“Dunkirk” marked a change of pace for director Christopher Nolan, otherwise famous for trailblazing action films. And of course, everyone knows him for the Dark Knight trilogy. “Dunkirk” is at once a war movie while feeling like an excellent Nolan thriller. The movie tells the story of the evacuation of allied forces from Dunkirk during WWII.
Viewers get multiple perspectives on the event and the days leading up to it – different views that convey the magnitude of the operation. What’s more, Nolan takes a war movie and flips it on its head by traveling back and forth between different time periods at different speeds. It won’t come as a surprise to fans who love the signature mind-bending, time-defying elements in Nolan’s work.
Paths of Glory (1957)
A list of war film greats is incomplete without “Paths of Glory.” The film revolves around the story of three men, unfortunate scapegoats for an entire unit that failed a trench offensive. It opens with a disturbing battle sequence that sets the stage for tragedy on the battlefield and the harsh trial to come.
The commentary is direct — a sharp condemnation of higher-ranking officials who avoid the trenches themselves but have no qualms about sending young officers to die in battle. “Paths of Glory” is among the best movies on WWI in cinematic history. Its nuanced and confident narrative is remarkable, especially when you consider that director Stanley Kubrick was just 29 when the film was released!
Waltz With Bashir (2008)
Ari Folman's “Waltz with Bashir” uses animation, poetry, interviews, and brutal documentary images to tell the story of the 1982 Lebanon War. This aesthetically brilliant war movie is partly autobiographical, in that the protagonist is Folman himself. He attempts to reconstruct his own suppressed memories about the Lebanon War and the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
And since he can’t remember, Folman begins to collect stories from other characters in the film. “Waltz with Bashir” is a haunting psychological journey as much as it is a political one. The movie doesn't seek to answer the many lingering questions about war. Its focus is on Israeli veterans – their actions and how they grappled with tenuous memory. The final scenes in the film are some of the most hard-hitting in movie history.
Generally, epic war movies are treated with some regard that puts them safely out of the hands of Golden Raspberry nominations. Not when they are directed by Michael Bay. The LA director may strike gold at the box office, but he is a familiar contender for Golden Raspberries.
The only thing that saved “Pearl Harbor” from scooping in a handful of awards for the war epic was that there were seriously terrible movies that year including Tom Green’s “Freddy Got Fingered” and Mariah Carey’s one serious attempt at acting in “Glitter.” “Pearl Harbor” was still nominated for six Golden Razzies.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
Other war films might have heavy artillery and guns blazing in the foreground. Indeed, that seems to be the focus of most films in the genre. “The Thin Red Line” takes a radically different approach to war – deeply philosophical and cerebral. It urges introspection. The story follows a group of U.S. soldiers fighting at the Battle of Guadalcanal.
By the end of the movie, most of the characters die in combat. What’s most striking about the film is its duality. Blood is shed in the most picturesque natural locations. There’s beauty and bestiality in equal measure, forced to co-exist or fight it out. Filmmaker Terrence Malik made a highly-anticipated comeback with “The Thin Red Line.” It might not be the most well-known war movie but is among the best of the time.