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Top 10 war films since 2010

Cinema thrives when it comes to war films. These are events that many regular civilians would never understand on any level other than statistics and classroom lessons. So, that’s where cinema’s job comes in — to transport us, to help us understand. And recently, war films have gone beyond that. But we don’t like to confine the genre to just those of generals, political machinations and battlefields involving some form of Western force. Those are outstanding, but war is more than that. War drags children into conflict in countries that can’t defend them. War is the deeply human and deeply empathetic look at those not necessarily fighting, but suffering — either those subject to enemies and without the ability to fight back, like Holocaust victims, or those struggling in the aftermath of what they’ve had to do, like PTSD victims. Even genre films, superhero or otherwise, have utilized war and wartime settings to comment, in immensely effective ways, on violence. So, let’s extend the perceived boundaries of the war film. Releasing this Friday, Oct. 27, Thank You For Your Service looks to do just that, mostly leaving the battlefield to extend Jason Hall’s investigation into PTSD that started with American Sniper. Who’s to say that that’s not as much of a war film as any? Here are our top ten war films, both traditional and subversive, since 2010:

10. First They Killed My Father (2017)

Netflix/Courtesy

While Beasts of No Nation and First They Killed My Father confront the topic of the child soldiers whose lives are consumed by the wars surrounding them, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father is unique in how it paints a portrait of a country’s history, and how it derives such a portrait from following its young lead (Sareum Srey Moch). Beyond being an affecting historicization of Cambodian history, it is a deeply beautiful film despite the horrors that it depicts — some of the dream sequences and the film’s multiple overhead shots transcend the vileness of war, suggesting that Cambodia’s own beauty as a country triumphs against the Khmer Rouge regime.

— Harrison Tunggal

9. ‘71 (2015)

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

Yann Demange’s directorial debut is a breathtakingly intense look at more of a guerrilla war than a typical war, following the “Troubles,” a conflict which centered around Northern Ireland’s status as either a part of the UK or part of a united Ireland. And that’s what’s so special about this film — that you can feel that distinction from the opening scene. Demange’s construction of tone through editing and cinematography that build tension in the streets of Ireland is masterful. Similar to Dunkirk, ‘71 is almost a silent film, a chase film filled with frightening stakes. It’s one of the better war films of recent times because it succeeds in spades in portraying a region under duress, not from enemies outside, but from fellow people within.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Lincoln (2012)

Touchstone Pictures/Courtesy

With a little bit of make-up, a sizeable amount of screentime and a lot of method acting, is there really any role Sir Daniel Day-Lewis can’t play? In Lincoln, the prolific actor practically becomes Abraham Lincoln as the renowned and revered president navigates a unique time period within the context of the American Civil War — its final few months and the repercussions of its aftermath on American slavery. Helmed by Steven Spielberg in, arguably, one of his best films in the past decade, Lincoln takes an incisive look at the intricacies behind not only Lincoln himself, but the president’s impact on shaping the United States’ perception of race-based politics into the modern era. Not only does Spielberg’s direction manage to entertain through a sheer cinematographic fixation on the enigmatic and truly revolutionary mind of Abraham Lincoln, but the film’s incredibly talented supporting cast, including a possibly show-stealing performance by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, ensures that the film goes down as one of the most compelling and meticulously recreated historical war dramas to ever appear on screen. There’s a sense of artistic passion that oozes from Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the strong-willed yet holistically perceptive Lincoln, one that envelops every scene he’s in (spoiler: with a name like Lincoln, it’s a lot of ‘em) but that never grows stagnant. Leave it to Day-Lewis and Spielberg to make a high school reading requirement into war cinema royalty.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

