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?

War Romances: A Very Long List

I’m amazed about the length of this list and even more so as I know exactly I have certainly forgotten quite a lot. It seems as if the combination of love and war was extremely well liked. Some of the movies I have included are somewhat more on the war side, like Enemy at the Gates, others are much more romantic. I was also surprised to see that I have seen a lot of them. And also liked quite a a few. Some of my favourites are Admiral, The Man Who Cried, Gloomy SundayKing Arthur, Aimée and Jaguar and The Cranes are Flying. Others like House of Fools sound interesting but I haven’t seen them. What struck me was how often the main theme is about two men falling for the same woman. Amazing. As if war wasn’t complicated enough.

A Farewell to Arms (US 1932) Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Affair between an English nurse and American soldier during World War I.

Dark Journey(UK 1937) Conradt Veidt and Vivien Leigh. Spies of from opposing sides fall in love.
Gone with the Wind (US 1939) US Civil War. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in the movie based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel.

A Yank in the RAF (US 1941) Tyrone Power and Betty Grable. Americans serving in the British forces meet and rekindle an old flame.

Casablanca (US 1942) WWII, Morocco. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in one of the greatest classics of cinema history. (See my review)

For Whom the Bell Tolls (US 1943) Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in a movie based on Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish Civil War.

Crash Dive (US 1943) Starring Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews. A submarine lieutenant and his commander fall in love with the same woman.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK 1943) Roger Livesey and Deborak Kerr. British soldier falls in love with various incarnations of the same woman.

To Have and Have Not (US 1944) Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in a WWII drama about an American expat and a French resistance fighter. Set on Martinique.

I’ll Be Seeing You (US 1944) Ginger Rogers, Jospeh Cotten and Shirley Temple. Soldier falls in love with a girl he meets in a train

I Live in Grosvenor Square (UK 1945) British aristocrat falls in love with American airman

Piccadilly Incident (UK 1946) WWII. War separates husband and wife with tragic consequences.

A Matter of Life and Death (UK 1946) David Niven and Kim Hunter. Pilot falls in love with radio operator.

From Here to Eternity (US 1953) WWII, Pearl Harbor. Love and drama before the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. Great actors (Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra), great story.

Battle Cry (US 1955) Love and drama among a group of young Marines.

The End of the Affair (UK 1955) Deborah Kerr, Van Johnson, John Mills in the movie based on Graham Greene’s novel about a novelist who falls in love with a married woman during WWII. There is a later version of the same movie, see below.

A Town Like Alice (UK 1956) Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna starring in a WWII romance set in Asia. A British woman, POW of the Japanese, falls in love with an Australian soldier.

D-Day, The Sixth of June  (US 1956). On their way to the Normandy a US and a British officer remember their love for the same woman.

A Farewell to Arms (US 1957) Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones in a movie based on Hemingway’s novel. It tells the story of an affair between an English nurse an American soldier on the Italian front during World War I.

Sayonara (US 1957) Marlon Brando as US air force major who falls in love with a Japanese performer. Based on a novel by James Michener

The Cranes are Flying (Russia 1957) WWII. Extremely moving film about a young woman who waits for her lover to return from the war. (See my review)

South Pacific (US 1958) WWII, South Pacific. A young American nurse and a Frenchman who might be an agent fall in love.

A Time to Love and a Time to Die (US 1958) WWII. Russian front. German soldier on leave falls in love.

Ballad of a Soldier (Russia 1959) A Russian masterpiece. A young soldier falls in love with a girl on a train. (See my review)

Hiroshima Mon Amour (France 1959)  WWII, Japan. A love story between a French woman and a Japanese man after the war. The woman lived a romance with a German soldier during the war. (See my review)

Doctor Zhivago (US/Italy 1965) Omar Sharif and Julie Christie starring in a war romance set during the Bolshevik Revolution. Based on the novel by Boris Pasternak.

In Harm’s Way (US 1965) A classic John Wayne movie. WWII, Pacific. A naval officer falls in love with a nurse (Patricia Neal). A story of second chances. (Here is my review).

Closely Watched Trains (Czechoslovakia 1966) WWII. Set in occupied Czechoslovakia. A young man working for the railway company falls in love for the first time. Based on Bohumil Hrabal’s novel.

Landscape After Battle (Poland 1970) Poland after WWII and the liberation of the concentration camps. A young poet falls in love with a Jewish girl.

Summmer of my German Soldier (US 1978, TV) WWII, US home front. An American girls falls in love with a German POW.

Yanks (US 1979) WWII. British woman falls in love with an American soldier while her husband is at war. Richard Gere, Vanessa Redgrave and others.

Hanover Street (UK 1979) Margaret is a nurse in England during WWII and married to a secret agent. Things get complicated when she falls for David, an American pilot. Starring Harrison Ford, Christopher Plummer and Lesley-Ann Down.

We’ll Meet Again (UK 1982 TV mini-series) WWII, Britain. American bomber pilots in the UK.

Winds of War (US 1983, TV mini-series) Robert Mitchum and Ali McGraw. WWII, America, until the attack of Pearl Harbor.

A Year of the Quiet Sun (Poland/Germany/US 1984) A US soldier in Europe falls in love with a Polish refugee after the war.

An Indecent Obsession (Australia 1985) Nurse falls in love with psychiatric patient.

Top Gun (US 1986) Not set during a real war. Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis star in this movie about a young fighter pilot who falls in love with a female instructor. Macho bravado and romance.

And a Nightingale Sang (UK 1989, TV) Starring Joan Plowright. One family’s struggle to survive during the Blitz. Funny and touching. (See my review)

The Last of the Mohicans (US 1992) Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe in an epic of the war between British and French colonialists and Indians.

1942: A Love Story (India 1993) Bollywood drama  starring Anil Kapoor. A young Indian couple, both from wealthy backgrounds, find themselves caught up in the 1940’s Indian revolutionary movement against their families who are under the thumb of a sadistic British general.

Braveheart (US 1995) 13th Century Scotland. The fight against the British rule. Some love this epic, some hate it, still it’s impressive for many reasons. Starring Mel Gibson and Sophie Marceau.

The English Patient (US/UK 1996) WWII, North Africa and Italy. Two interwoven love stories. The first is the tragic story of a married woman falling for a Hungarian count. The second tells the love between a nurse and a soldier from a bomb disposal unit. With Kirstin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Colin Firth and Willem Dafoe. (See my review)

In Love and War (US 1996) WWI, Italy. the story of the love between Ernest Hemingway and the nurse Agnes von Kurowsky starring Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock.

Aimée and Jaguar (Germany 1999) WWII, Germany. Holocaust. Two women fall in love in Berlin during the war. One of them is Jewish and in the Resistance.

The End of the Affair (UK/US 1999) Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes in the movie based on Graham Greene’s novel. A novelist falls in love with a married woman during WWII in London. She leaves him without an explanation. Two years later he has her followed to try to find out why she left him.

Gloomy Sunday (Germany/Hungary 1999) Set in WWII Budapest. Starring Joachim Król and Ben Becker. This is such a beautiful movie. Another love triangle. A young woman loves a Jewish restaurant owner. One day he hires a young pianist. She falls in love with the young man but still loves the older one. They save the life of a German man who also falls in love with the woman. When WWII breaks out the German comes back. He has turned into a Nazi officer who loves to abuse his power. Gloomy Sunday tells  also the story of the famous Hungarian song Gloomy Sunday that is said to have caused more suicides than any other song ever.

The Man Who Cried (UK/France 2000) Starring Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Christina Ricci. A Russian Jew falls in  love with a gypsy during WWII in Paris. She befriends another Russian who helps her find work in a theater. For lovers of sumptuous movies and opera.

