateral damage that war inflicts. I can think of no live-action war movie its equal.
Call out some of your favorite WWII movies in the Comments.