The Best Movie Critic + review

The Movie Advent: Our 9 Favorite War Movies

Greetings Movie Advocate regulars! Today we continue off our special Christmas present to you, a series of 12 lists for the 12 days of Christmas. We're continuing today with lists of our 9 favorite war movies. Agree? Disagree? Either way we'd love to hear about it!

Ben's List

9. Viva Villa!

This is a weird choice for a favorite war movie, and probably one that not many of you have seen. I saw this movie for the first time at Harry Knowles’ Butt-Numb-A-Thon a few years back. I was already on a roll with Howard Hawks movies, and Wallace Beery was a revelation. Viva Villa! tells the more than slightly sanitized and romanticized story of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution, following Villa from childhood to death, from iconic legend to drunken roustabout. Those "magic moments" I always talk about? This movie is full of 'em. Viva Villa! is not available on DVD, but if you ever spy a VHS copy, don't hesitate to pick it up... and give it to me as a Christmas present.
8. Patton

A comprehensive examination of a warrior out of tempo with his own era. Patton is fiercely insightful in it's exploration of intellect, history, and the masculine ego. For George C. Scott it was the role of a lifetime.

7. Black Book

Black Book is gravely undervalued. This seriously twisted Nazi-infiltration story is probably Paul Verhoeven’s best movie. Blasphemy, I know. All the normal Verhoeven tropes are here - ultraviolence, sexual compromise, emotional degradation - yet somehow it comes across as totally appropriate for the material.

6. Kelly's Heroes

This is my guilty pleasure war movie. Objectively, I can't really say that it has much to offer, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it has Donald Sutherland as the leader of a WWII hippy commune and an old west showdown with an armored tank. This is high fantasy WWII cotton candy, and I adore it.

5. M*A*S*H

The peacenik’s war movie. M*A*S*H is populated with characters that react to war the way I think I would. They’re not pious or reverent. But all the comedy and cheek is merely a poor cover for some pretty serious underlying psychic damage. War is Hell, and Hawkeye, Trapper, and their pals compensate by playing fools and jokers. This is from Altman’s golden age.

4. Stalag 17

Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 is the best POW camp movie I’ve seen. On the surface, the movie is a comedy. As the movie progresses, however, it becomes painfully clear how psychologically damaged and hopeless these POWs are. The movie’s most comedic character, “Animal,” is obsessed with Bettie Grable, and the very real depression that sets in when he finds out that she’s married is upsetting. The whole movie we thought the Bettie Grable gags were a joke, but come to find out Animal’s pinup girl infatuation was the only thing that made life bearable for him. Astonishingly, director Billy Wilder balances humor and trauma perfectly, never shortchanging one for the other.

3. Where Eagles Dare

I have much love for Where Eagles Dare. I love that there are approximately two seconds of exposition at the beginning of the movie and then its wall-to-wall action and suspense from that moment on. If you love Star Wars and want to see exactly which movie George Lucas ripped off for the Death Star infiltration in A New Hope, look no further. Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton play it so cool. Where Eagles Dare is an unbelievably fun movie.

2. To Be or Not To Be

To Be or Not To Be is one of the funniest movies ever made. It’s a movie about “The Greatest Generation” before they realized that they were “The Greatest Generation.” The Nazis are buffoons and the allies lie, cheat, and steal their way to victory. It’s shocking to see a movie from this era with such a positive spin on marital affairs. This is what people thought about WWII before they realized they were supposed to take it seriously.

1. 49th Parallel

Powell and Pressburger’s overlooked classics has one of the most unique narratives ever put to film. A series of episodes following a crew of Nazis stranded in northern Canada trying to escape into then-neutral United States, 49th Parallel painstakingly outlines every flaw in the Nazi agenda. Pure propaganda, and pure genius. Read my full story on this brilliant movie here.

Justin's List

9. First Blood

I know that more people consider this an action movie than a war movie. This is one man's personal war. I also like that this is one of the first movies to deal with PTSD even though there are many parts of this movie that are over the top.

8. The Thin Red Line

Terrance Malick's Thin Red Line is a beautiful movie that effectively balances the hyper-real with the surreal. It is a shame that this movie was overshadowed by the lesser Saving Private Ryan, which was released the same year.

7. The Hurt Locker

I imagine that if I was making this list 10 years from now, this would be much closer to the top. An incredible movie that everyone in America should see.

6. Full Metal Jacket

Shows the horrors of war at home and abroad captured by the sterile camera of Stanley Kubrick. R. Lee Ermey's drill Sergent is on my short list of screen villains.

5. The Deerhunter

My favorite movie that I never want to see again. When I was growing up my parents were very liberal about which movies I could watch. The Deerhunter was one of the only one forbidden to me, and for good reason. When I finally got around to watching this when I was 20 it destroyed me for about a week.

4. Paths of Glory

The second Kubrick entry on this list. Paths of Glory stars Kirk Douglas as a principled WWI officer in the French army at odds with the ludicrous orders of his superiors. Criterion just reissued this.

3. Starship Troopers

The best satire of the "war on terror" made 6 years before the US invaded Iraq. I seriously don't think it could be any more relevant if it were made today.

2. The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup

I went back and forth with this one for the #1 slot. Another satire to be sure. Groucho Marx is inexplicably made the leader of the country of Freedonia and proceeds to run it into the ground and into war. Shows the absurdity of war in a most effective way.

1. The Big Red One (Theatrical Cut)

This is the movie that kept coming back to me when I was making this list. This was one of Lee Marvin's last movie as he leads a bunch of kids through WWII in the first army brigade. This movie is as much a comment on war as it is war movies. It has an episodic feel that is reminiscent of serials or war comics. There's a pervasive he-man attitude towards war until the end when reality comes crashing in - the liberation of the Falkenau concentration camp.

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