7. Wonder Woman (2017)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Sure, on an instinctual level, Wonder Woman is a superhero film, but it uses its wartime setting as effectively as any other film on this list. The film posits that war is a product of man’s own destructive ways, and that it’s up to a woman to bring the compassion (and kickassery) that precipitates peace. If nothing else, the film’s argument makes it a unique entry in this list of war films, but the level of craft that director Patty Jenkins brings to Wonder Woman lends the film an edge that its peers lack — Jenkins does Zack Snyder action better than Zack Snyder, the production design alone is worth the price of admission and the “No Man’s Land” scene will go down in cinema history as one of the most inspiring moments ever filmed. Truly, where most war films claim to depict heroism, Wonder Woman defines the standard to which such heroism should be held. As Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot channels Christopher Reeves’ Superman to give audiences a figure of hope they can aspire to — she is the hero the world needs and the one it deserves. But in Wonder Woman’s words, “It’s not about deserve; it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

Harrison Tunggal

6. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

There may be less physical conflict shown in War for the Planet of the Apes than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but the third Apes film is the first to truly be about war. Not every moment in war is physical conflict. Exemplified by Game of Thrones, war is often about the aura in the air and the disposition of every single person across vast regions, which, in War’s case, genuinely feels to be the entire planet. There is often silence in barren and broken landscapes that are strangely beautiful, and moments of harrowing communal strength in stake out locations. There are factions with warring ideologies, embodied by their leaders, and, most importantly, there’s a sense of history of what’s gotten us to this point. War for the Planet of the Apes holds all of that, and more, and is it arguable the most stunningly crafted of the trilogy. When it does come to physical conflict, it features some of the more viscerally abrasive battles of recent memory, especially the film’s opening. And it’s also host to some searing, haunting imagery akin to the Holocaust, as well as to any other conflict that involves mass imprisonment, such as the Japanese internment camps. War is one of the few war films, in general, to truly understand what “war” means, the implications of it, the often ignored visual and emotional impacts on both the small and wide scale, the ideological divide, the characters that perpetrate it and the characters that uphold the best of humanity — which, in this case, are the apes.

— Kyle Kizu

5. American Sniper (2014)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

American Sniper is a rorschach test of sorts. Some people see this film as a jingoistic piece of propaganda. Others see it as a sobering investigation into post traumatic stress disorder. It lands so high on our list as we mainly fall into the latter. While the film may not have a typical progression of narrative, we follow Chris Kyle, portrayed with unbelievable vulnerability by Bradley Cooper, through this growing sensory and emotional overload. Rather than use a typically inspirational score like Lone Survivor, American Sniper makes use of horrifying sound design that enhances the sounds of bullets and explosions. The film crafts this entrapment, most directly on his tours as gunfire rains down from all over and even hiding places are not so safe, but also in brief moments back in the U.S. as Kyle becomes entrapped in his own head. The brevity of his raw emotional moments shows just how much pressure and silence these soldiers dealing with PTSD feel like they have to put on themselves, making them all the more powerful — exemplified by the bar scene when Kyle arrives back to the U.S. without telling his wife and, when she calls, he breaks down and can only say “I guess I just needed a minute.” American Sniper is a war film that digs into you without you really noticing, so when you get to those points, you still feel all of what Kyle feels. It’s a necessary look at what war does to human beings.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Son of Saul (2015)

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The Holocaust is a subject that is often focused on in World War II films. There have been a multitude of movies exploring the horrors and atrocities committed during this moment of history, with notable examples being the eight-hour documentary Shoah or the Best Picture winning Schindler’s List. The topic has been explored by filmmakers like George Stevens, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kramer, Vittorio de Sica, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Verhoeven. With all of these major filmmakers being vital and their films classics, it may be hard for anyone to feel that cinema needs to retouch one of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed. Yet, László Nemes’ directing debut Son of Saul might just be the most stunning from both a filmmaking and pathos standpoint. The film follows Saul (Géza Röhrig), who is a Jewish Sonderkommando, as he goes by his day-to-day activities, which includes the truly demoralizing jobs of being both the person who leads fellow Jewish people into the gas chambers, and then being the one who disposes their bodies afterward. One day, Saul sees a child — after the fact — that resembles what his son would have looked like. From here, the film plunges into the wearied psyche of Saul as he tries to find answers to where his son is, and if that boy was his son. Filming in mostly tight close-ups, Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely create an extremely subjective view on the Holocaust, forcing the audience to rarely see the violence, but instead to hear it, to be surrounded by it, to be as closely immersed in this devastatingly tragic time as any film before it. It may be a grim film, but it’s about as important and courageous as film can get — showing that sometimes in the most dire of circumstances, we can regain our own humanity.

— Levi Hill

3. Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Netflix/Courtesy

Beasts of No Nation represents not just one country, but the many that suffer from the type of atrocities and conflict of war present in this film. And this is where writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga pulls off a stunning feat of storytelling — we understand that this is the tragedy of many, but we get to know our characters so deeply and so vividly. We become so connected to this idea of a larger devastation because we get such intimacy with the singular devastation we see. Much of that comes from violence. The trauma that Agu (Abraham Attah) encounters is overwhelming in every way, something that we immediately recognize as far too much for a young child. And as Agu falls into his own head, we see the potential for what he can become in the film’s juxtaposition of him next to the Commandant (Idris Elba) — a broken man forced into fighting, addicted to fighting, but only for any semblance of individuality and not for the war’s cause. That’s what makes Beasts of No Nation such a vital war film. Not only is it gorgeously rendered with some arresting cinematography and some viscerally intense filmmaking, and not only is it a film that shows conflict outside of the Western world, but it’s so invested in its humanity, in the brutality that gets us to a point like that and in the psychology of the most psychologically vulnerable during wartime: children.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

Director Kathryn Bigelow has never been one to shy away from war in cinema. Whether it be her first foray into the genre with 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker or 2009’s Oscar darling, The Hurt Locker, (which reminded Hollywood, yet again, directing isn’t just a boys’ club) Bigelow has proven time and time again that she is the female authority on war on the silver screen. Combine her directorial prowess in capturing the governmental manipulation behind contemporary conflict along with the moral ambiguity of modern politics and a tour de force performance from Jessica Chastain, and you have Zero Dark Thirty. How does one portray the relentless hunt for the leader of the militant organization that orchestrated the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor? With an unwavering realism that produces a profound sense of patriotism that is simultaneously overpowered by a sense of conscientious repugnancy, Zero Dark Thirty earns its spot on this list not solely for the gripping fashion in which it fashions an intimate look at the minds integral behind the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but the staunch stance it takes in revealing how war affects those that aren’t on the front line, and what they, and we as a nation, are willing to sacrifice to win.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

1. Dunkirk (2017)

Warner Bros/Courtesy

Statistically speaking, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is, hands down, the film MovieMinis has written most about, by a margin wider than the English channel itself. And for good reason — beyond simply being a great war film, easily one of the best of all time, it is still the best film of 2017 (the ball is in your court, Guillermo del Toro).

You can read all about Dunkirk’s merits as a film here, but as a war film specifically, Dunkirk’s brilliance comes from its comprehensive, thorough subversion of every war movie trope ever put on screen. No character in this film pulls out a photo of his girlfriend back home, we hardly ever see enemy soldiers firing away at our heroes and, quite remarkably, the film maintains its thrills without spilling a drop of blood. In terms of war films, Dunkirk is the anti-Hacksaw Ridge — a film about evacuation rather battle, the empirical engineering of tension over mere spectacle. In this sense, where most war films are happy to indulge in hyper-masculine violence or cliched patriotism, Dunkirk intends to achieve none of it, preferring to blaze a new trail for what a war movie could be. Unlike any other film in the genre, Dunkirk is a purely experiential film, aiming to put viewers on Dunkirk’s beaches, in the skies above it and in the waters of the English Channel. The film’s IMAX format, expert editing, earth-shattering sound design and reliance on practical effects remind us how the language of cinema is a mimetic one. Speaking of Dunkirk, one feels the compulsion to pontificate about how audio and visual immersion is a quality unique to cinema, but let’s face it, such immersion is unique to Dunkirk.

— Harrison Tunggal

 

Featured image via Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

Trial: Pitch the Obi-Wan Kenobi ‘Star Wars’ standalone film

*Trials is a weekly series in which two writers tackle a proposed question or task. After they’ve written their opening statements, the writers will offer rebuttal arguments against the other’s and for their own, and a third writer will come in to make the verdict.*

This week’s task: Pitch the Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars standalone film.

Writers: Kyle Kizu and Harrison Tunggal
Judge: Levi Hill

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Kyle’s pitch:

Fans have wanted a standalone Obi-Wan Kenobi film for years now. But the deep crave for one seems to always brush over one fact: it’s going to be incredibly difficult to pull off. Casting anyone other than Ewan McGregor would be a publicity nightmare, so let’s operate under the assumption that he’ll return for the role. And with McGregor aging 10+ years since the prequels, it’d be wildly difficult to sell Kenobi as younger than he is in The Phantom Menace. All of this means that the only period of time a film could work with is the roughly 20 years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope — most of which are spent on Tatooine.

The film would obviously be a contained one, and would be much more interesting if entirely on Tatooine. It doesn’t have to be a massive epic in the vein of The Force Awakens or Rogue One. In that light, and considering that, technically, Stephen Daldry isn’t officially signed on to direct just yet, I would shift to Their Finest’s Lone Scherfig. With her most recent film, Scherfig shows an adept ability at implying scale while remaining intimate, as Their Finest is relatively contained, but the sense of World War II is still deeply felt. That sensibility could translate to an Obi-Wan film in which the aura of the galactic struggles are still present amid a story bound to a single planet. And Scherfig also could nail Kenobi’s snark and humor, qualities very present in her film, specifically with Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin’s characters — two actors that could be brought in here.

As for the story, and the themes accompanying, I feel as though it’s necessary to maintain what is perhaps the heaviest influence on the franchise: the Empire as the Nazis. After the surfacing of neo-Nazis in the U.S., the film could prove profound in today’s age while also being loyal to the timeless, very Star Wars-esque good vs. evil story. Much of what Obi-Wan Kenobi would be doing on Tatooine is watching over and protecting a young Luke, but the story could also introduce problems of the Empire ravaging villages across the planet while Kenobi attempts to shelter women and children in a similar manner to the many heroes that helped people during the Holocaust. Think The Zookeeper’s Wife meets Schindler’s List meets Star Wars. And in Their Finest, Scherfig deals with the war in which Nazis took action, meaning she’ll be familiar with these ideas.

The film could almost be an underground story, featuring world-building of much more depth than A New Hope, really making Tatooine feel like a planet with a fully informed environmental/societal system of living — something that no Star Wars film has yet truly done.

Luke wouldn’t even really need to be in the film that much, functioning as merely a named presence — perhaps just “the boy” — which could make an ending in which Luke does appear, one in which Kenobi accidentally encounters him and is forced to introduce himself as “Ben,” incredibly exciting.

Harrison’s pitch:

Any Obi-Wan film without Ewan McGregor is bound to invite the ire of Star Wars fans across the galaxy. Likewise, such a film that isn’t titled High Ground: A Star Wars Story would be a massive missed opportunity. Thus, High Ground (okay, maybe a different title), starring Ewan McGregor, opens in the small town of Anchorhead, on the planet Tatooine. Fulcrum (John Cho) is a swashbuckling rebel spy going through a black market weapons deal, which is interrupted when Imperial forces descend on the town. Fulcrum is the sole rebel survivor, who is saved when the forces of Gallus the Hutt (voiced by Idris Elba) — larger than Jabba and capable of walking via robotic spider legs —  completely destroy the Imperial presence. However, Gallus takes Fulcrum hostage, and effectively seizes control of the town. Even though Anchorhead is safe from the Empire, it isn’t safe from Gallus, who begins extorting money from residents, brutalizing them in the process.

This is where we find Obi-Wan Kenobi, living a spartan lifestyle. He watches over young Luke Skywalker and the Lars homestead, while attempting (though failing) to communicate with the Force ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). He just can’t tap into the Force like he could before, especially since he found out that Anakin lived on, and became Darth Vader. He is a man plagued by the specter of failure.

However, his life changes when he is approached by Fendis Beed (Élodie Yung), one of the most notorious bounty hunters in the galaxy, who is hired to save Fulcrum. Kenobi refuses, insisting on keeping a low profile. But when Gallus takes Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) as ransom for not paying his dues, Kenobi joins Fendis to free Owen and Fulcrum. During the mission, Kenobi is torn between toppling the violent Hutt regime (and creating the power vacuum for an Imperial presence) and allowing Gallus to terrorize the people of Anchorhead. He ultimately embraces his heroic former self, and alongside Fendis, Fulcrum and Owen, he frees Anchorhead from the grasp of Gallus, drawing his lightsaber and using the Force for the first time in years.

Still, Kenobi’s heroic actions have allowed the Empire to settle in the nearby Mos Eisley without fear of Gallus’ forces, and for that, he can’t help but feel great guilt. In a moment of catharsis, he finally communes with Qui-Gon Jinn, who assures him that saving Anchorhead was the action of a true Jedi Master. Jinn tells Kenobi not to fear the looming presence of the Empire, as he will give him the training necessary to better protect Luke and to become the ultimate defender of Tatooine.

Lucafilm/Courtesy

Kyle’s rebuttal:

Your story is fully fleshed out, as I expected. It’s engaging, action-packed and ripe for character exploration of Obi-Wan. It also brings in actors that I could only dream of in a Star Wars film. John Cho?! I’m in. However, I wish you went further with investigating the character of Obi-Wan. There’s so much moving in your pitch before we reach Obi-Wan that by the time we do, it almost feels like there’s not enough time for him specifically. The idea of him holding on to immense guilt is pitch perfect and necessary, especially after what he went through in the prequels. But I fear that, with the layered plot you set forth, we would only get the surface level of those emotional concerns, which leads me to my next problem.

While reading through your pitch, I was engaged, but I was questioning what might the value of this story be to the larger idea of Star Wars. I think that if you sell Obi-Wan’s character journey more thoroughly, we could feel this sense of history, fate and interpersonal relationships of Star Wars on a whole, which could make the moment when Obi-Wan sacrifices himself in A New Hope even more profound than it already is. But right now, I don’t really feel that when reading your pitch. You definitely have notions of it in there, but there’s more work to be done for it to be fully realized because, right now, I don’t know if this film would be, in the larger picture, as satisfying and valuable as it could be.

I feel as though my thematic concerns make up for the lack of plot, as plot can be built more easily around theme, while theme is more difficult to insert into an established plot. And with prevalent imagery akin to the Nazis, an evil force we’re beginning to struggle with again today, and a deeply intimate, contained and harrowing journey for Obi-Wan as well as for the people in crises at the hands of the Empire — at the hands of deranged nationalism — my idea for an Obi-Wan standalone film both works on its own terms while also contributing to the grander narrative of the universe.

Harrison’s rebuttal:

First and foremost, major props for suggesting a Star Wars film that functions as political allegory. Even more props for putting Lone Scherfig in the director’s chair. I thoroughly enjoyed her work in Their Finest, and I couldn’t agree more about her strengths — she can balance intimacy and scope like Anakin balances the Force. But for an Obi-Wan film, I don’t want an epic scope at all, implied or otherwise. An Obi-Wan film should be as intimate a character study as possible, and I think the scope that you implied would detract from that intimacy.

