L13FC: WWII from 2000 to the Present

It’s Friday the 13th and my lucky day. We get to share thoughts about a topic in the movie industry. Never has there been an event in the twentieth century that has instigated a global outpouring of stories documenting the best and worst in humanity than World War II. The movie industry has had a love affair with making World War II films. According to Wikipedia, over 400 films have been devoted to the event. In timing with anniversary dates, one has come to expect new narrations muscling for a chance to share their perspective. Outside of battles and key events, the Holocaust is a genre of its own. We have a macabre sense of duty to understand the atrocities and mindset of a time where everyday common people were thrust in the way of world domination. Today, let us discuss the cinematic touches that made recent World War II films compelling and effective. 

A smattering of films since 2000. What should be added to the list? Before you criticize me, I think a lot of Hollywood films about WWII are too romantic and silly. For instance, I don’t think Pearl Harbor is a good film overall, but I do think the filming of the attack on Pearl Harbor to be outstanding. So, what SCENE or PERFORMANCE has stuck with you over the last two decades? For me, World War II movies that moved me the most in the last twenty years were the ones involving children.

81 Comments on “L13FC: WWII from 2000 to the Present

  1. From those listed above, I have to say that ‘Downfall’ is simply outstanding. Bruno Ganz was the definitive Hitler, and so many scenes stood out for me. But the most memorable has to be Mrs Goebbels calmly killing all of her own children with cyanide capsules.
    ‘Enemy at The Gates’ is not a ‘great’ war film, but the sniping scenes were tense and authentic.

    I would add ‘Days of Glory’, a French/Arabic film from 2006 that looks at the use of North African colonial troops in the French army during WW2. Incredibly authentic..
    (No co-host this time, Cindy?)

    Best wishes, Pete. x

    • Days of Glory…one that slipped away from me. It’s almost impossible to make a good, let alone a movie that deserves high praise from beginning to end. I tend to focus on what worked for me. Some “bad” movies — a certain scene, stay with me long, long after the movie is over. Have you seen “Nowhere in Africa”? One of my favorite films. I think you would love it. I wante to put ‘Ida’ on the list. I thought it a very well made film set in WWII Poland with an usual female protagonist contemplating whether to join the nunnery or not.

      • I love Ida, it’s a great film. It does flash back to the war, but most of the film happens in 1962. I adored her aunt! 🙂
        (From Wikipedia)
        ‘Set in Poland in 1962, it is about a young woman on the verge of taking vows as a Catholic nun. Orphaned as an infant during the German occupation of World War II, she must now meet her aunt’.
        Strangely enough, I had never even heard of Nowhere In Africa until I saw it on your blog. x

        • Yes, you are right. I’m off. It should be in a “Cold War” post. OH, please watch “Nowhere in Africa”. It’s long but one of the few epics that hold my interest from start to finish. Very refreshing to have it filmed in Africa.

          • Oh, boy. I’ll owe you some $ if you don’t like it.
            Watch it when you have a full evening ahead of you and the weather is inclement and you have a nice bottle of wine by your side and Ollie at your feet. 😉
            I remember when I lived in Virginia before moving to AZ and I was all alone. It was a strange period of my life. When there’d be a blizzard and school was out for days at a time and I was held up in my condo in the woods with the snow falling furiously. I put a fire in the fireplace and had to withstand my own company for days at a time.

    • Agreed. Bruno Ganz IS the definitive Hitler! And thanks to Downfall I learned that Hitler’s last meal was ravioli! Who would have thought it? 😉

    • I’ve seen it. It is one of those that seems too romanticized to be taken seriously. But, yes, she did a good job with the cinematography and very gripping scenes about a place that is not ofen featured in WWII films. Which scene gripped you the most?

          • It really showed the cruelty of the Japanese home to me, kinda reminded me of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence which was also a film that moved me greatly, though of course is way too old for your doings.

          • I appeciated Eastwood’s choice of perspective in ‘Letters from Iwo Jima.’ It was the first time I had seen the Japanese in a human way that mirrored an Allie soldier. It showed the humanity of both sides.

  2. ‘Darkest Hour’ a great movie. Of course I’m a huge Churchill fan anyway, but Oldman was awesome. It’s funny cuz when I was watching it was obvious to me that he was going to win the Oscar (and several other awards) for that. Funny because when I saw ‘Malik in Bohemian’ Rhapsody I also felt Malik was going to win Oscar easily. Two spectacular performances – very different roles. Not that I see – or go – to that many movies. I don’t. I had also seen ‘Green Book’ but was pleasantly surprised that it won Best Pic. Anyway … off topic. But good stuff.

