The 12 Best War Movies I Watched In 2011

Looking back I realized that I have seen quite a lot of very good and some outstanding movies this year (Let’s be honest, I’ve also watched a load of crap but this isn’t the post to talk about them).

I narrowed them down to twelve. This was only possible because I excluded all those movies I have re-watched but reviewed for the first time (like The Downfall). Those I re-watched are mostly quite famous, no need to put them in the spotlight again, but those I list below are not all equally well-known and they deserve to be mentioned especially.

Here we go

Innocent Voices – Voces Inocentes (2004) Mexican/US/Puerto Rican movie. This is a movie on the war in El Salvador and the use of children as soldiers. It may very well be my favourite this year. (Here is the review).

Roma, Città aperta – Rome Open City (1945) Italian movie. Roberto Rosselini’s masterpiece about the resistance in Rome during WWII. A classic of Italian Neo-Realism. (Here is my review)

The Brest Fortress – Brestkaya krepost (2010)  Russian movie. Gritty, realistic and combat driven story of the siege of a fortress. (Here is my review)

Henri de Navarre – Henry 4 (2010) French movie on Henry 4. Historical and epic movie about King Henri 4 of France and the War of Religions. (Here is my review)

The Cranes are Flying – Letyat zhuravli (1957) Russian movie. Very expressive and beautiful movie about a woman who waits for her lover to return from war. WWII. (Here is my review)

First Light (2010) British TVmovie based on the memoir of a Spitfire pilot. (Here is my review)

Harry Brown (2009) British movie about a WWII veteran becoming a vigilante. (Here is my review)

The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) German movie about the Red Army Fraction.

No Man’s Land (2001) Bosnian movie about the war in Bosnia and, yes, I still think it’s hilarious and a great war satire.

Waterloo (1970) Russian/Italian movie on Napoleon’s great defeat. (Here is my review)

Life and Nothing But – La vie et rien d’autre (1989) French WWI drama by Bertrand Tavernier. Very moving story of a woman who is looking for her husband in war-torn France. (Here is my review)

Tropic Thunder  (2008) US movie. Extremely funny although in dubious taste. (Here is my review)

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12 Russian War Movies You Must See

Russia is another of those countries whose film production rarely disappoints. I haven’t seen all of the below mentioned movies yet but have read a lot about them and have seen parts of them. There are most certainly more but these seem to be the most important ones. They are quite different. Some, like 9th Company, are pure, gritty  infantry combat, others like Come and See are more experimental. Mongol and Admiral are quite beautiful. What they all have in common is a feel of authenticity, and a way of showing how atrocious war is that is very unique and emotional. If you haven’t seen any Russian war movies so far, I would suggest you change that as soon as possible.

The Fortress of War aka Brestskaya krepost (2010) Dramatic infantry combat. The Germans attack the Brest Fortress from all sides. Soldiers and civilians fight for their life. (See my review)

Admiral (2008) The true story of Admiral Kolchak. WWI and Russian Revolution. War Movie and Love Story. (Here is my review)

Mongol (2007) The story of the rise of Genghis Khan. (Here is my review)

9th Company aka 9 Rota (2005) Gritty infantry combat in Afghanistan. It has similarities with Platoon but the characters are very different, very emotional. (See my review)

The Thief aka Vor (1997) Childhood drama that starts during WWII.

Come and See aka Idi i Smotri (1985) A young boy gets caught up in the atrocities of WWII.

The Dawns here are Quiet aka A zori zdes tikhie (1972) The story of a group of female soldiers during WWII.

Ivan’s childhood aka Ivanovo detstvo (1962) A young boy works as a spy at the eastern front. Three Soviet officers try to take care of this boy-child.

Ballad of a Soldier aka Ballada o Soldate (1959) A 19-year-old soldier gets a medal for bravery. On his leave he meets a girl on the train and falls in love with her. (Here’s my review)

The Story of a Man aka Sudba cheloveka (1959) The story of a man whose life is destroyed by WWII. When his village is bombed his wife and children are killed.

