Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Best WWI Combat Movie Tournament

This year's tournament to determine the best war movie in a subgenre will deal with WWI combat movies. The seeding is based on IMDB ratings.  This is my 6th annual subgenre tournament.  The other ones were Best 21st Century War MovieBest War ComedyBest WWII Combat MovieBest Vietnam War Movie, and Best WWI Dogfighting Film.  Here are the match-ups.

1 - All Quiet on the Western Front  (1931)
16 -  Private Peaceful

8 - War Horse
9 -  Oh, What a lovely War

5 -  Wooden Crosses
12 -  All Quiet on the Western Front (1979)

4 -  Sergeant York
13 -  The Lost Patrol

6 -  Gallipoli
11 -  The Lost Battalion

3 - The Big Parade
14 -  The Fighting 69th

7 - Westfront 1918
10 -  Beneath Hill 60

2 -  Paths of Glory
15 -  Passchendaele

The first round categories will be:
Acting -  quality of the cast and quality of the performances
Combat -  quantity and quality
Anti-War -  how well does the movie depict the horrors of the war?

May the best movie win!

War Horse (8) vs. Oh! What a Lovely War (9)


PLOT:  “War Horse” is a Spielbergian take on the Great War via a young adult novel.  It covers the Odyssey of a horse as it goes through several owners and several vignettes.  “Joey” starts as a stallion forced to plow fields until he is recruited for the British cavalry.  Sent to the Western Front, he has more lives than a cat and as many adventures as Odysseus.  He is a double agent as he works for both sides and a deserter as he spends some time with a French girl.  The plot has all the Spielberg touches you expect in a PG-13 movie.  Although the ending is predictable, the rest of the vignettes are not.  Spielberg also tamps down the schmaltziness.  The plot is true to the source so do not expect realism or historical accuracy.  GRADE  =  B

“Oh! What a Lovely War” is a musical tutorial on the First World War directed by Richard Attenborough (this round is a good match-up of directors).  The plot is very inventive.  It attempts to cover the whole war through a series of vignettes that have the common thread of war songs.  The movie gives equal treatment to the soldiers as it follows the five Smith brothers and the brass as it gives time to the political and military leaders.  There is a lot of symbolism and it definitely helps if you know the war.  The movie is totally unique. GRADE =  A

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Oh! What a Lovely War – 9     War Horse – 8

ACTING:  “War Horse” has a nice cast of British stalwarts.  Everyone is good, but none are outstanding.  Except the horse (all eight of him) who is great.  Jeremy Irvine is appropriately boyish as Joey’s first and last owner.  His performance does not make it clear that he will be a future star.  There is little scene chewing.  As usual, Spielberg lets the scenarios do the chewing. GRADE  =  B

“Oh! What a Lovely War” has an all-star cast.  Attenborough and the script attracted many of  the best British thespians of the time.  John Mills stands out as Gen. Haig, but everyone is competent.  Since each star has limited screen time, they make the most of it.  This being a British film, there is naturally a lot of the “stiff upper lip” style of acting.  It appeared that the actors were doing their own singing, so kudos for that. GRADE  =  B 

 HALFTIME SCORE:  Lovely War – 17  War Horse – 16

COMBAT:  “War Horse” has 7 minutes of combat.  It is not really a combat oriented movie.  Much of the movie is set on the Western Front, but there is only one scene in no man’s land.  That scene smacks of “Saving Private Ryan” sans the graphic violence.  No man’s land is realistically grim and the trenches are authentic-looking.  There is also a cavalry charge early in the war that has predictive of the futile nature of that arm’s role in modern warfare.   The scene is also typical of Spielberg’s lack of concern for military matters as the set up makes little sense.   GRADE  =  C

“Oh! What a Lovely War” also has 7 minutes of combat, but the nature of the fighting is very different.  It reflects the fact that the movie is based on a play and is dialogue and song driven.  The combat is very micro, but the sets are realistic.  The movie is more interested in the big picture.  The uniforms and equipment are authentic.  GRADE  =  D

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Horse  -  23   Lovely  -  22

ANTI-WAR:  “War Horse” is based on a young adult novel by Michael Murpago.  His aim was not to scare his audience.  It is a family war movie with some bite.  Although a number of characters do not survive, the movie has a happy ending as Albert and Joey are reunited in spite of the war.  This dilutes any attempt to send the audience home shaking its head about the folly of the Great War.  The horse actually goes through more hardships than the soldiers.  Horses in the audience will definitely find the war horrifying.  GRADE  =  C

“Lovely War” is clearly meant to be an indictment of the folly of the war.  It deftly uses quotes to damn the generals and the politicians. Their own words are chilling. The film is very anti-command and anti-upper class.   As far as the soldiers, the movie has a theme of how they were being exploited.  They seem to realize this, but hey what are you gonna do?   The fates of the Smith brothers are foreordained.  There are a lot of head-shaking moments for the audience.  Anyone watching the movie with little knowledge of the war will definitely come away feeling it was a travesty.  The songs lighten the mood, although the lyrics often reflect the cynicism of the soldiers.  GRADE  =  A+

FINAL SCORE:  Lovely War  -  32    War Horse  -  29 

MATCH ANALYSIS:  This was an interesting match-up and an excellent opening to the tournament.  In some ways it was a match between an adult-focused film and a family-oriented movie.  I would not recommend “Oh! What a Lovely War” to my students, but it would make an excellent follow-up to a unit on WWI.  It teaches how Europe got itself into such a mess and how the war effected the soldiers.  Plus you have the marvelous period songs.  I am sure my students would enjoy “War Horse” more as entertainment.  It is a more personal, emotional look at the war.  As far as which is better, I feel the final score is fair.  “Oh!  What a Lovely War” stands out among WWI movies.  It is a unique movie and deserves credit for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.