#1 LAWRENCE OF ARABIA 1962
If there ever is such a thing as a flawless movie, then this one must surely feature among the nominations for it. The script is superb, the characterizations perfect, the cinematography breath-taking, and the score is one of the all-time best. The only criticism – about 20 minutes too long.
#2 GETTYSBURG 1993
Originally intended as a mini-series, this is the longest feature film (271 minutes) ever released to mainstream cinema in the United States. Nevertheless, it is rich in authentic true to life characterizations, faithful to history in almost its entirety; and exhibits some of the finest acting performances you are likely to see. If President Woodrow Wilson thought The Birth of a Nation was ‘history written in lightning’, one wonders what he would have said about Gettysburg.
#3 SCHINDLER’S LIST 1993
This is Spielberg’s masterpiece, his salute to the millions murdered by the Nazis; yet his hero is a German! The ultimate irony. On one hand we have German businessman and womaniser Oscar Schindler saving 1,100 Jewish workers from extermination at Auschwitz, and on the other another German, psychopathic Commandant Amon Goeth, killing Jews on the slightest whim. If ever there was a movie disproving the stupidity of stereotyping, this must surely be it.
#4 GLORY 1989
I do not like movies that glorify war. There are enough politicians doing their damndest to get young men to do their killing for them; we do not need movies aiding their cause. Glory is superbly staged and it is built around Robert Gould Shaw who certainly gave his life because he believed in racial equality, so if there must be a movie glorifying the carnage of the battlefield, then at least this one presents a better reason for it than most. I thought Matthew Broderick made a terrific Shaw.
#5 PATHS OF GLORY 1957
Possibly the greatest anti-war film ever made, Paths of Glory paints a picture of the lengths to which military commanders were prepared to go in World War One in order to keep the war machine churning. The movie made no money at the box-office because it did not have a ‘happy ending’, and audiences just love happy endings, even over truth. This is war at its ugliest. No glory here.
#6 ZULU 1964
I saw Zulu for the first time when I was 17 and raved about it to all my friends. Thinking back, I cannot recall a single young mate of mine who did not see the picture at least once. I still watch it from time to time, and the brilliant cinematography, the red tunics, and John Barry’s unforgettable score make it the iconic war picture to beat all war pictures. Oh yes, and it introduced Michael Caine to movie audiences. A star was born.
#7 THE GREAT ESCAPE 1963
It would be safe to say that if you have heard of World War Two, then you have probably heard of The Great Escape. Between 1960 and 1963 the Mirisch Company had a great time of it churning out two incredibly popular movies – The Magnificent Seven in 1960, and this one in 1963. Steve McQueen starred in both of them and, boy, was he popular! This film is a bit long, but it rarely gets dull. The ultimate ‘escape’ movie.
#8 CONSPIRACY 2001
This tele-movie is a recreation of the historical Wannsee Conference of 1942 at which prominent Nazis met under the auspicious of SS General Reinhard Heydrich to discuss (and eventually reach) a ‘Final Solution’ for the ‘Jewish Question’. Anyone wondering how the Nazis could coldly and systematically murder millions of people should watch this film. Their matter-of-fact, all in a day’s work mentality is still hard to believe, but brilliantly captured here.
#9 PATTON 1970
George C Scott’s iconic performance as ‘Blood and Guts’ Patton carries this biopic from beginning to end. A highly complex individual, Patton was his own worst enemy because he had the diplomatic skills of an aardvark. Who knows how far he might have gone if only he had learned to keep his mouth shut. Anyway forget about Patton and focus on Scott here. He is sensational.
#10 TORA! TORA! TORA! 1970
This picture was made in two halves. The Americans made their half; the Japanese made theirs. Somehow, the two pieces fitted together pretty well to produce a worthwhile reconstruction of the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor. A mixture of real shipping and models is used very cleverly.