The 19 War Movies, War Adventures and War Romances that Won the Academy Award for Best Film

A while back one of my readers, Cliff, suggested to do a post on war movies that won the Academy Award for Best Film. I finally collected them and am going to share the list with you. I must say I was amazed to see how many there are. There are of course a few I have never seen, but many are very familiar. Out of my Top 10 there is only one, Platoon. The posters I added for you are from the first and the last so far to win the award, Wings and The Hurt Locker. The list shows the year when the movie won which is not always identical with the year it was produced. You will see easily that there are not many infantry combat movies on that list, that’s probably why there is only one of my Top 10 List (that you can see here) as I chose mainly combat movies. Still it is an interesting list and it puts me in the mood to re-watch some of them. It seems to be as if the 90ies were THE war movie decade. I wonder why. Any ideas?

Wings (1928)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Cavalcade (1933)

Casablanca (1943)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

From Here to Eternity (1953)

Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Ben Hur (1959)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Patton (1970)

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Platoon (1986)

Dances with Wolves (1990)

Schindler’s List (1993)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Braveheart (1995)

The English Patient (1996)

Gladiator (2000)

The Hurt Locker (2009)

Sharpe’s Rifles (1993) First of a Series of 14 British TV Movies on the Napoleonic Wars

If America only knew how good this was, it would be the highest rated Made-For-TV movie series of all time (hard to believe there are more people out there that would rather watch “The Columbo Mysteries” than Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe Chronicles- that just goes to show the power of major network name-brand advertising. (Comment from a US IMBD reviewer)

The British TV movie Sharpe´s Rifles is the first of 14 installments focussing on the fictional character Lt.Sharpe. Bernard Cornwell’s novels are the source for this series. There are certain parallels to the Hornblower series (see Hornblower post) with the difference that Sharpe shows the Napoleonic wars on land. Unlike the Hornblower sequences these are full-length movies, each 110 minutes long.

I started to watch it on the last weekend and am really quite taken by it. This enthusiasm is certainly also due to Sean Bean´s starring as Sharpe. He is an excellent choice for this rough but likable maverick and daredevil.

In the first movie we get to know Sharpe and the motley crew of Chosen Men (snipers riflemen) that is very unwillingly under his command. Sharpe who is a sergeant is promoted to lieutenant because he saves General Wellesley´s life. Promoting someone from the ranks who is, like Sharpe, not a gentleman, proves to be somewhat problematic. The other officers don´t accept him because he is not one of them, the soldiers do not accept him because he is one of them. He really has a hard time proving himself and on top of that they are at war.

Sharpe´s Rifles takes place in 1809 in Portugal. Spain and Britain are supposedly allies against France but it seems as if Spain is not 100% decided on which side they want to fight.

Sharpe and his men, together with a company of officers and soldiers, are sent on a secret mission to find a banker that has disappeared and are attacked by a group of French soldiers. Apart from Sharpe and his men everybody gets killed.

In this movie Sharpe also meets Teresa or “El comandante Teresa” for the first time. Having survived rape and the butchering of her family by the French she holds  a bit of a grudge against the French and men in general. Even so, love at first sight strikes them both. The whole love story part did actually remind me a lot of the one in The Last of the Mohicans. Teresa is a strong woman, the leader of her men and a very capable fighter herself.

After they have met, the main story line follows Sharpe, his men and Teresa on their way to a little Spanish town where they must raise the Spanish flag. Ok, this is not a gripping idea but it is excusalbele as this was the first movie in a long series and its main goal is to introduce us to the characters.

From the reviews I read I can deduce that there are much better installments still to come. As a first part this was very, very promising and I am looking forward to watch more of it.

No worries, I am not going to review them all. I´ll probabaly do some sort of final assessment once if have seen the others. For the time being I just wanted to share my discovery.

Below you find the beginning of part I. I think this should help you decide if you want to go for it.

