In honor of Memorial Day -- take a moment of silence for all the soldiers who have served this country over the years (and centuries), and then take another moment to think of some of your favorite films about the horrors of war. These are mine:
(Note: I'm keeping to fictional features here, no docs allowed, for the sake of focus.)
Paths of Glory - 1957
One of the finest anti-war statements ever made, it's also acted to perfection by Kirk Douglas, powerfully so, and company; despite the utterly tragic denouement Kubrick builds the suspense expertly.
Gallipoli - 1981
Peter Weir's Australian film about the horrifically tragic battle at the titular local in Turkey during WWI is also magnificently compelling; features a young Mel Gibson back when he was still an Aussie. Memorable right down to the famous final shot.
Grand Illusion - 1937
Still holds sway as one of the greatest anti-war dramas, which also served as an influence on many other films -- including the aforementioned Great Escape. But as Roger Ebert notes, it's less about an escape than it is "a meditation on the collapse of the old order of European civilization." A remarkable piece of cinema, and director/actor Erich von Stroheim gives one of his two greatest performances (see Sunset Blvd. for the other).
Other Favorite WWI Movies:
All Quiet on the Western Front
A Very Long Engagement
Bridge on the River Kwai - 1957
I still think it drags on a bit in the midsection when William Holden is off living the good life again, but otherwise this is one of the greatest of all WWII action films and is there a better, more gripping and satisfying 3rd act in cinema?
The Great Escape - 1963
Favorite POW movie, despite knowing how it ends, and its epic length, I'll watch this any time it's on because it remains entertaining with one of my favorite Hollywood casts ever. Plus Steve McQueen on a motorbike!
Letters From Iwo Jima - 2006
Eastwood's beautifully realized film from the perspective of Japanese soldiers sent on a deadly mission to hold on to this godforsaken island. Unforgettable. (And more coherent than its sister film Flags of Our Fathers, though that film also has its share of moving moments.)
The Train -- 1964: Burt Lancaster as a French railroad official who must help the resistance sabotage a train full of art stolen by the Nazis. John Frankenheimer's film is taut (if a little overlong) and most exciting. Don't miss this one.
Other Favorite WWII Movies:
Big Red One
Days of Glory
Decision Before Dawn - 1951: Both exciting and harrowing, surprisingly moving; underrated war espionage thriller.
Story of GI Joe: Burgess Meredith as journalist Ernie Pyle in a most realistic and humane war tale, made back when it was all still quite fresh and raw.
Glory: Still my favorite Civil War movie, a most powerful story about race and hypocrisy, with a terrific cast. It's not flawless, but hard to forget. There really aren't a ton of Civil War movies I'd deem "great," for whatever reason.
M*A*S*H*: There aren't too many great Korean War pictures and Altman's black comedy based on Richard Hooker's book was only ostensibly so, given it came out during 'Nam and aimed at the absurdity of that war while using Korea as official backdrop. Still -- it counts. And it's still outrageously, darkly funny. I can watch this one repeatedly.
Full Metal Jacket
Both flawed but unforgettable. I think the flaws for both lie in having a 2nd half (or 3rd act) that is weaker than the amazing first part. Full Metal Jacket's basic training scenes, the first half, is one of the all-time greats. First time I ever saw Vincent D'Onofrio and right then I knew he'd be something special. And I'll take either of these over Platoon any day of the week.
84 Charlie Mo Pic: Underrated, powerful little 'Nam movie shot from POV of a cameraman.
Persian Gulf War + Iraq War: