“The Imitation Game” is based on the fascinating life of British mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch.) Turing was instrumental in deciphering the puzzle that was the German enigma code – a breakthrough that gave Britain a massive upper hand during the war. But the mathematician’s story takes a tragic and heartbreaking turn.
The British government negated his accomplishments, choosing instead to focus on his homosexuality. Turing faced unfair prosecution and ultimately, chemical castration as an alternative to prison. Turing died when he was 42. An inquiry deemed that he had taken his own life. Unlike other war films, “The Imitation Game” boldly explores latent homosexuality and not only within the purview of war.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)
Filmmaker Nagisa Oshima has never shied away from controversy, and that’s evident in “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.” The film is an unapologetic exploration of homoerotic tension coursing through a Japanese-run prisoner-of-war camp in Indonesia. Viewers meet Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence (Tom Conti), Sergeant Hara (Takeshi Kitano), and unflappable Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie.)
Before long, viewers can cut the tension with a knife. The film explores forbidden desires and brutal excesses, daring to address underlying themes left to wither in every other war movie. It also provides commentary on how different cultures express or repress these feelings – usually through denial or violence.
Army of Shadows (1969)
As far as French Resistance films go, “Army of Shadows” is the pinnacle of fine cinema. The film had never been distributed in America until 2006, and then topped pretty much every critics’ list on this side of the ocean. All this, over three decades after the film was first released.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, “Army of Shadows” is about the efforts of French Resistance fighters attempting to hide from the Vichy administration while also trying to survive the Nazi occupation of France. The group also discovers that there is a traitor in their midst. Known widely for his thrilling crime films, Melville brings similar intensity and tension while depicting the spirit of the resistance movement.
Although the world has plenty of Napoleon Bonaparte films to choose from, none compare to the 1927 film directed by Abel Gance. Gance had grand plans when he set out to make a film on the French commander. The idea was to make a staggering six films covering various parts of Napoleon’s life.
While this dream project didn’t see the light of day, just the one film was quite epic in itself. “Napoleon” is a whopping five and a half hours long, and still doesn’t cover many parts of the leader’s eventful life. Gance’s work is widely regarded as the ultimate benchmark — if you’re making a Napoleon Bonaparte film, it’s got to be better or equally as good!
Pork Chop Hill (1959)
“Pork Chop Hill” is a cinematic gem based on the true story of an American assault during the Korean War. The mission was to take Pork Chop Hill where a big group of Chinese soldiers had deeply dug in and taken refuge. Director Lewis Milestone infuses the narrative with haunting anti-war themes similar to the ones present in his 1930 adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
This time, however, the focus is on the blasé nature of the leaders and higher-ups in war – hopeless, impotent, and feeble men at the helm of global conflicts. With memorable performances by the one and only Gregory Peck, the film is a powerful indictment of war and the men who seemingly lead it.