Danger UXB (1979) A Clever British TV Series about a Bomb Squad During the Blitz

I would say that this British TV series is one of the most realistic stories ever told about London during the Blitz and the dangerous duty of defusing the numerous unexploded bombs that hit the country. Danger UXB focuses on a young lieutenant, Brian Ash (Anthony Andrews), appointed to a bomb squad. His squad defuses all sorts of unexploded German bombs. This is highly stressful and very difficult. There are so many different types of bombs with different types of fuses. Magnetic, movement detectors, chemical reaction, clock work and time delay fuses. The bombs are found in many different places such as  schools, gardens, back yards, living rooms,  a night club, a factory  which gives ample opportunity to tell side stories and show the lives of ordinary people during this time. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to be bombed every single night. The series manages to give a very good feel for the danger of this line of work.  I would say Danger UXB provides a rare combination of instruction and entertainment, combining historical accuracy with tales of everyday lives and the story of one young officer, his work , his dealings with fellow officers and commanders and  his love life. British TV is a great source for realistic historical series and movies. I haven’t seen Piece of Cake yet but it is sitting here, waiting to be watched. Danger UXB is far less known. I highly recommend it. I think it is also interesting to compare it to the ubiquitous The Hurt Locker (see my post on The Hurt Locker) and see the difference between a bomb squad now and then.

I attached a video for you, where you can see that each episode initiates with original footage to enhance accuracy. Unfortunately this video has an addition to it but it is the best I could come up with. I couldn’t find any trailer only some fan videos but they had insufferable music.

10 Vietnam War Movies You Must See Before You Die

The following 10 Vietnam War Movies are the ones you absolutely must see. There are more. Many I have seen, some I have not. You may be astonished that one of the most famous ones, Apocalypse Now, is not among them… I wanted to stick to 10 and these are my 10 choices. I always found Apocalypse Now slightly dubious. Whatever.  The list is in chronological order. I did not want to weigh them against each other as they show quite different aspects of the same war.

The Deer Hunter (1978):  Young second generation Russian-Americans volunteer to prove themselves and serve their country. In Vietnam they are  captured and suffer as POWs and are forced to play Russian roulette. They come home disillusioned and physically and psychologically broken.

Platoon (1986): Infantry combat. A young man volunteers to go to Vietnam and soon sees his dreams shattered. He gets caught between two antagonistic officers, the ultimately good Sgt. Elias and the mean Sgt. Barnes.

Hamburger Hill (1987): No-nonsense infantry combat at its toughest. A group of soldiers of mixed social backgrounds and ethnic origins must fight a senseless battle for a hill.

Full Metal Jacket (1987): Artsy movie. First part is an unforgettable look at boot camp horrors. The second centers on  street fighting in Vietnam. Unusual setting. Vivid, haunting pictures.

Jacknife (1989): A brilliant De Niro in the role of a memorable Vietnam vet. (More details on this movie in my post).

Born on the 4th of July (1989): Maybe the ultimate anti-war statement and a in-depth exploration of masculinity. A movie that makes you cringe.

84 Charlie MoPic (1989): Documentary style but much better than the Iraq movie Redacted. Embedded journalists follow an infantry combat unit in the bush.

Heaven and Earth (1993): A look at the other side. What was the meaning of this war for  Vietnamese civilians?

Tigerland (2000): Boot camp. We see the soldiers train long before they are shipped out. Tensions rise until a drama unfolds.

We Were Soldiers (2002): The only Vietnam War Movie that truly attempts to show more than one side. Close look at the Vietnamese command. Heavy combat. Story switches between battle field and home front where the wives wait for the letters who will inform them they have become widows. Very emotional but not unproblematic movie. Too much trying to make us believe it was  a “good war”.

Maybe you disagree with this list. Let me know which ones you would choose. Which one do you really prefer?

Overlord: An Overlooked War Movie Masterpiece

The British war movie  Overlord is one of the most original and best war movies I have ever seen.  Since its coming out in 1975 it has mostly been forgotten although it was highly accalimed at the time.  That it is  widely unknown today  is really a pity. It is quite a simple movie, very short as well, only some 70 minutes, but it touches you like not many other. Overlord tells in a very personal way the story of a young man, Tom Beddows, who is going to war. He goes to boot camp, meets a young girl and knows he will be part of a big offensive that will send him to France. He will be part of Operation Overlord which  was the codename of  the invasion of Normandy by the Allied forces in WWII on June 6 1944 ( better known as D-Day). Tom doesn´t really want to be where he is but eventually gets accustomed to his new environment and the idea of going into battle. All through the movie he has dreams where he sees himself dying and he is quite convinced he wont return. Finally we see him being shipped out together with his comrades who are all  afraid of what awaits them.