Dark Blue World (Czech Republic/UK/Germany/Denmark/Italy 2001) Czeck fighter pilots in England in WWII. Two pilots, a very young one and an older one fall in love with the same woman.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin ( UK/US/France 2001) WWII, Italian troops in occupied Greece. Based on Luis de Bernières eponymous novel, starring Penélope Cruz and Nicolas Cage. An Italian commander falls in love with a Greek girl whose fiancée is fighting in the war as well.

Enigma (UK/US/Germany/Netherlands 2001) Dougray Scott, Kate Winslett and Jeremy Northam starring in this WWII drama about a young heartbroken man trying to break the Enigma code.

Pearl Harbor (US 2001) Real blockbuster cinema.  WWII. Pearl Harbor. Two young bomber pilots are in love with the same young woman, a nurse. Slick, good-looking movie with equally good-looking actors (Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck).

Enemy at the Gates (US/UK/Germany/Ireland 2001) Showdown of two snipers in Stalingrad. The Russian sniper is a local war hero and in love with a Jewish woman who is in the resistance. Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Ed Harris in a beautifully shot war drama. (See my review)

House of Fools (Russia/France 2002) A war movie that is no war movie. Set in a mental institution during the Chechen war.

Charlotte Gray (UK/Australia/Germany 2002) Cate Blanchett in a movie based on Sebastian Faulk’s novel. She plays a Scottish nurse who joins the French Resistance looking for her boyfriend, a RAF pilot who got lost in France.

Yossi and Jagger (Israel 2002) Love between two Israeli soldiers stationed on the Lebanese border.

Resistance (US/Netherlands 2003) Starring Bill Paxton and Julia Ormond. WWII, occupied Belgium. A reconnaissance plane crashes. The pilot, Ted, is brought to Claire and Henry Daussois who are in the Maquis Resistance. Ted and Claire fall in love.

Cold Mountain (US 2003), Renée Zellweger, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman in a story of the American Civil War.

Head in the Clouds (UK/Canada 2004) Starring Charlize Theron, Penélope Cruz, Stuart Townsend,Thomas Kretschmann. A romantic drama set in 1930’s England, Paris, and Spain. Three people share an apartment in Paris, one lives a hedonistic life, the others want to join the fight against fascism.

Island at War (UK 2004, TV mini-series) WWII. The channel islands during German occupation. After the island is invaded by German forces, life changes drastically. The series focuses on three families.

A Very Long Engagement (France/US 2004) Audrey Tautou in a movie about a woman whose husband doesn’t return from the battlefields of WWI and sets out to look for him.

King Arthur (US/UK/Ireland 2004) An epic adventure of war and romance starring Clive Owen, Keira Knigthley, Mads Mikkelsen, Ray Winstone and Ioan Gruffud. The re-telling of the story of King Arthur and his Knights.

The Christmas Card (US 2006, TV) A US soldier visits a town from where a Christmas card has been sent to him during his tour in Afghanistan.

The Poet (Canada 2007) A Rabbi’s daughter and a German soldier fall in love in Poland in WWII. Starring Nina Dobrev and Daryl Hannah. (See my review)

Closing the Ring (UK/Canada/US 2007) Christopher Plummer, Shirley MacLaine and Mischa Barton in a love story that plays then – during WWII – and now. A woman between two men. One is a pilot and gets lost after crash landing in Ireland during WWII. In today’s Ireland a young man finds the wedding ring and brings it to the woman living in the US. Set in Ireland and the US.

Admiral (Russia 2008) Russian revolution. A real heartbreaker. The true story of Admiral Kolchak and his lover. (Here is my review)

Dear John (US 2010) Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in a weepy romance about a young Marine who falls in love prior to 9/11. When he leaves for Iraq their love is tested.

What about you, have you seen many of these movies? Did you like them? Have I forgotten one you would like to recommend?

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.