    • I wasn’t suprised he won Best Actor award. I have always liked Gary Oldman. Even in the silliest of roles, he makes it seem legitimate. Any particular scene stick out for you?

  3. with few exceptions this has not been a good century for WW2 flms. the revisionism of the new German films is sickening. The sentimentality of the American films perpetuate the lies and misconceptions about American engagement. but there have been some outstanding exceptions. Katyn ( Andrzej Wajda. 2007) was so emotonally devestating that i am gad i saw it at home. i could not have made it home in one piece after seeing this soul crushing look at the massacre that has been lied about all these years. El Alamein ( Enzo Monteleone, 2002) offers another shockimg revelation regarding the italian militarys callousness towards the lives of their soldiers as they sacrifice them to no purpose. I liked Miracle at St Anna (Spike Lee 2008) for its revelations about the governments attitude towards its buffalo soldiers, and some of it reminded me of Rossellinis masterful Paisan, but rewatching it today, it doesnt hold up too well. One of the very best movies about the americans in europe was Sam Fullers The Big Red One, made in 1980 from his novel about his personal experiences. In 2005, a so called reconstructed version of this film was released, and it is inferior to the original movie, as the added scenes are not a restoration, but were out takes from a gag reel of scenes that were shot for fun, not inteneded to be used in the film. the 2005 version opens with a very long scene of D Day that was shot in order to interest investors in the films production. \it is very different from the similar scene in the 1980 theatrical version, some other worthy films include Stalingrad ( Fedor Bondarchuk 2013), and i liked both Downfall and Darkest Hour from your list.

    • Hi Bill. Thanks for your honest response to the topic. I wasn’t surprised to hear of your distain for American portrayl of the War and the inferior results it has given in the last 20 years. I assembled a variety realizing many were not masterpieces, but, as I’ve mentioned, sometimes it is helpful for me to consider what did work in a bad film. It helps me tolerate the mediocre films.
      Have you seen “Nowhere in Africa”? I think it’s an exceptional film. Did you like “Son of Saul”? That was an unusual “artsy” film with a unique, aggravating camera angle. I wonder if it worked for you? That whole film has sunk into my consciousness. I think if I were forced to endure Auschwitz,it would have to be from that kind of perspective — all blocke dout except what was right in front of me — not by a realistic view.

      • neither son of saul nor nowhere in africa dealt directly with the war. so i didnt consider them. holocaust films are a genre in themselves. unlikethe prisinor of war films, the subjects of the films are not involved in the war except as civilian victims. ny disinerest in the 21st century ww2 films is that very few peope involved in them had any direct experience in the war. apologists sentimentlalists and revisionists dominate the genre. sometimes as in the case of katyn. some new historical evidence has surfaced and the making of the film has an intrinsic importance… but for the most part. i find no reason to spened time on them when such masterpieces of the past such as battleground. cross of iron, a time to love and a time to die, hell to eternity, the human condition, fires on the plain grave of the firefliesm the thin red line, red cherry come and see. ivans childhood, and they are expendible, as well as the dozens of low budget combat pictures from poverty row companies like allied artists are easily available.. so many poeple came back from the war with their own stories and actors who had fought in the war were available to portray then..who can even take seriously a world war 2 movie with sof

        • Well said, Bill. I believe you are right that eighty years later, what we have is a post-reaction to WWII instead of portraying WWII as those who had experienced (actors, too) it. Our perception of History changes as time moves forward. We are always reconsidering the past and bending it, slanting it in a different direction as generations reconsider what happened.

          Does this cross over to other wars? The Civil War is such a popular genre, too. Do you think there’s no way we can capture the realism of the Civil War or WWI afer all this time? Why then are movies about Vietnam or Iraq, where there’s plenty still alive to rell, not good either? Is it all too easy to gloss over and oversimplify a complicated situation? The facts and memories change with time until there is no truth anymore. It’s just relativity.

          It is problematic trying to showcase a story about a horrific event. I realize Holocaust films are their own genre but they fit under the big umbrella.

