(The last major war around the world at the same time was the World War 2 that happened between 1939 to 1945. For most of us who were not born then, we can understand the ultimate sacrifices that many gave from some of best movies ever made on this subject. Image source: http://www.buchanan.org)
World War 2 was the last major conflict that we have faced and we all dread the start of World War 3 (which could mean end of mankind or worse, the planet earth).
I like history and I have collection of books and magazines on the subject at home but nothing portrays the event better than seeing them on movies. Over the years, we have been “bombarded” with many types of war movies and mini-series ranging from ancient wars (like “300” and “Braveheart”), World Wars (both 1 & 2), Vietnam Wars (still remember “Platoon”, “Full Metal Jacket” or “Apocalypse Now”?) and all the way to galactic war in a galaxy, far, far away (my favourite – “Star Wars”)
If you are looking for World War 2 movies for your collection, I strongly recommend these (in no particular order):-
1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
It is a must have in anyone’s collection for a World War 2 movie and for a simple reason – the first 10 minutes of slaughter on the Omaha Beach is probably the closest thing you can come to the real thing. Steven Spielberg managed to capture the reality of the slaughter of the Allied forces by the German defenses on the beach head with pin point accuracy.
(The start of the slaughter – even before the Marines steps on the beach – highly riveting and a pure adrenaline rush. You can see chunks of brain splashing away even before they land)
And if you watched the “The Making of Saving Private Ryan”, you will appreciate the movie makers’ painstaking effort to make a movie that is more documentary-alike than a normal colorful movie. The boots that the actors wore in the movie is made by the same company that made the boots for the US soldiers during World War 2.
This movie also spurred the 2 excellent HBO mini-series – “Band of Brothers” (the war against the Germans) and “The Pacific” (the war against the Japanese) – another must have in your collection.
Must watch scene: The landing on the Omaha Beach and if you have the right “hardware”, listen to the best sound recording ever made (bullets literally flies from right to the left). The movie won 2 Oscars for sound alone.
2. Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
If you feel that you have not enough of the slaughter of the Americans on the Omaha Beach in “Saving Private Ryan”, then this is the movie for you. Clint Eastwood directed this movie of the Americans landing on Japanese controlled Iwo Jima and the slaughter here is more dramatic than of “Saving Private Ryan”.
(The landscape coupled with the intense fighting & slaughter of the Americans makes this movie one notch up against Saving Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach battle scene )
The Americans are more exposed here and despite massive firepower from the supporting naval ships (impressively shown), the Japanese defenders had the upper hand.
Besides the story of the Americans fighting to take over Iwo Jima, there is another story in this movie – about the second flag planted on Iwo Jima (and went on to be more famous than the first flag) and the American soldiers who went on a freak roadshow once they reached America. They felt betrayed and humiliated.
Must watch scene: The movie has 2 parts in it – the soldier’s battle against the Japanese on Iwo Jima and another “battle” against the “many who did not understand” in America. The part on the actual battle on Iwo Jima is a must watch – it is so real and perfect.
Watch out for part early in the movie when the men on the ships start cheering for the passing fighter planes and one of them falls down into the water. The men on ship are then told that no ship will stop to pick that man up.
3. The Pianist (2002)
If you are Jew, earmarked for extermination by the German in Warsaw, Poland, you need to watch this Oscar winning, based on true story movie on how the famous Polish Jewish pianist, Władysław Szpilman (Adrien Brody won an Oscar for this role) who went from a famous musician to an on-the-run Jew and made it alive till the end of the war.
(One of the best scenes in the movie, a cold and hungry Władysław Szpilman facing a German officer in an abandoned building)
The movie, directed by Roman Polanski (who won an Oscar for Best Director) revolves on Jews in Poland, how they were forced to move to German controlled Jewish settlement away from the rest of the citizens and then systematically executed.
There is one scene where Szpilman together with fellow Jewish workers get ready to go to work when they are stopped by a German officer. The officer picks several men randomly, asks them to lie down on the road and proceed to shoot them on the head. He runs of bullet when he reached the last man – he stops, takes his time to reload and shoots the last man on the head.
Must watch scene: Władysław Szpilman cold and hungry, decides to take his chances and go out to look for food and find a can of food in an abandoned building. And when he was about pry it open, the can falls down, rolls down the floor and stops at the feet of a German officer who surprisingly instead of shooting Szpilman on the spot, asked Szpilman to play the piano.
After listening to Szpilman playing the piano, the officer leaves and Szpilman immediately breaks down and cry.
4. Schindler’s List (1993)
The movie that was not shown in the cinemas in Malaysia after our local censorship board decided that there were too much nudity and wanted to cut down the scenes – something Steven Spielberg did not agree. How sad – the movie is a master piece – it went on to win 7 Oscars including Best Picture.
(The children in the Jewish camp being taken away by the truckloads with their parents crying by the side helplessly)
This movie looked at the darker side of the World War 2 where Nazi Germany executed the Jews without a care for the fellow human being and how a German businessman who first desired by money and greed, changes his mind and decides to help to save thousands of them into safety.
The movie was shot entirely in black and white and that creates a unique “aura” watching this movie.
Must watch scene: The Jews in the concentration camp is stripped naked and is rounded up for the final extermination as trucks carried away the children in the camp – the agony of the parents who being held on the other end of the camp is unspeakable.
Watch out for the ending when the real survivors of Oskar Schindler are shown side by side with the actors who portrayed them in the movie (with John Williams’ background music).
5. Patton (1970)
The opening scene of the movie when US’ greatest World War 2 General George S Patton (acted superbly by George C Scott) gives one of the best motivating speech is a must watch.
(This image is now iconic and the monologue delivered is one of the classics. Many of the quotes from the opening speech are real quotes from George S. Patton)
The movie portrays the famed Third Army US General who went head to head with British’s Field Marshall Montgomery on who made the most advance in the war torn Europe. Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote the screenplay for this movie.
The movie is about the man, not the war so it does gives an interesting perceptive on one of the finest tank commander in the US Army during World War 2. He was the soldier’s soldier and who gave no heed on politicians and soft diplomacy. That is where he got into trouble and often taken out from the limelight of war by his commanders.
The movie won 7 Oscars which included Best Actor award for George C Scott (which he refused – first actor to do so).
Must watch scene: Other than the opening scene, memorable scenes includes the part where General Patton visits a medical camp and confronts a soldier who been admitted because he was scared. Patton (who earlier overwhelmed by seriously injured soldier) gets so furious with this “yellow bastard” that he pulls his revolver to shoot him but was stopped by the doctors in time.
Any other suggestions?