Tag Archives: American Sniper

Countdown: Best Military Movies

American Sniper contiues to generate loads of box office cash and social backlash. Director Clint Eastwood – a figure absolutely synonymous with the badass, the gunman – continues to be fascinated with telling that guy’s story. His most powerful films are always stories of the physical and emotional damage the badass accrues over the course of a lifetime of violence, and American Sniper is another in this potent vein. Debate rages over whether it’s a responsible depiction of Chris Kyle as a man, but as a film American Sniper is a brilliantly acted, well executed thriller, ranking as one of the best of its genre.

Military films have often riled audiences and critics alike. Here’s a non-sequential list of ten of our other favorites.


Full Metal Jacket (1987)

This is Stanley Kubrick’s chilly vision of the war in Vietnam and its impact on the American psyche. More intense and  yet more controlled than any of the other Vietnam epics of the ’80s, this film is a punch to the gut from boot camp through the Tet Offensive. It’s brilliant.



No Man’s Land (2001)

Two soldiers – one Bosnian, one Serb – are trapped in a trench between the Serbian and Bosnian fronts. Their position is symbolic of the fuzzy barrier dividing compassion and hatred, as well as a symbol of the film itself – balancing and blending the bitter comedy of absurdities and the devastating human issues of war. This often comedic, often punishing look at the idiocy of war, in concept and in particulars, took the best screenplay prize at Cannes 2001.


Stripes (1981)

Yes, a change of pace for Army training, sir, but no doubt the most entertaining film on the list. Every list should have a Bill Murray film on it, and if you can pull from the exceptional bank of Harol Ramis-penned comedies, all the better. Plus, it’s a history lesson about all kinds of Eastern European nations that no longer exist.


The Bridge on the River Kwai (1959)

A timeless examination of the madness of war and the bone-deep respectability of the British upper class, The Bridge on the River Kwai hauled in 7 Oscars. Director David Lean knows what he’s doing with a camera. The film looks amazing, and the choices made by every major character continues to surprise and confound almost 60 years later.


The Hurt Locker (2008)

Far and away the best of the Iraq War films, this unflinching and politics-free look at a U.S. bomb squad operating inside Baghdad is a triumph for director Katheryn Bigelow. It won 6 Oscars, including Best Picture and the historic Best Director nod. Four years later Bigelow upped the ante with the even more gripping Zero Dark Thirty (not an outright “military” film for our purposes here but we can have that debate another time). The Hurt Locker gets to you with the quiet intelligence of a film benefitting from years of history and hindsight. The fact it had neither makes the achievement all the more startling.


Das Boot (1981)

Wolfgang Peterson’s study in claustrophobia is the most tense and terrifying look at WWII you are likely to find.


Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Great performances and an excellent story follow what is one of the  most devastating and visceral action sequences in war movie cinema. Steven Spielberg was robbed a best picture Oscar for this one, but he can rest assured that his WWII effort is holding up a little better than some fluffy Shakespeare tale.


Apocalypse Now (1979)

Trippy, violent and hypnotic, Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic take on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is hard to watch and harder to turn away from. The film stinks of death and insanity thanks to Coppola’s bizarre vision and equally unsettling performances from Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen and Dennis Hopper.


The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Twelve criminals execute a suicide mission in WWII. Here’s a throwback thriller where the guy who has your back in your top secret mission is very likely insane. Never trust a guy named Maggot.



Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Robin Williams’s best performance comes in the form of an obnoxious radio DJ sentenced to a station in Vietnam during the war. Funny and tragic, boasting an endlessly quotable screenplay and excellent performances all around, it’s one of the decade’s best films.

Counting Down the 20 Best Films of 2014

2014 was a banner year, with great films in an enormous range of genres: blockbusters and indies, horror and SciFi, dramas and comedies, as well as films from first time filmmakers, a lot of great stuff from women directors, and an unusually high number of excellent films with one-word titles. No idea that that trend might mean. Anyway, today we walk through our 20 favorites of the past 365 days.