          • ther has never been an honest movie about the civil war although ride with the devil came close. the slaughter of inncocent southerers by the US Army should be seen iin the same light as the genocide against the Indians. WW1 yielded some of the strongest and most honest war pictures mainly because aerica had great writers at that time to write the stories. there was no story about the war becaue there ws no war. all we got were accounts of personal experiences by poor writers. we did get fine journalistic coverage every day on television though. iraq us even worse because it was less a was than a police action. i thought redacted was pretty good, but the whoe middle east endless war is CNNs war. we dont need any movies because we have already seen it on CNN, the korean war yielded some excellent movies because it was a war of failed objectives. great material for combat fims. the steel helmet and pork chop hill being two of my favorites.

          • the two i mentioned are essetial. The Steel Helmet and Pork Chop Hill. as is the south korean epic tae guk gi (the brotherhood of war) (2004) the best thing about them is that they are relatively free of complex propaganda as the facts f the war itself are straight forward. not like the european campaign in world war two which we did not enter until ten years after the start of hitlers war, when the german army was already on the brink of total defeat.

          • thr civil war is generally represented within the western genre. even the ones that are not pro yankee usually end with a pro union message. few see the war as an extension of the indian wars, nor do they mention the fact that many of the southern rebels fought alongside the indians against the northern army after Lees surrender. San Fullers Run of the Arrow is one of the few films to address this syndrome. Even that film ended with the southerer admitting he was wrong. What the Union army did to the people of the South was exactly the same thing they did to the Indians. The civil war was a genocidal program designed to decimate the economy of any state that dared to print their own currency, and to cripple the agricultural economy to the extent that it would always be dependent upon the tycoons who ruled the industrial north.

          • As far as the Civil War goes,”Gettysburg” got a lot right in the telling of the four most critical days in America’s history. I got to stand in the spot where Pickett’s 15,000 men charged. I am not ashamed to say I cried when I saw just how far they had to cross open ground.

            As far as the North slaughtering innocents,that really never happened. But the POW camps were hell on earth as “Andersonville” showed in its telling.

            As for World War Two movies go this century,I would go with two:

            Dunkirk and The Eternal Zero would be my choices. Pearl Harbor was trash and I’m not holding my breath for Midway.

            The worst WW2 film thise century was “Red Tails” which was pure dogpoo.

            “The Tuskegee Airmen” was far more accurate and heartwrenching.

          • Welcome, Inner Circle. I’m scared Midway will be like Pearl Harbor. I did not care for it in its totality. It’s hard to make a realistic WWII film without it getting too sentimental. I missed “Red Tails” but I don’t doubt you are right. The trailer for Midway:

          • The effets for Midway look great but some of the dialogue I already have heard sounds corny and cliched as hell. But still,it can’t be worse then that 1976 version,can it??? Keeping my fingers crossed….

      • i have to take the polar opposite view on black book., there is a worse one though. inglorious basterds. as if the original was not bglad tad enough, i did like verhoevens other WW2 movie, soldier of orange. glad to see we agree on cross of iron. i saw that everyday in its first theatrical week with a different person each day, then saw it four sunday afternoons in a row when it was on the bottom half of a double feature with saint jack. this time around, i saw it with the same group of friends each week. it was a sunday afternoon tradition.

  4. You know how i feel about Hollywood and how it treats events in history. I think for the sake of earning the almighty buck, they give the public a distorted view of the actual facts. As long as people take most of the movies as ‘entertainment’, I’m fine with them all.

      • To be honest, each one you mentioned touches on fact, but then veers off for entertainment and ticket sales effect. In Dunkirk, even I know the rescue took longer than what they showed and Hacksaw Ridge – Well, I suppose they couldn’t show exactly what it was like for those men. I, like I said, just watch for entertainment, but then sure enough – my other-half asks “Did that really happen” or “Is that true?” 🙂

        • In Hacksaw, I wondered about the climb up the rope on the cliff face. The repetition and the close ups made the feat seem impossible, which it surely must have been, and yet — it did happen.

          • Yes, it did happen and I’m sure some of those Marines thought it was impossible too. Do you know if a movie was ever made about the Chosin Few? (Korean War)

  5. As a rule, I don’t enjoy “war” movies. Perhaps it is because I don’t enjoy watching anyone suffer. I do, though, watch them as a means of seeing “history” realized, but it is often with disappointment. It seems to be that movies such as “The Longest Day”, “A Bridge Too Far”, and others made in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s had an audience that “was there” and they had to be true. Today’s movies are made for an audience who grew up on video games and/or guilt. They don’t have to bear any semblance of reality.

    • Hi Allen. I was hoping you would stop by. I suppose it is better to watch documentaries?
      With recent efforts in the last 20 years, did any of them feel authentic? Probably not. Conversely, there were plenty of 40s – 60s films that were as silly and romanticizied as films today. I think experts on WWII like yourself will be disappointed. Is there no film from the last 20 years that you approve of?

  6. if i may slop back into the seventies let me describle the scene of all ww pictures that tore my guts out and leff me sobbing in the theatre. it is the spring of 1944. the remnants of the german army that has been decimated on the crimean peninsula are being massacred at a train station. well here is the scene. please watch until the very end…the final quotation after the credits is important. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-sX0dj9rG8

          • I read Heinrich’s books 40 or so years ago during a general attempt to understand what life/combat might have been like on the Eastern Front during World War II. There were few Russian books on that topic in those days and we were generally dependent upon German accounts. Heinrich’s books a personal account of that area of the war.

        • Cross of Iron is an excellent book, based on Heinrich’s own experiences. He was wounded several times during the war. Do you know if he wrote any similar books? All I could find were romances and soap operas, Another fine German writer of war novels was Erich Maria Remarque,best known for his WW1 masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front ..but he continued to write about weimar,,hitler, and World War 2, my favorite WW2 novel of his was zu leben und Zeit zu sterben, made into a terrific picture by Dougas sirk under the title A Time to love and a Time to Die.

  7. The one that instantly comes to mind is the criminally underseen Flame & Citron. It’s a powerful Danish film from 2008 featuring a brilliant Mass Mikkelsen performance. I really liked “The 12th Man” from two years ago and also the French film “La Rafle”.

    One that many kinda shrugged off was “Anthropoid” but I loved it. Made my Top 10 that year.

    • Ahh yes I’ve been wanting to see Anthropoid so badly! Can’t believe I haven’t gotten around to it still.

    • I’m sorry for the delay Keith. I haven’t been near a computer in days. Thanks so much for your thoughts! I remember your post about Anthropoid and your love for the film although critics did not care for it. You are always up on the French films. I didn’t see “The 12th Man.” Thank you for the reminder.
      It has been brought up in conversation how ineffective recent World War II movies are. That is, too much time has gone by for anyone to represent realistically the horror of WWII. I thought Downfall was pretty close realistically. I also liked Son of Saul. But the romanticized stories seem to lose credibility. Wrestling with entertainment and realism.

  8. So sorry I couldn’t contribute this month Cindy!

    My goodness, so many movies to choose from. The number of small, indie-type movies on the subject is mind blowing, never mind all the big budget studio productions.

    As far as the little guys go, I keep forgetting I saw Operation Finale last year, apparently almost to the day, and that was solid. Not sure if youve seen that. Followed some Mossad agents into South America as they extracted a high ranking Nazi officer, played in fine form by Sir Ben Kingsley. Oscar Isaac and a number of other big names filled out the cast. Dramatically slight but a story well worth seeing on screen IMO

  9. Most of the WWII films were as much about giving the audience a patriotic boost as they were entertainment. Some still play out on cable and some have morphed into sitcoms like MASH. No movie can possibly describe the horrors our forces had to undergo during conflict so we could presumably have a better life. You would think we who they saved would treat them better as they relive their experiences daily through alcohol and drugs in many cases, some veterans even living on the streets. Their sacrifice deserves better from us.

  10. Glad you included Inglourious Basterds, Letters from Iwo Jima, Dunkirk and The Pianist. I do not know If you ever saw this one, but I loved it, it is a Dutch film by Paul Verhoeven entitled Black Book. Here is a link to the trailer below:

  11. Favorites: Casablanca (1942), Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Of the ones listed above, Life is Beautiful had the biggest impact on me. I came out of the movie theater sobbing uncontrollably. My wife and I had to sit in the car until I stopped crying. Something about how the film combined humor with tragedy got under my skin.

    • It was a beautiful ending to truly original twist on an altogether depressing topic. When he makes fun of the German soldier in the bunkhouse, translating “the rules of the game” for his son, well, I laughed. So much charm in that one!

  12. Thinking tonight about books by German authors on the Eastern Front, brought back to my mind a book by Donald Smelser and Edward J. Davies II, The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture (https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Eastern-Front-Nazi-Soviet-American/dp/0521712319/). I think anyone who is interested in World War II in Europe would do well to read this book. It brings to the reader the understanding that much of what we believe about the Germans’ role and activities in World War II is fostered by books written by former Nazi commanders and soldiers. The book is very thought provoking.

Leave a Reply to Cindy Bruchman Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: