Calvalcade (1933), Director: Frank Lloyd, Running time: 110 minutes.
The winner of 1934's Best Picture Oscar, a Cavalcade of English life from New Year's Eve 1899 until 1933 is shown through the eyes of well-to-do Londoners Jane and Robert Marryot. Among events touching their family are the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and the Great War.
Camp de Thiaroye, 1987 A historical fiction based on the Thiaroye transit camp massacre in 1944, Ousmane Sembène and Thierno Faty Sow's Camp de Thiaroye dismantles the myth of colonial assimilation to expose ingrained social and cultural mechanisms of racism, exploitation, and privilege. The disconnection is implied in the film's opening image of West African colonial troops (Tirailleurs Sénégalais) disembarking at a port in Dakar wearing donated U.S. army uniforms amid patriotic chants in praise of the republic and Charles de Gaulle, having been sent back by their military leaders with only rags to wear for the homecoming and repatriation. Like their borrowed clothing, their identity within colonial French society is also ambiguous, arbitrarily defined by the immediate and self-serving needs of a myopic republic. Having spent his entire career in the military, commanding officer, Captain Raymond (Jean-Daniel Simon) only sees the men as soldiers in his charge and, in his egalitarian idealism, seems oblivious to the broader implications of his country's transgressions against the colonies (in an early encounter, Raymond's attempt to greet an infantryman, Diatta's [Iprahima Sane] relatives in their native language is met with a brusque handshake, subsequently breaking the news that their ancestral village had been destroyed by French troops acting under Vichy orders in 1942).
In turn, Diatta embodies the myth of altruistic colonial mandate. College educated, fluent in several Western languages, and having achieved a certain degree of assimilation by marrying a French woman, Diatta has seemingly transcended the limitations of his station by being promoted from within the ranks and acting as a liaison between the officers and the native soldiers (primarily due to his ability to speak proper French). But even in his acculturation, Diatta is not immune from the inherent racism and subjugation of colonialism. Housed in a barbed wire-enclosed transit camp along with other infantrymen while officers retreat to more comfortable accommodations at a nearby hotel, served inedible gruel that falls even below the standard of concentration camp food (the meat rations having been set aside for French personnel), and thrown out of a bar in the red light district when the hostess realizes that he is not an American serviceman, Diatta is constantly reminded of his "place" in colonial society.
Perhaps the most emblematic of the tirailleurs' (and more broadly, the indigenous Africans') entrenched marginalization lies in the image of the infantrymen being stripped of their new army khakis for replacement with worn colonial uniforms (their used condition reinforcing the idea of inherited disenfranchisement) - inequitable exchanges that echo the ravaged landscapes left behind by colonialism's cycle of exploited resources. Invoking the image of the U.S. through the donated garments, Sembène and Sow insightfully frame the soldiers' odyssey within the context of individual transformation embodied by the American ideals of equality and racial integration. In a sense, the soldiers' mutiny against the government's unfair wage exchange rates reflects an empowerment and assertion of identity that is paradoxically symbolized by borrowed clothes - an enlightenment and self-awareness realized, not through the donning of new masks, but from the shedding of imposed costumes.
Catch-22 (1970), Director: Mike Nichols, Running Time: 121 minutes.
Joseph Heller's novel was one of the seminal literary events of the 1960s, but Mike Nichols's film ultimately proved too literal in its attempt to bring Heller's fragmented fiction to the screen. Still, Nichols, who made this on the heels of The Graduate, seemed the ideal candidate to tackle this Buck Henry adaptation. The story deals with bomber pilot Yossarian (Alan Arkin), who has flown enough missions to get out of World War II but can't because the number of missions needed for discharge keeps getting raised. The satire and absurdity of Heller's book get lost in Nichols's effort to give screen time to the members of his all-star cast, which includes Orson Welles, Jon Voight, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Richard Benjamin, and Martin Sheen, among others. (Marshall Fine for Amazon.com)
Casualties of War (1989), Director: Brian De Palma, Running time: 116 minutes.
Based on a true story, this Brian De Palma film casts Michael J. Fox as a soldier in Vietnam in a squad led by Sean Penn. While on patrol, in the wake of an ambush that has left friends dead, they kidnap and rape a Vietnamese woman--then murder her. But Fox, one of the soldiers who refused to participate in the rape, is so appalled by the killing that he reports it--and finds himself being treated as the villain. Penn is scarily tough as the vindictive soldier and De Palma does a solid job of re-creating the crime, making it a thing of horror. Yet this film never quite connects, despite a strong performance by Fox and a supporting cast that includes John C. Reilly and John Leguizamo. (Marshall Fine for Amazon.com)
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Director: Tony Richardson, Running Time: 131 minutes.
From director Tony Richardson (Tom Jones) comes this brilliant retelling of tragic events during the Crimean War. Starring Trevor Howard, John Gielgud, David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave, this epic political satire is an "impressive achievement" (Boxoffice) that will forever be revered as movie making at its best. British Captain Nolan (Hemmings) is a devoted officer disgusted with his commander, Lord Cardigan (Howard). Lord Raglan (Gielgud) is a foolish officer with misguided war strategies and a fading memory. Together, they are sent to Turkey in response to a Russian invasion. Driven by arrogance and ineptitude, they send hundreds of cavalry to certain death in aclimax that is both "harrowing [and] magnificent" (Time).
The Charge of the Light Brigade was originally made in 1936 by Director Michael Curtiz and starred Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.
Children of Men (2007), Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Running Time: 110 minutes.
Presenting a bleak, harrowing, and yet ultimately hopeful vision of humankind's not-too-distant future, Children of Men is a riveting cautionary tale of potential things to come. Set in the crisis-ravaged future of 2027, and based on the atypical 1993 novel by British mystery writer P.D. James, the anxiety-inducing, action-packed story is set in a dystopian England where humanity has become infertile (the last baby was born in 2009), immigration is a crime, refugees (or "fugees") are caged like animals, and the world has been torn apart by nuclear fallout, rampant terrorism, and political rebellion. In this seemingly hopeless landscape of hardscrabble survival, a jaded bureaucrat named Theo (Clive Owen) is drawn into a desperate struggle to deliver Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), the world's only pregnant woman, to a secret group called the Human Project that hopes to discover a cure for global infertility. As they carefully navigate between the battling forces of military police and a pro-immigration insurgency, Theo, Kee, and their secretive allies endure a death-defying ordeal of urban warfare, and director Alfonso Cuaron (with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) capture the action with you-are-there intensity. There's just enough humor to balance the film's darker content (much of it coming from Michael Caine, as Theo's aging hippie cohort), and although Children of Men glosses over many of the specifics about its sociopolitical worst-case scenario (which includes Julianne Moore in a brief but pivotal role), it's still an immensely satisfying, pulse-pounding vision of a future that represents a frightening extrapolation of early 21st-century history. (Jeff Shannon for Amazon.com)
Civilization (1916), Directors:Raymond B. West and Reginald Barker, Running time: 86 minutes.
Released several months before D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, Thomas H. Ince's large scale production Civilization was the cry for peace that worked (at least temporarily). It is credited with helping Woodrow Wilson win reelection in 1916 for keeping America out of World War I. This rather heavy handed allegory of a kingdom brought to ruin as a result of war did turn out to be remarkably prophetic. What makes the film so fascinating today are its Dante like depictions of Heaven and Hell with Jesus himself acting as the guide. Producer Ince and directors Raymond B. West and Reginald Barker spared no expense in depicting the horrors of war. The battle scenes are large scale and the brutality is shocking. If the acting is sometimes over the top remember this was meant to be a "message" picture. Civilization is much more than an interesting curio and is definitely worth seeing. (Chip Kaufmann for Amazon.com)
Freely adapted from Charles Frazier's beloved bestseller, Cold Mountain boasts an impeccable pedigree as a respectable Civil War love story, offering everything you'd want from a romantic epic except a resonant emotional core. Everything in this sweeping, Odyssean journey depends on believing in the instant love that ignites during a very brief encounter between genteel, city-bred preacher's daughter Ada (Nicole Kidman) and Confederate soldier Inman (Jude Law), who deserts the battlefield to return, weary and wounded, to Ada's inherited farm in the rural town of Cold Mountain, North Carolina. In an epic (but dramatically tenuous) case of absence making hearts grow fonder, Inman endures a treacherous hike fraught with danger (and populated by supporting players including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, and others) while the struggling, inexperienced Ada is aided by the high-spirited Ruby (Renée Zellweger), forming a powerful farming partnership that transforms Ada into a strong, lovelorn survivor. The film's episodic structure slightly weakens its emotional impact, and it's fairly obvious that director Anthony Minghella is striving to repeat the prestigious romanticism of his Oscar®-winning hit The English Patient. For the most part it works, especially in the dynamic performances of Zellweger and Kidman, and the explosive 1864 battle of Petersburg, Virginia, that is recreated with violent, percussive intensity. Those who admired Frazier's novel may regret some of the changes made in Minghella's adaptation (the ending is particularly altered), but Cold Mountain remains a high-class example of grand, old-fashioned filmmaking, boosted by star power of the highest order. (Jeff Shannon for Amazon.com)
Rachid Bouchareb's indelible and haunting short film The Colonial Friend is a muted, yet thoughtful and compelling true historical account of the 1944 massacre by the French army of indigenous African soldiers who sought to collect wages for their military service. Centered on a Cameroonian farmer, Abi, who, like many able-bodied indigenous men from colonized territories, leaves his family to heed the patriotic call for conscription into the French armed forces during the early 1940s as part of the nation's war campaign against the Germans, he serves with distinction during the war, fighting - and often dying - alongside French and colonized soldiers in the battlefield until he is captured and interned when France falls into the hands of the Germans. Eventually repatriated at the end of the war, Abi briefly returns to his family before rejoining his fellow Senegalese veterans to demand their unpaid wages at Camp de Thiaroye, a peaceful protest that soon turns deadly when the French army turns its armaments towards its own soldiers to force their evacuation from the military installation. Elegantly (and incisively) rendered in two-tone (black and red), pencil sketch animation, Bouchareb understatedly, but effectively presents a pervasive image of subtle, yet omnipresent division and differentiation that continues to surface despite the perpetuated myth of colonial assimilation and enlightened occupation.
Come and See (1985), Director: Elem Klimov, Running Time: 142 minutes.
Come and See focuses on 13-year-old Florya (Kravchenko) as he staggers through these terrors. After digging a gun out of the sand where it lies buried with a dead soldier, the young boy leaves his mother and twin sisters, still happy and smiling. The partisans leave him behind when they march off to battle, hoping to preserve his innocence, but there's no such luck for Florya. After getting caught in an air raid (an incredible sequence where the trees around the actor are blown out of the ground), he returns home to find his family has been murdered. He's then captured when hiding in another village and witnesses further butchery.
Coming Home (1978), Director: Hal Ashby, Running Time: 128 Minutes.
Both Jane Fonda and Jon Voight won Oscars for their performances in this profoundly moving 1978 flick dealing with the aftereffects of the Vietnam War. Fonda, feeling isolated while her hawkish husband, Bruce Dern, is away in Vietnam, follows a friend's example and volunteers at a veteran's hospital. There she is reacquainted with Voight, an old friend who has returned from the war as a paraplegic. Lonely and disconnected from her husband, Fonda finds love, and fulfilling sex, with Voight. The sex scenes, very steamy for the time, are still provocative. This mature love story is about expanding your horizons, and is both moving and thoughtful. Director Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) does succumb to melodrama on occasion, but these are forgivable slips. (Rochelle O'Gorman, Amazon)
Control Room (2003), Director: Jehane Noujaim, Running time: 86 minutes.
Control room is a rate film that is both timely and timeless: timeless because it explores the ancient and complex relationship between the western and Arab worlds, timely because it reveals how satellite television has changed the way wars are reported—from news providers, driven by the patriotism of their audiences, to army information officers, driven by military objectives. Control room is a seminal documentary that explores how truth is gathered, presented, and ultimately created by those who deliver it.
Mikhail Kalatozov's luscious portrait of love and loss during World War II stars almond-eyed beauty Tatyana Samojlova and handsome Aleksei Batalov as moony-eyed young lovers whose innocent romance is shattered by war. When the idealistic boy volunteers for service, his draft-dodging cousin steals the despondent girl by brute force, yet she never gives up on her true love, even when he's reported dead. Kalatozov's patriotic epic to fallen soldiers and home-front heroes is an undeniably sentimental melodrama suffused with lush images and lyrical sequences, a kind of cinematic poetry unseen in Soviet cinema since the experimentation and optimism of the silent days. Produced during the "thaw" following Stalin's repressive reign, it won the Palme d'Or prize at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival and set Kalatozov on the road to more ambitious expressions of Soviet idealism in the modern world, culminating in his masterpiece, I Am Cuba. (Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com)
Cross of Iron (1976), Director:Sam Peckinpah, Running Time: 132 minutes.
A very strong anti-war message film, set during World War II and told entirely from the German perspective. A German Army Sergeant doggedly struggles to keep his platoon intact while surviving the horrors of the Russian front in 1943.
September of 1944, a few days before Finland went out of the Second World War. Chained to a rock, Finnish sniper-kamikaze Veikko managed to set himself free. Ivan, a captain of the Soviet Army, arrested by the Front Secret Police 'Smersh', has a narrow escape. They are soldiers of the two enemy armies. A Lapp woman Anni gives a shelter to both of them at her farm. For Anni they are not enemies, but just men.
Das Boot (1982), Director: Wolfgang Petersen, Running time: 293 minutes (mini-series).
In the midst of World War II, as the tide turns against the Axis, a German U-boat crew is sent out to patrol the Atlantic and fire at Allied ships bringing supplies to England. The submarine also carries a press correspondent, there to report from the front lines of nautical warfare. Meanwhile, the crew's captain (Jürgen Prochnow) is becoming disillusioned with the Nazi regime and with war in general. What starts out as a routine mission is soon livened up beyond the crew's expectations when their boat's surprise attack on a convoy is thwarted by a fast-moving destroyer. Battered by depth charges, the crew must pull together to survive the attacks of their unseen enemy.
The Dawn Patrol (1938), Director: Edmund Goulding, Running time: 103 minutes.
The Dawn Patrol is a beautiful title for two very good movies Warner Bros. made eight years apart, in 1930 and 1938. Both tell the same World War I story (which won John Monk Saunders an Academy Award in 1930), about a succession of flight commanders at a British air base in France. Each officer in turn has to keep sending pilots out on dangerous, often insane missions in flimsy, patched-up planes, then pray that even half get back alive. The job is soul-killing for the commandants and deadly for their comrades and friends.
It's the later, Errol Flynn version of The Dawn Patrol that's won DVD release. The original is rarely shown because, despite direction by Howard Hawks, it suffers from the stiffness and some overly declamatory acting characteristic of the early talkie era. Perhaps more to the point, the remake's cast has greater marquee value: Flynn and David Niven as hotshots Courtney and Scott; Basil Rathbone as Major Brand, the tortured commander whom Flynn will be obliged to succeed; Donald Crisp, Melville Cooper, and Barry Fitzgerald as staff officers and noncoms. Edmund Goulding's direction is proficient, if also impersonal. (Richard T. Jameson for Amazon.com)
The Day After (1983), Director: Nicholas Meyer, Running time: 127 minutes.
The countdown has begun! Against the real-life backdrop of the U.S. deployment of WMDs in Europe during the escalating Cold War, this "dramatically involving [and] agonizingly graphic film" (The Hollywood Reporter) about nuclear holocaust detonated a direct hit into the heartland of America. Starring Jason Robards, JoBeth Williams, Steven Guttenberg, John Cullum and John Lithgow, this "controversial, potent drama" (Leonard Maltin) remains "one of the most talked-about programs in history"(Newsweek)! When Cold War tensions reach the ultimate boiling point, the inhabitants of a small town in Kansas learn along with the rest of America that they have fewer than 30 minutes before 300 Soviet warheads begin to appear overhead! Can anyone survive this ultimate nightmare...or the nuclear winter that is sure to follow?
The Day After Trinity (1981), Director: Jon Else, Running time: 89 minutes.
The Day After Trinity is a haunting journey through the dawn of the nuclear age, an incisive history of humanity's most dubious achievement and the man behind it—J. Robert Oppenheimer, the principal architect of the atomic bomb. Featuring archival footage and commentary from scientists and soldiers directly involved with the Manhattan Project, this gripping film is a fascinating look at the scope and power of the Nuclear Age.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Director: Robert Wise, Running time: 92 minutes.
The Day The Earth Stood Still depicts the arrival of an alien dignitary, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), who has come to earth with his deadly robot, Gort (Lock Martin), to deliver the message that earthlings must stop warring among themselves—or else. After being shot at by military guards, Klaatu is brought to a Washington, D.C. hospital, where he begs a sympathetic but frank Major White (Robert Osterloh) to gather all the world's leaders so he can tell them more specifically what he has come to warn them about. Losing patience, Klaatu slips into the human world, adapting a false identity and living at a boarding house where he meets a smart woman with a conscience and her inquisitive son. Both mother and son soon find themselves embroiled in the complex mystery of Klaatu, his message and the government's witch hunt for the alien.
Days of Glory (1944), Director: Jacques Torneur, Running time: 86 minutes.
In late 1941, with the Nazi invasion of Russia still advancing, the Red Army leaves bands of guerillas behind in the forests. One such band is joined by beautiful ballet dancer Nina; initially inept, a series of bitter lessons gradually make her a seasoned soldier. The group still form human attachments, despite the shadow of grim death that makes their greatest hope one of selling their lives dearly. Written by Rob Crawford for IMDB.
Days of Glory (2006), Director: Rachid Bouchareb, Running time: 128 minutes.
Saïd, an impoverished goat herder, joins the 7th Algerian Tirailleur Regiment. With him are several other Berber men, including Yassir, who is seeking booty so that he can return home and his brother can marry; Messaoud, who wants to marry and settle in France; and literate Corporal Abdelkader, who is fighting for the equality and rights of the colonized Algerians.
Soon the men, dressed in lend-leaseAmerican uniforms meet Sergeant Martinez, a battle-hardened pied noir, who trains them before leading them on their first mission in the Italian Campaign. Their mission is to capture a heavily-defended mountain from the Germans. It soon becomes clear that their white commanding officer is using the colonial troops as cannon fodder to identify artillery targets. The African troops eventually succeed, but the tactics result in high casualties among the colonial troops. When asked by a French war correspondent about his thoughts on the losses, the white colonel replies, "today was a great victory for the Free French Forces".
The troops of the 7th ATR are transported to France to participate in Operation Dragoon to liberate the south of France. While aboard ship, a white cook refuses to give tomatoes to black soldiers. Abdelkader calls for equality but the mutiny is averted when Martinez and the company Captain assures everyone will be treated the same. On arrival at Marseille, the colonial troops are greeted as heroes. Messaoud, meets and courts Irène, a French woman; When his regiment leaves, he promises to write and to return. She says she'll wait for him and they will marry. However, due to French censorship of mail between Arab men and white French women, Irène never learns Messaoud's fate.
Saïd becomes Martinez's orderly, for which the other soldiers call him "wench". Eventually, he snaps and holds a knife to Messaoud's throat. Abdelkader calms the situation, but Saïd makes it clear that in this segregated world the French authorities will not give their African soldiers anything. While drinking with the sergeant, Saïd mentions they are similar, as he had seen the picture of Martinez with his Arab mother; the NCO—a self-hating Arab—attacks him, and threatens to kill Saïd if he reveals this secret. The colonial troops discover that while they are not allowed breaks, the white Free French Forces are given leave to return home in France. Eventually, the troops are told they are going home, but it's a ruse; instead, they are billeted behind the lines and given a ballet performance. Bored and disillusioned, most leave the tent and hold a meeting outside decrying the injustice. Martinez challenges the group, led by Abdelkader, and a fight starts.
Early the next morning, French MPs bring Messaoud to a temporary stockade where Abdelkader is also being held. Messaoud says he was arrested for trying to go back to Marseille and find Irène. Abdelkader is brought before the white Colonel who tells him that he needs him to go on a special mission: to take ammunition to American troops fighting in the Lorraine Campaign and also be the first French troops to liberate Alsace. The white officer promises that Abdelkader and the other African soldiers will get the rewards and recognition that success in this operation demands. Later, the white company captain tells the corporal that the colonel will keep his word.
Most of the men are killed by a booby trap, including Yassir's brother, as they cross the German lines. Martinez has been severely injured. Most of the troops want to return to their side, but Abdelkader rallies them to push on. Eventually, the corporal, Saïd, Messaoud, Yassir and Martinez reach an Alsatian village. Over the next few days the soldiers ingratiate themselves into the area, and Saïd befriends a milkmaid. A battle begins when a company of Germans arrive, and everyone except Abdelkader is killed. However just as the corporal is cornered more colonial troops arrive and drive the Germans out of the village.
As columns of Free French forces begin to move through the area, Abdelkader sees the colonel passing in his jeep, but the white commanding officer ignores him and he is pulled away by a staff officer who asks him where his unit is. When Abdelkader says they are all dead, he is simply assigned to another white NCO. As he walks out of the village, he passes a film cameraman filming only white troops standing by the liberated villagers. The movie then moves to the present day. An elderly Abdelkader visits a war cemetery in Alsace to visit the graves of his comrades: Martinez, Saïd, Yassir and Messaoud. He then returns to his small rundown flat in modern-day France. The film then concludes with the credit to say that the servicemen from France's former colonies had their pensions frozen in 1959 shortly before their countries' independence.
The Deer Hunter (1978), Director: Michael Cimino, Running Time: 183 Minutes.
Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, The Deer Hunter is simultaneously an audacious directorial conceit and one of the greatest films ever made about friendship and the personal impact of war. Like Apocalypse Now, it's hardly a conventional battle film—the soldier's experience was handled with greater authenticity in Platoon—but its depiction of war on an intimate scale packs a devastatingly dramatic punch. Director Michael Cimino may be manipulating our emotions with masterful skill, but he does it in a way that stirs the soul and pinches our collective nerves with graphic, high-intensity scenes of men under life-threatening duress. Although Russian-roulette gambling games were not a common occurrence during the Vietnam war, they're used here as a metaphor for the futility of the war itself. To the viewer, they become unforgettably intense rites of passage for the best friends—Pennsylvania steelworkers played by Robert De Niro, John Savage, and Oscar winner Christopher Walken—who may survive or perish during their tour through a tropical landscape of hell. Back home, their loved ones must cope with the war's domestic impact, and in doing so they allow The Deer Hunter to achieve a rare combination of epic storytelling and intimate, heart-rending drama. (Jeff Shannon, Amazon)
Diary of Anne Frank (2001), Director:George Stevens, Running time: 180 minutes.
