Friday, August 03, 2007

Rating Game Redux 11: War Isn't Hell ...

... Picking only three "best" war films is. In responding to our local paper's latest call, I realized one would need to subcategorize the genre to even approach any kind of list. I opted for war films that were at once intensely personal and thoroughly fed up with the whole bloody mess. Even then, so much is left behind, from Ballad of a Soldier/1959 to Three Kings/1999. And I've offered no real surprises here, no early Sam Fuller (Fixed Bayonets! or The Steel Helmet, both 1951) or mondo weirdo cross-gender war-as-metaphor freakouts (Bob Clark's Dead of Night/Deathdream/1974, Joe Dante's Masters of Horror entry, Homecoming/2005). Just bigtime classics--my comments slightly expanded from the original newspaper version-- with an Honorable Mention to All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

And due apologies for not posting in a long time. I'm working on Something Big, and it takes up much of my time. But not to worry: If it never gets published, I'll just slather it all over a new blog.

Paths of Glory (1957)
The organizers of a hopeless campaign during World War I cover up their incompetence by condemning to death three arbitrarily chosen soldiers, defended onbly by the seething--but impotent--moral outrage of Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas, in a performance so achingly clenched you can almost hear his teeth grinding down to the nubs). With Full Metal Jacket (1987), this marks Stanley Kubrick’s ongoing dissection of the blind brutality that underlies unchecked power.

Ran (1985)
Akira Kurosawa adapts King Lear as a meditation on the loss of compassion in the face of greed. Among the most overwhelming scenes of battle filmed, Saving Private Ryan’s digitized apocalypse included.

The Deer Hunter (1978)
War is reduced to a game of Russian Roulette in which the winners fare worse than the losers. Michael Cimino and a peerless cast (Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, John Savage, George Dzundza, Chuck Aspegren--and that Immortal of the Screen, John Cazale) tally up the costs of war as everyday moments of despair and survival.

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