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?

The Cranes are Flying – Letyat Zhuravli (1957)

It’s nice to watch a movie that is almost flawless like Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying, a masterpiece of Russian cinema. It’s touching and beautiful and for once free of any traces of propaganda as it was filmed after Stalin’s death.

I haven’t seen many movies depicting the Russian home front during WWII, so that was interesting as well.

The Cranes are Flying tells the love story of Boris (Aleksey Batalov)  and Veronica (Tatyana Samojlova), two young people who are very much in love and whose love is deeply affected by the outbreak of the war.

The only thing Veronica hopes when she hears about the war is that Boris will not be drafted, only he has other plans. He has already volunteered and his hasty departure doesn’t even permit to say good-bye.

Scenes like the one in which Veronica runs to the train station and hopes to see Boris one last time and say good-bye but is held back by the masses is quite tragic. She can see him but he doesn’t see her and no matter how much she fights to get his attention, it is utterly futile. We see many scenes like this in the movie, in which the camera stays for a long time on Veronica’s expressive face, which mirrors her tumultuous feelings and despair, and in which she seems to fight forces that are beyond her.

After Boris departure Veronica faces utter loneliness. Day in and out she waits for a letter from him but nothing arrives.  When she looses her parents in an air raid, she is completely alone. Fortunately Boris father is a kind man and asks her to live with them.

Boris cousin who was always very interested in Veronica tries to seduce her once Boris is gone and when she doesn’t give in, he finally rapes her. Desperate and lonely Veronica accepts to get married to him.

The family lives together in very quarters. The father and his eldest daughter are both doctors and constantly needed at the hospital. Even though she is now married, Veronica still waits for a letter from the front.

In the second half of the movie scenes from the front and the home front are interwoven.

The story is moving and sad but what is really compelling about this movie is the cinematography. The black and white shots are haunting. The way Veronica’s face is filmed is wonderful. Tatyana Samojlova really has a captivating and expressive face.

I was surprised about the characters as well. The father is one of the most positive father figures cinema has to offer. He is kind, gentle and understanding but at the same time determined and strong. He isn’t very patriotic and doesn’t think it is admirable to volunteer.

This is one of those movies that should not be missed and that will probably be even better when you watch it a second time.