01 September 2016

Thursday Movie Picks--World War II

It's funny. I got all juiced up for this week, only to realize that, really, I haven't seen all that many WWII Movies, especially ones about the actual war.

I've seen more Holocaust movies than I can count, but I just didn't want to go there with these picks. I wanted men in uniform, clean cut boys turned killing toughs with rifles and filterless cigarettes, fear and dread dripping from their faces only occasionally lightened by a moment of humor or a touch of civility.

So, another Thursday, another entry in Wandering through the Shelves Thursday Movie Picks. This week, of course, World War II.

Here are my picks:

A Midnight Clear
dir. Keith Gordon, 1992

The remnants of a battle-hardened crew of American soldiers capture a crew of German soldiers in a wintry France towards the end of the war. Both sides pretty much over it, they call a holiday truce and decide on terms for the non-violent surrender of the Germans. A tragic twist thwarts everything. I remember watching this as a pretty young kid and just being totally devastated by it...in a good way. It has a great cast, including Gary Sinise, Ethan Hawke, and Kevin Dillon.

Saving Private Ryan
dir. Steven Spielberg, 1998

Spielberg's true masterwork is this blood and guts, sweat and tears slice of absolute realism. It is quite simply the best World War II film ever made. After surviving D-Day, a team of Army Rangers, led by Cpt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) ventures behind enemy lines into the face of certain death to bring home one man, Private James Ryan, who has lost all three of his brothers to the war. Tragic, harrowing, gritty, Saving Private Ryan is endlessly re-watchable, mostly due to the work of its strong cast, including a who's who of great young actors from the time (Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Ed Burns) and its conflicting themes of patriotism and obedience.

dir. David Ayer, 2014

I loved this movie. It's thin on character development, even plot. Sure. But it makes up for it with purely realistic battle sequences...from a new angle. The better part of David Ayers' Fury is shot in or around a Sherman tank. Muddy, bloody, violent, intense the whole way through, I found that there was enough there in terms of the casting of certain actors alone (Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LeBeouf, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal) to make up for what may have been missing in the script. And that scene with the mother and daughter and the piano and the dinner...just mesmerizing...and certainly unexpected.

Bonus--Shout Outs Across the Pond

dir. Joe Wright, 2007

The Dunkirk Long Take. One of the best camera moves in modern cinema. That's all.

Speaking of Dunkirk...

dir. Christopher Nolan, 2017

I'm stoked. There hasn't been an epic WWII movie in a long time. 


  1. I'm stoked for Dunkirk as well.

    I haven't seen the first pick but Saving Private Ryan and Fury are excellent. And I love Atonement so much, especially that shot you talked about.

    1. Glad we agree. I love the battle heavy WWII movies.

  2. Yay! Unlike last week I've seen all your picks this time! My favorite by far is Saving Private Ryan, I remember seeing it the first time in an absolutely packed theatre and when it ended the audience stood as one and filed out wordlessly. The friend that I went with and I didn't speak until we were in the car and I think the first thing either of us said was "Wow that was intense" Incredibly well done and profoundly moving.

    I liked A Midnight Clear, it's been a while but as I recall it was both sad and kind of uplifting. I also loved Atonement-now that's a sad movie! That tracking shot is so beautifully done and makes such an impact on the story.

    The only one we disagree on is Fury. I thought Brad was good but I detested the film.

    I went the opposite route from you and rather than venturing onto the battlefield I decided to focus on films that looked at people on the periphery of the conflict, affected by it but not directly involved in the fighting.

    To Be or Not to Be (1942)/To Be or Not to Be (1983)-As Hitler rises to power annexing portions of Europe life continues as usual at the Warsaw theatre owned by bickering married couple of renown, Joseph Tura/Fredrick Bronski (Jack Benny/Mel Brooks) “World famous in Poland!” and Maria Tura/Anna Bronski (Carole Lombard/Anne Bancroft). When the wife becomes enamored of a young flyer Lt. Sobinski (Robert Stack/Tim Matheson) they rendezvous while her hambone of a husband takes forever to get through Shakespeare’s soliloquy of the title. Suddenly Poland is attacked and the couple and their troupe of performers find themselves involved in the serious business of espionage to aid the war effort. The films, very similar in layout and execution, provide an interesting contrast in the way comedy about a serious situation can be played, the subtle almost gallows humor of Lubitsch and the broader stroke of Brooks. Both are successful though Lubitsch’s viewpoint is probably the more trenchant and timely. This was Carole Lombard’s final film, she was killed in a plane crash returning from a war bond tour the day before the planned premiere. The opening was delayed and her line “What can happen in a plane!” was excised (though it has been restored to current prints).

    The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)-Filmization of the young Jewess’s journal of her time hiding away with her family and assorted friends from the Nazis in a small attic apartment. Wrenching and sad but also full of observation about the human condition and a young girl’s journey toward adulthood. Shelley Winters won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as the high strung Mrs. Van Daan.

