12 Best War Movies of 2012

the-duellists

I just noticed yesterday that I didn’t write a post on the Best War Movies I’ve seen in 2012 and thought I’d remedy that immediately. Obviously the list consists of the movies I’ve watched this year and not the movies which came out this year. And it also consists only of the movies which I have seen for the first time that’s why you will neither find Platoon nor Tigerland on the list.

And here goes:

Captain Conan

Agora

Waltz With Bashir

The African Queen

The Dam Busters

The Battle of Algiers

Soldier of Orange

North Face

317th Platoon

Stalingrad or Dogs, do you want to live forever?

The Duellists

Mephisto

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The Dam Busters (1955)

The British classic The Dam Busters is and will always be one of my very favourite movies. It shows eloquently that the best stories are often those which are true. It’s the story of two men and a mission which was as ingenious as it was heroic. One of these men was inventor Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave), the other one Wing Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd). The movie is based on two books, Paul Brickhill’s The Dam Busters and Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s Enemy Coast Ahead.

The movie has a two-part structure. In the first we see how Willis invents the revolutionary bouncing bomb. The idea was to use the bombs and blow up the Ruhr dams in Germany. The destruction of the dams would not only  flood a huge area  but disrupt the German wartime industrial production as two big hydroelectric plants would go off-line. In order to blow up a dam the bomb had to land exactly on target which was only possible with extreme precision. The planes had to fly very low and used a cunning device to make sure they were at the right altitude and distance when dropping the bombs.

While Wing Commander Gibson was training the 617 Squadron – a special squadron of Lancaster planes – to fly at night at extremely low altitude, Willis was still conducting one trial after the other until he got the right bomb. Once he had the bomb and the date had arrived, it was in the hands of the pilots to make it work. This second part is extremely suspenseful. Of the 19 planes who flew on this mission only 11 returned. After the mission was accomplished, Willis said to Gibson that if he had known the cost, he wouldn’t have devised the bomb but Gibson assured him that each and every one of the dead pilots would have flown anyway.

The story of The Dam Busters is so amazing because there was such a lot of adversity. If it hadn’t been for Willis believing until the last moment that it would work and for Gibson and his men who thought the unthinkable was feasible, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s really amazing watching them, each on their side, adjusting, inventing and probing until they got it right.

Most of you may know that the remake of The Dam Busters should soon be out. This is one of the remakes I find almost sacrilegious. The movie has no great special effects but it tells a great story and the two main actors are very good. Eric Coates music is very famous and still considered to be one of the best war movie scores.

I’m sure the special effects of the remake will be better but I’m afraid it will be a very slick movie, lacking the warmth and enthusiasm that came across in the first. We will see.

Battle of Britain (1969)

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (Winston Churchill)

Battle of Britain is one of the great war movie classics. It’s the favourite movie of many people and certainly the favourite air combat movie of many more. I have watched it for the second time on the week-end and I’m glad I did so, because now I know better what worked for me and what didn’t. The strength of this movie is – funny enough – also its weakness.

The depiction of this crucial moment in British history is done with great detail and accuracy. The director tried to get everything right, down to the cloud formations. An incredible amount of original planes was gathered from different collectors all over the world to make the battles look authentic. And yes, the battle scenes look very convincing.

The Battle of Britain was Göring’s idea. He had been a fighter pilot in WWI and the whole strategy of gaining the air supremacy over England was his. Only he miscalculated the whole thing and they made crucial mistakes.

The idea was to bomb all the air fields, hangars, docks and the like. Starting on November 14 1940 they dropped huge loads of bombs and also destroyed, among other things, the city of Coventry on November 15. Unfortunately they also bombed London which led to the bombing of Berlin and was ultimately the beginning of the Blitz.

The movie shows all these elements and changes constantly from the British HQ to the German side, from there to the air fields and the pilots. Unlike most other movies of the time they did cast Germans for the German roles and French actors for the French which adds another layer of authenticity.

What looks at first like a desperate and hopeless case, later becomes one of those incredible tales of heroism and courage.

Not only did the Germans make the capital mistake to bomb London, they also underestimated their enemy. The British pilots, later helped by Free French, Polish, Czech and others, were the far superior pilots and their fighter planes were superior as well.

When Göring asked one of his commanders what they needed in order to win the answer was “Spitfires”.

The tactics, the battles, the details, all this is incredibly well done but,  due to the epic nature of the movie, there are a lot of characters in this movie and one doesn’t really warm to any of them. Sure Michael Caine is great as Squadron Leader and there is a mini love story at the heart of which is Christopher Plummer but the characters are not very well developed. This was clearly not the focus. Battle of Britain is much more a documentary style movie and, as I already said, this is its strength and its weakness and that is why I will always prefer The Dam Busters. I like my movies to be a bit more emotionally engaging than Battle of Britain.

Still, despite all the criticism, this is one of the great epic war movies and an absolute must-see that one cannot rate less than 5/5. I would say it’s  a great companion to the US Pearl Harbor movie Tora!Tora!Tora!, another great and very authentic air combat movie.

Sorry for this lousy looking trailer but it was the only one I could find.

My Favourite Air Combat/Aviation Movies

I generally enjoy air combat movies. Like sniper and bomb squat movies. They are among my guilty pleasure war movies. Can´t help it. That is why there are some air combat movies in my little list that  experts would never allow in theirs. But as I just said, I can´t help it and I also like an occasional bit of pure entertainment. Here are my six favourites:

6. The Blue Max (1966): WWI. Centered on a German fighter pilot who strives for the Blue Max, the highest possible decoration for a German fighter pilot. As he is not an aristocrat like the “normal” fighter pilots he is not accepted by his comrades. (see review)

5. Memphis Belle (1990): WWII. Yes, yes, it is a bit corny and glorifying. So what? I enjoyed it. Story of a tight-knit group of pilots. Friendship, camaraderie and courage.

4. Battle of Britain (1969): WWII. A hymn to British heroism. The use of original languages makes it very authentic. Great and realistic aviation scenes. (Here is my review)

3. The Red Baron (2008): WWI. The story of the Red Baron. German movie. Gorgeous cinematography. Maybe he is shown as too much of a hero. I think we see how he becomes aware of how different the battle in the trenches is from the one high up in the air.

2. The Dam Busters (1955): WWII. I love this one. So exciting. The true story of British pilots on a secret mission to attack German dams. The first part is dedicated to the inventor of the bombs.

1. Dark Blue World aka Tmavomodry svet(2001) : WWII. I consider this to be  the most beautiful air combat movie. It´s a Czech movie and should be much more known. Great story. Czech pilots fly for the RAF. Wonderful pictures. Really moving from the idyllic beginning to the tragic end.

I have seen many more but find them a tad too corny to be included here ( Top Gun, Flight of the Intruder, Pearl Harbor, Flyboys…to name but a few) and there are a lot I have not seen yet.

Which are your favourites? And which are the ones you think I have to watch absolutely?