The Cranes are Flying aka Letyat zhuravli  (1957) A young woman waits for the love of her life to return from the war. The movie shows the battlefield and the home front. (See my review)

Battleship Potemkin aka Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925) A silent movie classic. One of the first war movies ever with a lot of famous scenes. Very expressive.

It is also worth mentioning other movies by Sergei Bondarchuk like War and Peace or Waterloo. They are all excellent but mostly co-productions with international stars that’s why I didn’t include them but chose The Story of a Man instead.

Do you have any favourite Russian war movies and/or recommendations?

Fortress of War aka Brestskaya krepost (2010) or The Best War Movie in 20 Years?

People who have seen this movie have called it “The best war movie ever” or “The best European war movie in 20 years” or simply “Superior”, “A masterpiece, “Brilliant”. Needless to say that I couldn’t wait to watch Fortress of War aka Brestskaya krepost. What did I think? It is an absolutely stunning movie. Beautifully filmed and acted. A really great achievement on more than one level. It’s complex, dense and intense and calls for a second watching as you can hardly absorb it all in a first viewing. Is it the best? It sure is one of them.

The story of Fortress of War reminded me of the Nanjing massacre in which Japanese forces butchered Chinese civilians. In this case German soldiers butcher Russian soldiers and civilians. The Brest Fortress, located near the city of Brest, housed soldiers and their families. The narrator of the movie is a little boy. We hear his voice in the off at first, it’s the voice of an old man who remembers the most horrible days of his life. Life at the Fortress is deceivingly peaceful. It’s 1941 and there are rumours of war but nobody believes them. The superior officers even go as far as punishing those who spread these rumours.

How lucky for the Germans. Their surprise attack is succesful and shatters in a few minutes all the false hopes and pre-conceived ideas of war. After the initial 10-15 minutes of quiet storytelling, the next two hours are combat intense like I haven’t seen it often. The effects and battles are extremely convincing and well-done. There are only very few CGI moments (aviation-related) that aren’t 100% convincing, all the other effects are very authentic looking. The fights and battles are fought on three sides and the story moves between these groups of soldiers and their commanders. The little  boy of the beginning moves between the parties and links the stories. He carries water and messages from one group to the other. While they are fighting off the Germans and try to break out of the fortress, the Germans also attack them by air and drop bombs. The devastation and casualties are huge.

The fights last a few days in which water is scarce and the morale gets lower and lower. A Russian bomber pilot manages to land in the fortress and brings the most demoralizing news. The Germans have not only taken Brest but are marching towards Minsk. There will be no reinforcements who will help them defend the fortress. As the families were also in the fortress there are a number of side stories told. As it becomes more and more obvious that they will not escape this trap, soldiers and officers start to kill themselves and their loved ones. A few send them out of the fortress hoping that they will survive as prisoners of the Germans. They will all have different fates as the movie tells us. Some will be shot, a few survive.

The directors have been accused of propaganda. It is true that the Germans are shown as treacherous and evil. I didn’t mind this. This movie tries to give an insider’s perspective, the view of someone who was there that day. Do you honestly think that anyone present there seeing the mass of dead bodies, humans and horses, the constant shelling and bombing, rape and violence would have for one second thought about the fact that not all Germans are evil? Those who call this movie propaganda should think about the fact, that they are watching it now, 70 years after the massacre took place, sitting either in a comfortable cinema chair or on the couch or sofa at home.

How do you like your war movies? Combat intense? – You will love this one. Not too much CGI? – You will adore this movie. Convincing effects? – You will be very pleased. Historically accurate? – You will be satisfied. With beautiful pictures? You will be thrilled. Complex characters? – Yeah well, that’s  a little flaw but it stems from the fact that there are so many independent groups fighting in parallel.  The characters  are still interesting and endearing. Watch this beautiful and intense movie as soon as you can!

Fortress of War does belong on the Children in War Movies: A List.

The whole movie can be watched on YouTube. This is just a little teaser.