George Stevens (Giant) directed this 1959 film adaptation of the hit play based on the writings of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl from Amsterdam who hid in an attic with her family and others during the Nazi occupation. As Anne, Millie Perkins is something of a milky eyed enigma and—in retrospect—too old for the part; but she is surrounded by an outstanding cast, including Joseph Schildkraut as Anne's patient father, Ed Wynn as a cranky dentist who moves into Anne's "room," and Shelley Winters as the loud Mrs. Van Daan. Stevens turns the many overlapping dramas of the caged characters into the foundation of Anne's growth as a young woman, ready for life and love just at the moment the dream comes to an end. Beautifully shot by cinematographer William C. Mellor, and written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett from their stage production. (Tom Keogh for Amazon)
Die Bruecke (1961), Director: Bernhard Wicki, Running time: 100 minutes.
A group of German boys is ordered to protect a small bridge in their home village during the waning months of the Second World War. Truckloads of defeated, cynical Wehrmacht soldiers flee the approaching American troops, but the boys, full of enthusiasm for the "blood and honor" Nazi ideology, stay to defend the useless bridge. (Miranda Callahan for IMDb)
Dirty War (2004), Director: Daniel Percivel, Running time: 90 minutes.
Fanatical terrorists are planning to launch a nuclear attack with a "dirty bomb," a homemade radioactive device, in the heart of London. From Scotland Yard's central command to a Muslim undercover detective, local authorities are operating on high alert while government agents scour the city desperately searching for the source of the threat. Every minute counts in this action-suspense thriller that addresses the question: How prepared are we for the unthinkable?
Downfall (2004). Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel, Running time: 155 minutes.
The riveting subject of Downfall is nothing less than the disintegration of Adolf Hitler in mind, body, and soul. A 2005 Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film, this German historical drama stars Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire) as Hitler, whose psychic meltdown is depicted in sobering detail, suggesting a fallen, pathetic dictator on the verge on insanity, resorting to suicide (along with Eva Braun and Joseph and Magda Goebbels) as his Nazi empire burns amidst chaos in mid-1945. While staging most of the film in the claustrophobic bunker where Hitler spent his final days, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Das Experiment) dares to show the gentler human side of der Fuehrer, as opposed to the pure embodiment of evil so familiar from many other Nazi-era dramas. This balanced portrayal does not inspire sympathy, however: We simply see the complexity of Hitler's character in the greater context of his inevitable downfall, and a more realistic (and therefore more horrifying) biographical portrait of madness on both epic and intimate scales. By ending with a chilling clip from the 2002 documentary Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, this unforgettable film gains another dimension of sobering authenticity. (Jeff Shannon for Amazon.com)
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Director: Stanley Kubrick, Running time: 95 minutes.
Arguably the greatest black comedy ever made, Stanley Kubrick's cold-war classic is the ultimate satire of the nuclear age. Dr. Strangelove is a perfect spoof of political and military insanity, beginning when General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), a maniacal warrior obsessed with "the purity of precious bodily fluids," mounts his singular campaign against Communism by ordering a squadron of B-52 bombers to attack the Soviet Union. The Soviets counter the threat with a so- called "Doomsday Device," and the world hangs in the balance while the U.S. president (Peter Sellers) engages in hilarious hot-line negotiations with his Soviet counterpart. Sellers also plays a British military attaché and the mad bomb-maker Dr. Strangelove; George C. Scott is outrageously frantic as General Buck Turgidson, whose presidential advice consists mainly of panic and statistics about "acceptable losses." With dialogue ("You can't fight here! This is the war room!") and images (Slim Pickens's character riding the bomb to oblivion) that have become a part of our cultural vocabulary, Kubrick's film regularly appears on critics' lists of the all-time best. (Jeff Shannon for Amazon.com)
Duck Soup (1933), Director: Leo McCarey, Running time: 97 minutes.
Duck Soup captures some of the Marx Brothers zaniest routines and funniest quips, creating a laugh-out-loud spectacle of politics gone haywire. Backed by wealthy widow Mrs. Teasdale (regular Marx straightwoman Margaret Dumont), Groucho becomes the leader of Freedonia, quickly frustrating his cabinet and offending the aggressive neighboring country to the point of war. Chico and Harpo, sent by the rival country, spy on Groucho and try to steal his battle plans, but when war does come, loyalties become muddled all around.