Top War Movies, Part 3

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) / Director: Lewis Milestone / Stars: Lew Ayres
A wave of romantic idealism and patriotic fervor sweeps away a class of German students onto the battlefields of World War I, anticipating glory and finding something else. The main character, Paul (Ayres), shoots a French soldier, then tries to save the man’s life. In one of the most famous final shots in movie history, Paul’s own life will end when he reaches out from the temporary safety of his trench for a passing butterfly. Eighty years after its release, the powerful film — adapted from Erich Maria Remarque’s novel and winner of Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director — can still leave the viewer in tears. Of course, several European countries banned its release as unhelpful to morale (and recruitment of fresh bodies).


Grand Illusion (1937) / Director: Jean Renoir / Stars: Erich von Stroheim
Two French aviators, an aristocrat and an everyman, are captured by Germans in World War I and shuttled between prisons by their high-born German warden (von Stroheim). The upper-class gentleman become pals despite being official enemies, highlighting the senseless of war — while the film also generously shares the legitimate grievances of the common man (including on the subject of class). Offended, France banned the film — and when the Nazis took over the country, they went even further and seized all prints and negatives. You know that if a film rattles Joseph Goebbels that much, it’s got to be worth seeing.

The Pianist (2002) / Director: Roman Polanski / Stars: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Emilia Fox
A Jewish musician struggles to survive in the Warsaw ghetto of World War II. Best Picture, Director and Actor Oscars — making Brody the youngest male winner in a leading role and giving the exiled Polanski his first Academy Award, although he arguably should have won for Chinatown or Rosemary’s Baby (or both).


Empire of the Sun (1987) / Director: Steven Spielberg / Stars: Christian Bale, John Malkovich
The 12-year-old Bale makes his precocious film debut as a spirited and privileged English boy trapped in Shanghai in WWII and sent by the conquering Japanese to an internment camp, where he enjoys numerous adventures. But the realities of war eventually beat the cocky out of him.


Enemy at the Gates (2001) / Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud / Stars: Jude Law, Ed Harris, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz
A Russian sniper and a German sniper play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse during the Battle of Stalingrad.

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