I saw at least 120 war movies in 2020. Most of them were B and C graded movies. But some stood out and some were terrible. The following are the best and worst movies that I saw for the first time this past year.
10. Mosul (2020) - This is a Netflix movie that is set in the city of Mosul during the period when the city was transitioning from control by ISIS. It follows one day in the life of a unit of Iraqi SWAT team as it moves through the city and deals with various encounters with foes. The combat is intense and the deaths are sudden and random. The acting is solid from an unknown cast. The movie creates a lot of empathy for the Iraqi warriors who had to deal with the mess we created.
9. Panfilov's 28 Men (2016) - This is a Russian movie about a legendary stand made by a small unit during the Moscow Campaign of 1941. The 28 men blocked German armor from their trenches. The movie has a high amount of modern Russian style combat. It passes on myth over reality, but it is an entertaining film.
8. The Last Full Mearure (2019) - This is the story of Medal of Honor recipient William Pitsenberger. Pitsenberger came to the aid of an ambushed unit in Vietnam. The plot intercuts between the efforts of a Pentagon staffer to gather info on the incident and reenactment of the incident. The staffer visits an all-star lineup of Pitsenberger’s parents and mates. It has an outstanding cast that includes Christopher Plummer, Peter Fonda, Ed Harris, and Samuel L. Jackson. And Dale Dye!
7. Uprising (2001) - This is a made-for-TV movie about the Holocaust. It is set in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It follows several members of the resistance, including a strong female character played by Leelee Sobieski. The rest of the cast is excellent, including David Schwimmer and Hank Azaria. Almost every major character is a real person. There is coverage of the Nazi leadership. The first half sets up the uprising and the second half is the action and it is a good payoff. It is excellent edutainment.
6. Jojo Rabbit (2019) - This movie is not for everyone, but if you are looking for a whimsically bizarre look at the German homefront at the end of the war, you might want to check this acclaimed movie. Jojo is a Hitler Youth member whose imaginary friend is Hitler. His mother is in the resistance and is harboring a Jewish girl. The movie is packed with bizarre characters and has a strong cast. The film was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. A bit silly at times, it is a deft blend of satire with an unconventional love story.
5. 1944 (2015) - This is an Estonian movie set in the Soviet invasion of Estonia in in 1940. The first half of the movie follows a unit of Estonians fighting with the Germans and the second half switches to following a unit in the Red Army. There is an amazing twist that links the two narratives. It is the tale of two soldiers who are connected in a compelling way. The movie is very well-acted. There is no weakness in this excellent film.
4. The Unknown Soldier (2017) - This Finnish film follows an infantry unit in the Continuation War with the Soviet Union. The character development is excellent and it features one of my favorite characters, an anti-hero named Rokka. The combat is stellar and separates the scenes where we learn that Finnish soldiers had a unique national personality. It is one of the most popular war movies to come out of Finland.
3. Greyhound (2020) - This movie takes place on an American destroyer during the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942. Tom Hanks captains the ship and the action takes place over a couple of days in the defense of a convoy from numerous u-boat attacks. Based on a novel by C.S. Forester, it covers the book faithfully. Hanks is great and since it was filmed on the USS Kidd, it has a feel of authenticity. The special effects are outstanding, especially the weather of the North Atlantic.
2. Danger Close (2019) - This is an Australian movie about an Aussie unit in Vietnam in 1966. It accurately covers the Battle of Long Tan which involved the ambushing of the unit by a large Viet Cong force. Travis Fimmel stars as the commander. The movie is very accurate. It has similarities to "We Were Soldiers”, but it avoids the ridiculous ending. It has a high percent of combat and it is realistically depicted.
1. The Outpost (2020) - The best war movie I saw in 2020 is based on a nonfiction book by journalist Jake Tapper. He tells the story of an American base in Afghanistan that was assaulted by a large force of the Taliban. It was basically the Alamo of the war. The movie is accurate in bringing the book to the screen. Most of the movie deals with the battle and it is realistic combat that is nonstop. You get a feel for what our soldiers went through in this confusing war. The movie is excellent on soldier behavior.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
5. Zeppelin (1971) - This is a big budget action film set in WWI. Michael York goes to Germany to foil a plot to steal the Magna Carta by way of a Zeppelin-transported stormtrooper raid. Obviously, it’s preposterous, but not in an entertaining way. Even for a 1970’s “Operation Crossbow” wannabe, its execution is half-ass. And the special effects are not impressive. It has enough holes to deflate an airship.
4. In Enemy Hands (2004) - This takes place in 1943. Americans are picked up by a u-boat and then a disease breaks out on board. The scenario is ridiculous. It wastes a good cast. The performances are weak and the dialogue is trite. It is more clicheish than most sub movies. Endeavoring to bring a touch of horror to the sub subgenre, it ends up just being horrible.
3. Custer of the West (1967) - This is a biopic on the infamous Indian-fighter. Robert Shaw was a poor choice and he is uncomfortable in the role. It manages to botch most of Custer’s greatest hits and finishes with a truly atrocious rendering of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Anyone familiar with history will be offended by this movie. It’s not even a decent Western. It does manage to make “They Died With Their Boots On” look good, so there is some accomplishment there.
2. Red Rose of Normandy (2011) - This takes place during the D-Day invasion. It is a sincere effort with reenactors and authentic equipment, but decidedly low budget. The acting is bad, the dialogue is pitiful, and the plot is as bad as you would expect. Plus, the female lead is distractingly Z-list. Watch it with your wife/girlfriend and you might be able to convince her she could star in a movie. If she stays with you.
1. Border (1997)
“Border” was directed, written, and produced by J.P. Dutta. It was his dream project and it paid off big for him. The movie had huge box office in India and did well overseas. It was critically acclaimed and is considered one of the best Indian movies of the 1990’s. It was nominated for 11 awards at the 43rd Filmfare Awards. The song “Sandese Aate Hai” was a big hit. It was set in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. It is a fictionalized account of the Battle of Loungewala.
The movie opens right before the declaration of war. Bajwa (Jackie Shroff) is tasked with building an air base. Meanwhile, Maj. Kuldip (Sunny Deol) takes command of a border outpost. His second in command Lt. Dharmveer (Akshaye Khanna) is the son of a war hero, but he is a pacifist who doesn’t want to be in the army. There is a flashback to him meeting his future wife and we get the first song. For those of you who didn’t know you were in an Indian war movie, here is your biggest clue. This long and excruciating scene is immediately followed by another soldier’s flashback and another song! This is followed by a ridiculous fight. Then another romantic flashback. Then the soldiers get to do a song and dance number. The first shots are fired at the 1:45 mark. The big battle involves Pakistani tanks and infantry assaulting the outpost. Actually, they park at the bottom of the hill and both sides exchange fire for half an hour. Somewhere in the middle of this combat poorn (get it?), Bajwa and his boys make the most laughable air attack since Abbott and Costello made “Keep ‘Em Flying”.
I love foreign war movies. My favorites are South Korean, Soviet/Russian, and Finnish, but I have enjoyed subtitled movies from many countries. “Border” is my first (and last) Hindi war movie. I am always looking for highly regarded foreign war films and “Border” came highly recommended. It was not only my first Indian war movie, but my first taste of Bollywood. If you are a hard core war movie fan, it can be a bit disconcerting to see soldiers break out into song. I love “Oh! What a Lovely War”, but it clearly is a musical. “Border” is not a musical. It is a war movie with songs thrown in. It must be a cultural thing because Bollywood films are seen by millions. They are not my cup of tea and to see them branch over into the war genre is painful. This is a terrible movie. It is boring. I give myself a lot of credit for watching the whole movie. All 177 minutes of it. The acting is embarrassing and yet several of the cast were nominated for the top acting awards in India. Apparently scene chewing is highly regarded in India. If this is one of the best Indian war movies, I would sure hate to see one that the Indian critics did not like. It is the worst foreign war movie I have seen and I have seen many macaroni combat films.
GRADE = F-