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Seattle Cinema Survey – War Films

Good day all, and thanks for joining us on another edition of the Seattle Cinema Survey, home to me bothering local critics and bloggers about various movie related subjects.

This week’s topic is a tie-in to the much discussed new war drama by Mel Gibson called Hacksaw Ridge. Now, asking about the greatest war film of all-time may be a bit too broad. However, two lauded works of the genre did come out in 1998 in the forms of The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan. With those two landmarks as the starting point, I inquired…what’s the best war film post-98?

For my selection, parameters were necessary. It couldn’t be a war-time film itself like The Pianist, or a movie with battle scenes here and there as a smaller part of a larger narrative ala Steven Sodergbergh’s truly underrated Che. The trenches needed to be prominwnt. With those structures set for my pick, I’m going with Clint Eastwood’s 2006 work Letters from Iwo Jima.

A companion to the oh-so-inferior Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima is a haunting marvel, as we witness the preparation for and eventual fight at the titular destination from the viewpoint of that battle’s losing side. Ken Watanabe is mesmerizing, inspiring and melancholic as the Japanese general who sees a troop in shambles, emotionally and in terms of readiness, and does what he can to keep morale and humanity alive amongst it all.

Matt Oakes of Silver Screen Riot @SSRdotcom
There have been some sleeper hits and awards-geared war films since the turn of the century but the stretch has hardly been as prolific for war films as say the 70s with the Vietnam War or the 80s with the Vietnam War or … you get the picture. Kathryn Bigelow owns two of the best war films since 1999 with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty earning their right as strong contenders for the title. Peter Berg’s more recent Lone Survivor was a gritty showstopper that framed heroism against physical brutality. Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down is a visceral, ugly and totally memorable wartime clusterfuck. I’m even a sucker for Mel Gibson’s vengeance-fueled The Patriot. The scene where he’s grunting, hacking red coats to filets? Priceless. But no one can top what Quentin Tarantino himself referred to as his “masterpiece” ; Inglorious Basterds. A series of tableaus that sees a rogue outfit of angry American Jews crunch, punish and brutalize their way through the enemy Nazi ranks, Inglorious Basterds revels in its revisionist retelling of the events of WWII and QT manages humor and surprising humility amongst the chutzpah of his offerings, which of course include plowing Hitler’s face with machine gun rounds in a hellish torrent of cinema fire. Though Christoph Waltz never really amounted to much outside of Tarantino’s wheelhouse, his role here was a revelation and it’s easy to see why Tarantino himself considers Colonel Hans Landa his best written character.

Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @Filmjabber
That’s a tough one. There haven’t been a lot of great, legitimate war movies in the last 15 years. There have been some fantastic holocaust movies (The Pianist), but I view that as a sub-genre that your typical “war movie” fan wouldn’t call a war movie. Zero Dark Thirty comes to mind, but aside from the climax, it’s not a war movie in the traditional sense. And I’m sure some critics will point to Inglorious Basterds, but even then, I’d call that more of a Tarantino film than a real war film.

So my answer is… The Hurt Locker. I remember watching that movie for the first time and barely breathing. The movie is superbly constructed and exciting as hell, and a rare exception to the “modern war movies sort of lack that special something” feeling I generally get when I’m watching a story set during the Iraq or Afghanistan wars.

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One comment

  1. Christopher N Weymont · November 4

    Platoon is one of the best war movies too. But yeah, Saving Private Ryan is amazing.

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