    Confirm or Deny (1941)-During the London Blitz American war correspondent “Mitch” Mitchell (Don Ameche) will use any scheme-coastal wire, war orphan Albert’s (a thirteen year old Roddy McDowell) carrier pigeons etc.-to expedite news to his Stateside editor before anyone else. Meeting teletype operator Jennifer (Joan Bennett) on the night an air raid destroys his office he convinces her to let him use the machine, hidden in a hotel cellar, to send reports. Despite falling for him Jennifer argues with Mitch that his ambition to be first from the front is compromising intelligence work against the Nazis. When tragedy strikes he’s forced to question his methods, all the while New York keeps sending the same message over and over again, "Confirm or deny?”

    1. I too saw Saving Private Ryan in the theater. Same experience. Packed house. Silence. That also happened when I saw American Sniper as well, a movie I loved very much that became quite divisive. (Not WWII of course.)

      Not too many seemed to like Fury. It is too brutal and plotless for its own good probably. Those are the things I loved about it. Plus, TANKS! I was a little kid again.

      I like what you did with your picks. A shame I haven't seen but The Diary of Anne Frank, and that's been years ago. Thanks for sharing.

  3. The Dunkirk long take! Excellent call. :-)

  4. Oh goody! I want to see a war film like Dunkirk. It's funny, Saving Private Ryan kind of irked me maybe because of my knowledge about what the Canadians accomplished during D Day. The first 20 minutes was excellent but the ending with the American flag and all that just made me roll my eyes...sorry but it's true. I thought Atonement was boring beyond belief even though the story is excellent. I enjoyed Fury and would like to see that film again. I have't see Midnight Clear and it is now on my list

    1. Yes! Dunkirk. We need a solid war movie these days. As an American, I can say that I am fine with all the patriotism dripping from Saving Private Ryan, even if it maybe goes a bit too far. It certainly made me feel proud of my grandfather's generation and the sacrifices they all made.

  5. I've only seen one WW2 movie: Saving Private Ryan. I've seen some Holocaust movies, but I consider those to be a separate list entirely.

    I haven't seen Fury, but I do own it, & I want to watch it badly.

    I haven't seen Atonement, but I do own it, & I want to watch it for 2 reasons: the Dunkirk long take & Saoirse Ronan.

    I've never heard of A Midnight Clear, but you have piqued my interest.

    I am definitely excited for Dunkirk. It looks EXCELLENT.

    1. I hope you get to all of these you've missed. WWII is one of my favorite subjects.

  6. Atonement and that sequence is amazing :) After what Ayer did with Suicide Squad I'm boycotting all of his movies

    1. Definitely. And I think, despite Suicide Squad, you should see Fury. It's quite fascinating and nowhere near as "bad."

  7. I think Fury is a completely underrated movie. The battle scenes are amazingly intense and staged really well, the scenes outside the tank are mostly really good (UGH that scene with the mother and daughter in the apartment... one of the best scenes of 2014 in any movie), and the actors fill out their characters so much more from what's on the page. It's great work all around and deserves more of a following.

    Saving Private Ryan, though. It's good. Great, even. But the best WWII movie EVER? Sorry, but no. It's not even the best WWII movie from 1998! The opening scene is stellar, bravura filmmaking, but after that.... it's just solid, a pretty generic war film with some really good performances and the great craft we expect from Spielberg and his team. The Thin Red Line is better, a truly unique war movie that is also an incredible work of art.

    1. Dude. You are one of the few along with me who found Fury to be wholly engrossing. I LOVED that scene with the mother and daughter. Like, WTF? Totally threw me for a loop and worked so well as a respite from all the blood and mud. Scene of that year? Pretty damn close.

      I don't want you to think that The Thin Red Line didn't cross my mind. It's beautiful, powerful, poetic, well acted....all those things, but it just isn't better than Saving Private Ryan as a war film. That, for me, mostly has to do with its nature as a meditation no war rather than a story about the war. The entertainment value is lacking. And I think it would also be safe to call Saving Private Ryan a pretty successful piece of art. Just because the camera doesn't float around on top of blades of grass with a philosophical voiceover doesn't necessarily mean there isn't any art to it. It has one of the most assured, distinctive looks of any movie Spielberg has made.

    2. LOL at that second-to-last sentence. I can see where the "entertainment value" is lacking in Thin Red Line, but that's not the only component of a film that matters - or should! Although I am definitely one of those who will take an entertaining film over one that isn't any day, sometimes the overall effect of a film is so powerful and so moving that I don't even care. Thin Red Line is one of those films for me. I think its nature as a meditation on war and not a story specifically about the war is EXACTLY what makes it so special such a great film, and a far better candidate for the title of Best War Movie Ever.

      Saving Private Ryan is a fine, fine film. But nothing in it grabs me like that amazing opening scene. Thin Red Line held me all the way through, and for a film that long, that's a pretty amazing accomplishment.

  8. I've seen Saving Private Ryan and Atonement. SPR is a masterpiece. Thought Atonement was okay. I had Fury in my house from Red Box, but didn't get to watch it before I had to return it and never bothered going back. Sounds like I should.

    1. I think you would be on the pro side of the Fury debate. Give it a shot if you feel the urge to watch a gritty ass TANK movie.

  9. I've only seen Saving Private Ryan, an absolute masterpiece. I can't wait for Dunkirk, it looks so good!