As such this may not seem very special but the way this is done is just great. The movie was filmed in black and white and the story of  Tom Beddows is interwoven with original footage of bombed cities, planes, bombed trains, the landing itself and many other elements. This is done so well that the alternating parts blend into each other as if they were one movie.

Since it focuses so closely on one person (with just a few exceptions) it is very intimate. You get the feeling that this is not just anyone going to war but a young guy you might know and like since Tom is  gentle and  endearing.

All the original footage, that is very well-chosen, is by far more convincing than many CGI or reenactment parts of other movies.

It’s a perfect little movie that would probably even be appreciated by people who would normally never watch a war movie. Should you ever want to convince someone that the genre deserves its appreciation Overlord could be your choice to prove it.

It might also be great as a way to teach WWII in schools as there is no gratuitous violence.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) or Two Brothers Torn Apart by the Irish Civil War

The Wind that Shakes the Barley opens on a group of young men joyfully playing a game of hurling. After the game has ended we watch them return home to their modest houses. Some are still standing  together smoking and  talking, when all of a sudden a group of British soldiers approaches out of nowhere confronting them with the fact that they did break the law.  Meetings are strictly forbidden and even a game of hurling is considered to be an assemly and thus a possible act of rebellion. The scene heats up immediately when the young men answer in Gaelic upon being asked their names. The episode ends in a blood bath, one of the young men being beaten to a pulp and dead.

This is shocking. One can hardly believe one’s eyes since this is no invention. The British subjugated the Irish fiercely and anything resembling rebellion from their side ended in severe punishment.

Ken Loach´s movie The Wind that Skakes the Barley (the title is taken from an Irish Ballad)  embraces both moments in Irish history, first The Irish War of Independence and then The Irish Civil War. At the core of the story that is set in county Cork are the two O´Donovan  brothers, Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Pádraic Delaney). At the onset of the war Damien is about to leave his native Ireland for  London where a position as a doctor at a hospital is waiting for him. Seeing the brutality and the cruelty his people face and knowing that his brother will be leading a guerilla party, he stays to join them. At that time the British government sent the  so-called “Black and Tans” to brutally reinforce their power. The old IRA started to strike back.

After long months of heavy fighting they were asked to sign a treaty which would guarantee the Irish their own government and established the Irish Free State. However six Northern counties would stay within the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland.  This is the moment when the Civil War erupts and Pro Free State (headed by Michael Collins) troops fought the Anti-treaty forces. In the movie the tragedy unfolds as the brothers go different ways. Teddy accepts and supports the Free State  while Damien wants to fight until all of Ireland is  free. He believes that they have fought in vain if they give up now. It is unbelievable but the Civil War cost finally more lives than the War of Independence.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley was as  hard to watch and as depressing as L´armée des ombres. The methods applied resemble those applied by the French Resistance. They wouldn’t even shy away from killing their own in the event of betrayal. We also see people being shot and people being tortured.

This movie is also hard to watch since it reveals a really ugly aspect of the British Empire. If you are British this will be hard to accept, if you like the British it will be equally hard and if you are Irish this will truly infuriate you. One can simply not understand why the Empire had to make  the already impoverished, famished and sick Irish suffer so much. I read that this part of their history  is not really taught in English schools. I think many English people would be shocked and astonished when they see this and might understand a lot better what was ultimately behind the Troubles.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is very intense. The pictures of the beautiful, lush green countryside contrast starkly with the brutalities depicted. The story of the two brothers who end up torn apart by their conflicting ideals is very tragic. and both actors do a great job

There is no doubt that this movie deserved the Palme d´ Or it won in 2006. Even though I am sure the movie could not cover all the aspects and the whole complexity of the Wars, it raises the awareness. It´s simply stated a brilliant movie. But it is not entertaining for one second. Harsh but recommended viewing really.

Sometimes in April (2005) Part I

This is Part I of the HBO production Sometimes in April on the war in Rwanda (see Friday’s post) starring Idris Elba and Debra Winger. As I said, I haven’t seen it yet but it looks as if the whole movie has been posted in bits on YouTube. It seems well worth watching.