In August of 2010, I started this blog. I was inspired by a confluence of three things. First, I had seen the movie “Julie and Julia”. In that movie, Julie decides to blog about her experience of cooking all the recipes in Julia Child’s classic cook book. Second, around that same time I ran into a Military History magazine issue on the “100 Greatest War Movies” and it gave me the idea of starting a blog where I would watch one movie per week and review it. I figured it would take two years to work my way from #100 to #1. It actually took a lot longer, partly because early on I decided to branch out and review movies that were not on the list. Thirdly, there was this thing called Netflix that I found out about. Netflix made it possible to watch most of the 100 Greatest and a whole lot of other war movies. (I soon found out there are a hell of a lot of war movies.) And there were options beyond Netflix like You Tube and buying the DVD from Amazon - which is always my cheap-ass last resort. For a baby boomer who grew up waiting yearly for the annual showing of “The Great Escape” on TV, this was paradise and I dove in deep. And never regretted it. You would think that after seven years and over 400 movies, there would be little left to do. However, there are still a lot of movies on my TBW list. Plus, I still have to do my 100 Best War Movies list. Coming soon. (But don’t hold your breath.)
My journey has taken me to movies I would never have watched otherwise. Before starting the blog, I was already watching a lot of movies. And not just war movies. But I was not going out of my comfort zone. I think the only non-English film I had seen in my life was “Seven Samurai”. In the last seven years, I have seen more foreign films than the average American will see in several lifetimes. I have also greatly exceeded my American quota of silent films. And then there are the movies that I never would have encountered in a regular life. So here is my list of the top ten movies I have seen in the last seven years that I would not have seen if I were not doing this blog.
10. Scipio Africanus - I am a huge Scipio Africanus fan, but there is no way I would have watched this Italian silent movie commissioned by Mussolini. I sure as heck would not have bought a DVD copy of it. The film is epic in scale and is famous for its reenactment of the Battle of Zama, including Hannibal’s elephants (some of whom did not survive the filming). It is surprisingly accurate. It is certainly in the top ten of silent war movies.
9. Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever? - I am a military history nut and even taught a History of Warfare course. For that reason, I looked forward to reviewing the #23 Greatest War Movie “Stalingrad” (1993), but was not impressed. Then I ran across this little gem on You Tube. It is a small unit movie set in the siege of Stalingrad. The movie is a German production and is remarkably unbiased. It was not made to make Germans feel good about the disaster. It is the best of several Stalingrad movies.
8. Army of Crime - In my pre-blog life, I had not watched a lot of WWII resistance movies. They were just not my thing. I have watched a lot since. One of the first was “Army of Shadows” which is considered by many to be the best of the lot. This was one of the movies that showed me that I was not going to always agree with the “experts” as I was definitely left cold. Soon after, I saw “Army of Crime” and it encouraged me to make up my own mind as far as what a good war movie was. This is a French film based on the activities of the communist resistance in Paris. There is lots of action of the terrorist variety. I guess terrorists can be good guys if the terrorees are worse.
7. The Brest Fortress - This is a Russian film about the Soviet equivalent of the Alamo early in the German invasion of 1941. It covers the defense of the fortress and the people within, which included the civilian families. This movie has a high quantity and quality of violence. The characters are strong and you empathize with them as they try to survive against the Nazi juggernaut.
6. Theirs Is the Glory - “Theirs Is the Glory” is a unique war movie. It reenacts the British participation in Operation Market Garden. It was produced entirely without the use of studio sets or actors. Every incident was either experienced or witnessed by the people who appear in the film.” Everyone in the 200 person cast was either a British soldier who participated in Operation Market Garden or a Dutch civilian who lived through the battle. This is an excellent companion to “A Bridge Too Far”.
5. City of Life and Death - This Chinese movie is about the infamous “Rape of Nanking”. It concentrates on the Chinese civilians who take refuge in the Safety Zone. The main Japanese character is a soldier who is a controversially sympathetic figure. The movie also has roles for John Rabe and Minnie Vautrin – two foreigner who attempted to save as many innocent Chinese as possible. It highlights the plight of the “Comfort Women” and the terrible atrocities committed by the Japanese army. There is a nice balance of drama and combat. The cast is excellent and the acting is stellar. This is a must-see about a must-know-about event in history.
4. The Dawns Here Are Quiet - I had seen several of the lauded Soviet WWII films before I stumbled upon this movie. It turned out to be the best of them all. It is the story of an all-female anti-aircraft unit led by a male officer. A small group ends up in a “who will survive?” scenario. Each woman gets flashbacks to develop their character. The cinematography is a standout and the acting is excellent. This is a special movie.
3. Oh! What a Lovely War - I am not big on musicals so I doubt I would have seen this movie if I had not started my blog. It is like no other war movie. This British film covers the Great War in series of vignettes that feature period songs sung by the characters. The movie covers not just the politicians and the brass, but a family that contributes several soldiers to the British Army. It is one of the most anti-war movie ever made. It is as good as you will get for an entertaining tutorial on the British experience in WWI.
2. Taegukgi - “The Brotherhood of War” was the first South Korean war movie that I saw in my life. It was a seminal event in my reviewing career. I have been a huge fan of the subgenre ever since. Nobody makes war movies like the South Koreans. It you want over the top violence, they are the best. This was South Korea’s answer to “Saving Private Ryan”. It is the tale of two brothers, one of whom switches sides to become a communist Rambo. The battles are epic and adrenalin-fueled. This is still the best South Korean war movie I have seen and that is saying a lot.
1. Waltz With Bashir - This is the most remarkable film I have seen since starting this blog. "Waltz With Bashir" is an Israeli film released in 2008. It covers the Israeli experience in the Lebanon War of 1982. The movie blew me away because it hit several of my buttons. It is historically accurate, I learned about an event that I knew little about, it is realistic in its depiction of the military and combat, and it is striking in its cinematography. The director described it as an "animated documentary" and although I found the animation fascinating, it is not for everyone. But if you are a war movie lover and you want to see something totally outside the box, see this movie.