Yeah, I know, The Guardian. I’d as soon ask Jane Fonda for her top ten war pictures as I would The Guardian.
But I didn’t ask; they just published it on their own initiative the other day, and I find such lists irresistible. So here is their list, but with my comments on each:
10. “Where Eagles Dare” — They included one slam-bang, fun-to-watch action picture, and I appreciate the gesture. I actually think of this one as less a war movie, and more an action/spy story. But it is of course technically a war picture, and probably fires more (blank, I hope) rounds from Schmeisser machine pistols than any other film ever made (in this scene alone). Best bit — the battle on the cable car/ski lift thing.
9. “Rome, Open City” — Haven’t seen it. Sounds intriguing.
8. “La Grande Illusion” — Also sounds interesting. Need to put it on my list.
7. “The Deer Hunter” — Some fine performances by some great American actors, but perhaps a bit too ponderous, too impressed with its own seriousness. And the whole Russian roulette thing only makes sense in the way The Guardian sees it: “as a metaphor for America’s suicidal intervention in south-east Asia.”
6. “Three Kings” — Saw this, but quickly forgot it. “Kelly’s Heroes” did the same thing better (or at least, more entertainingly, although it is unfortunately an exemplar of the wearisome “WWII was so much fun!” genre so prevalent at the time). All I remember is a character’s graphic description of what a bullet does when it enters the body (or was that in something else?). Why did The Guardian include it? Why else? “What Three Kings is really concerned with is challenging some of the bogus US triumphalism that clung to the war at the time.” Bogus? Really? I thought that was supposed to be the “good war” in the estimation of people who opposed going in and finishing the job in 2003.
5. “Come and See” — Haven’t seen it. Sounds like something extremely unpleasant, that would mostly tell me something I knew — the Nazis were really, really bad guys.
4. “Ran” — The Kurozawa classic that I’ve never seen, and need to. It’s in my Netflix queue. Maybe this weekend.
3. “The Thin Red Line” — The most disappointing war picture I’ve ever seen. I went to see it right after reading James Jones’ superb novel, and was sickened by Hollywood’s cheesy, gauzy, preachy version of it. I hated it so much I wrote a column about how bad it was, which you can read here. (It’s a Word file — you have to go to your “downloads” folder to read it.)
2. “Paths of Glory” — I’ve only ever seen parts of it, and I want to see the whole thing. It probably deserves to be here more than another Kubrick film that too often makes lists such as this one, “Full Metal Jacket.”
1. “Apocalypse Now” — An awesome piece of film-making. Although this is another one that I don’t exactly think of as a “war picture.” The Vietnam War is just used as a setting for retelling Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which is more about the war in men’s souls than a bang-bang war. Most people’s favorite bits, such as Robert Duvall’s surf-mad air cav colonel, are to me fun to watch, but distracting, and degrading to the film’s artistic value. I like the slower, darker, quieter, more contemplative narrative, the plot thread of the film that stays true to Conrad. I like the parts when Willard is talking to himself, narrating. So did a lot of people, obviously, since this seems to have launched a whole new career for Martin Sheen doing commercial voiceovers.
Mainly, what’s glaringly missing from this list are such obvious greats as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Platoon,” “Black Hawk Down,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Stalag 17,” “The Big Red One,” and maybe “The Hurt Locker.” (And, for sentimental reasons, because I loved it as a kid, “The Great Escape.”)
And of course, “The Thin Red Line” would be on a 10 worst list, if I were compiling it.
Aside from the foreign classics that serve to air the critics’ erudition, their guiding preference for iconic anti-war works, and the fun pick of “Where Eagles Dare,” it’s like they phoned this list in.