More specifically, I don’t think the Empire should figure heavily into another spinoff, since stormtroopers have been cannon fodder for Rogue One and (presumably) for the Han Solo film. Additionally, since the First Order is essentially a re-branded version of the Empire, we will have gotten seven total films that feature the Empire as the overarching antagonist. Many fans have complained that the Disney-era of Star Wars hasn’t dared to expand its universe, and making the Empire the antagonist of an Obi-Wan film would only further this problem. My film sidesteps this issue by making Gallus the Hutt and his army of scum and villainy the primary antagonists. Even though Gallus was inspired by the comic book character Grakkus, it would allow for the familiar iconography of the Hutts, while expanding the canon of the film universe.

Most importantly though, your film lacks emotional resonance. We know Obi-Wan is a hero, so I think a subversion of our expectations — a broken man who doesn’t believe in himself, and can’t even use the Force properly — is more interesting. My film ratchets up the emotional impact by having Obi-Wan reluctantly return to heroics, before finally communing with the Force through his contact with Qui-Gon Jinn. Qui-Gon represents the specter of failure that haunts Obi-Wan — he failed to save Qui-Gon, he failed to kill Anakin and he failed the entire Republic. Qui-Gon’s appearance to Obi-Wan to validate his actions and offer consolement would be one of the most emotional moments in all of Star Wars canon.

Ultimately, I believe that my film does more to expand the universe while offering emotional stakes that we haven’t seen fully realized since The Empire Strikes Back.

Lucafilm/Courtesy

Levi’s verdict:

First off, both ideas are perfect, and if there was a way to find a happy medium between the two, a balancing of the Force, let’s say, then I think all Star Wars fans would see a standalone masterpiece. However, as in most lightsaber duels, someone will inevitably win and the other ends up missing a limb, but able to fight another day. So let’s just hyperspeed into this thing, like the Millennium Falcon…

Thematically, reading Kyle’s pitch, it just felt right. The power of Star Wars movies, and really genre films at large for that matter, is their ability to have social commentary about political machinations. It’s not a hidden truth that the Empire is meant to represent the Nazis, and the Rebels are meant to represent anyone with the decency to stand up to them. Thus, having a film almost explicitly laying out that good vs. evil dichotomy, under those terms and having them stand in for today, is a brilliant move. Also, Lone Scherfig, while not an obvious choice, is literally a perfect choice. Their Finest balances humor, action and drama with the best of movies — all elements that have made Star Wars the most endearing franchise in the world.

With that being said, though, Harrison is my winner. The amount of Star Wars lore he’s able to fit into his pitch, along with the incredible casting (EWAN MCGREGOR, JOHN CHO, IDRIS ELBA AND ÉLODIE YUNG TOGETHER!!!), as well as having a perfect character arc for the one-and-only Obi-Wan just felt right. Both Kyle and Harrison were right in making the films have a more intimate scale, because truly, how many more Death Stars and countless Stormtroopers can we see destroyed before Star Wars finds something a tad more original. But where Kyle focused on the theme, and rightly pointed out Harry’s lack of theme and potentially too jam-packed story, I think Harry’s rebuttal ultimately was the deciding factor for me.

To see Obi-Wan struggle with a crippling inability to use the force and with the guilt of his (in)action only adds immense depth to his character. And assuming Star Wars: The Last Jedi shows an equally down-and-out Luke, there could be some interesting thematic parallels regarding the pressure of being the Jedi tasked with saving the Rebels and destroying the Empire. Or, if Rey does end up being a Kenobi, is she destined to follow in the same tracks as her ancestor?

Regardless of plot details for sight unseen films, Harrison’s Obi-Wan standalone is both an emotionally resonant tale of one of Star Wars most loved icons, as well as a perfect set-up for Rogue One and A New Hope.

Winner: Harrison Tunggal

 

Do you agree with Levi’s verdict? Sound off in the comments for which pitch you would’ve chosen, or if you have a pitch of your own.

Featured image via Lucasfilm