top 5 war movies
Top 5 Tuesday

Top 5 War Movies That Terrorize the Viewer–Top 5 Tuesday

Perfect fodder for the Christmas spirit.

It’s Tuesday so that means that it’s time for another top five! Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what I would choose so I went digging for movie anniversaries that I could base it on. I found one, The Deer Hunter. It premiered in Los Angeles on December 8, 1978, and went on to garner tremendous critical acclaim. It has endured throughout the years and remains a good example of a war film that really dissects the topic and how it affects people.

But what other movies within the war genre do that? I set out to craft a top five about war movies that focus on the horrors of war. To some extent a lot of flicks within the genre examine the negative effects that it can have on those involved, but I wanted to make a list based around the flicks that really show how horrifying it is.

I’m okay with films that jazz it up to be more cinematic as they can also be exciting while having something to say (or not, it doesn’t matter), but this top five is dedicated to those who really mess up the viewer. They can be emotionally draining or filled to the brim with gruesome scenes that showcase the human failure that is war; it doesn’t matter, they just have to be memorable.

While I consider some of these to be among the best war films that I’ve ever seen, that’s not necessarily in the criteria. I put more emphasis on how it deconstructs the experience–whether that’s through psychological means or showing us terrible imagery–but being an incredible movie can certainly help its placement.

5: The Painted Bird

Source: IFC Films

When I wrote “The Best Movies of 2020 So Far According to Flickmetic” back in September I launched the list with The Painted Bird. I described it as “a war movie that picks a tone (spoiler: makes you wanna die) and doesn’t relent from it for the entire 3-hour runtime.”

No, I don’t believe it’s one of the very best war films ever made because it can be a little tedious occasionally. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t fit the criteria for this list because when it tries it demonstrates the horrors of war about as well as any other film on this list. The reason it is only number five is because the other movies in this list accomplish what this does while also being superior as a whole.

Don’t sleep on The Painted Bird.

4: Kanal

Source: Platato

Kanal succeeds despite some of its shortcomings. It was difficult for me to get invested in the characters and yet because it’s so insistent on itself I felt uneasy watching them suffer. That’s because Kanal drags you through war, kicking and screaming.

The best example of that is in the sewer, which highlights how scary it can be. It felt claustrophobic because it’s so drenched in darkness. It’s unconventional filmmaking but it’s ridiculously potent.

3: Come and See

Source: Manuel Rodriguez

I sat here for a while trying to word my thoughts and I realized that I wrote a mini-review for this on that summed this up in a way that I can’t possibly do better. I usually refer to my mini-reviews on there to remind myself what I think, and take bits and pieces of what I said, but I don’t generally just post the whole review. This time is different, I’ll just plagiarize myself completely (I’m Obdurate on there if you want to join and become my buddy).

One of the most relentlessly unglamorous films I think I’ve ever seen. You literally watch the horror on the main characters face a bunch of times. The content is absolutely brutal on many occasions, and the way it’s put together–the directing, the shot composition, the ominous skies, the music choices, the dissonant sounds, etc–is legit horrifying. Can a person really enjoy this movie in a conventional sense? I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to more casual fans. But it’s brilliant.

– It’s a me, Tyler.

2: Grave of the Fireflies

Source: Madman Anime

The other films go further in showing how gruesome war is but whenever someone asks me what the saddest movie of all-time is, one of the first that pops into my head is this one. In fact, I added being emotionally draining to the prerequisite for this top five so I could include Grave of the Fireflies.

Don’t get me wrong, you have to showcase how awful war is in order to reach these emotional heights, but the other films on this list are much more disturbing in general–although that could be due to the fact that this is animated and the creates a certain distance. What none of them do as effectively as this one–not even the movie that occupies the first spot–is make the viewer sad. I’m talking crying so intensely that you’re ugly. Not you, reader, you’re never ugly; I just mean the other people.

1: Ivan’s Childhood

Source: DM Edit

Andrei Tarkovsky is my boy, even though he’s dead. He’s the greatest director to come out of Russia, and he’s been hugely influential to many. Ivan’s Childhood is his take on the war genre and he puts his stamp on it wholeheartedly.

It’s odd to say but it’s beautifully shot, much like all his other films. This doesn’t mean that what he broadcasts onto the screen is pretty because it’s not that type of movie. What it does mean is that he packs it with expert framing, inspired camera work and a ton of memorable scenes. If you’re familiar with his filmography you don’t need me to tell you that the guy creates portraits with every single frame.

However, it wouldn’t have made it this high on the list if it also wasn’t full of scenes that make me question wanting to be alive. I wouldn’t say that this is as unpleasant–in an endearing way–as something like Come and See but it also doesn’t shy away from exhibiting the absolute abomination that is war. Most notably, it does so without actually showing much or any–I can’t remember, it’s been a while–of the combat.

This gets the number one spot because it tackles the subject matter effectively while also being the best movie on the list.

He has seen the atrocities of war.

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