20. Into the WoodsRob Marshall proves again that he’s the man you want filming a musical, using inventive techniques to bring the  cross-cutting fairy tale narratives in this Sondheim musical to glorious life. Not your traditional Disney effort, Into the Woods offers a sophisticated, often dark but insightful and imaginative look at the other side of fairy tales.

19. The Lego Movie: The tone is fresh and irreverent, the voice talent spot-on, and the direction is endlessly clever. The Lego Movie was the most fun to be had at the cinema in 2014.

18. Guardians of the Galaxy: Director James Gunn nails the tone, the color, the imagery, and the sound of one Earthling dartin’ about space scavenging, smooching, and basically living the dream. The effortlessly likeable Chris Pratt leads a crew of ragtag misfits who collectively become the most enjoyable team of intergalactic scoundrels since Han Solo piloted the Falcon. This is the definition of a great summer movie.

17. Calvary: World-weary humor, brilliant writing and one stellar performance from the always remarkable Brendan Gleeson mark this underseen gem from Ireland about humanity, betrayal, forgiveness and redemption.

16. The Imitation GameA wonderful mix of exciting historical mystery and heartfelt examination of the complicated man at the mystery’s center, The Imitation Game is a film about secrets boasting an Oscar-worthy performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.

15. American Sniper:  The bio of America’s most lethal sniper is tense, heartfelt, and wise. Director Clint Eastwood hasn’t been this invested in years, and along with an astonishing lead performance from Bradley Cooper, strikes just the right tone with a story that could have easily been mined for manipulation. It isn’t, which is another reason to salute American Sniper. 

14. Locke: A masterpiece in simplicity, Locke tags along on a solo car trip: just you, the great Tom Hardy, and several simultaneous crises he handles on his mobile.

13. Under the Skin: This hypnotic, low-key SciFi thriller – the latest from filmmaker-to-watch Jonathan Glazer – follows Scarlett Johansson around Glasgow in a van. Light on dialogue and void of exposition, Under the Skin demands your attention, but it delivers an enigmatic, breathtaking, utterly unique vision of an alien invasion.

12. The Babadook: A familiar tale given primal urgency, the horror fueled by compassion, the terror unsettling and genuine – this film is more than a scary movie, and it immediately ranks among the freshest and most memorable the genre has to offer.

11. Inherent Vice: Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest defies easy summarization as an inebriated PI (played by Joaquin Phoenix as you’ve never seen him) fits together pieces from several different puzzles to create an unpredictable, barely coherent but wildly enjoyable whole.

10. A Most Violent Year: This gem is a film about the merits versus moral compromise of the American dream, and a slow boil drama that keeps you on edge for its full 125 minute running time because there is absolutely no guessing what is coming next.

9. Snowpiercer: Though incompetently marketed and abysmally underseen, Snowpiercer is an immediate dystopian classic. Visionary direction from Joon-ho Bong maximizes claustrophobic tension while brazen casting victories (Oh my God, Tilda Swinton!) and another solid lead turn from Chris Evens work together to create an enthralling allegory of the makers and the takers.

8. Foxcatcher: Director Bennett Miller’s understated true crime film benefits from seriously unusual casting. Steve Carrel is revelatory as John du Pont, millionaire weirdo and wrestling enthusiast who bankrolled Olympic hopefuls (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, both award worthy), ensnaring then in his unpredictable psychosis. It’s riveting stuff.

7. Only Lovers Left Alive: The great Jim Jarmusch (Ohio boy!) updates the vampire genre with a well conceived twist on the unusual, aided by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful performances as well as his own dry humor and magnificent eye for visuals.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel: The great eccentric genius Wes Anderson inches his way closer to mainstream acceptance and Oscar with the most meticulously framed, wickedly clever dark comedy. Filled with melancholy and whimsy, full to bursting with fascinating cameos, and boasting an almost unimaginably perfect performance by Ralph Fiennes, it’s a work of genius that could spring only from the mind of Anderson.

5. Whiplash: As sure as J.K. Simmons will walk home with his first Oscar this year, Whiplash will astonish you. No film this year ratchets tension like this one, as one musician and his mentor do battle that makes the Hobbit look light hearted. Brilliantly written, expertly directed, and boasting two excellent performances (not to mention some really great music!), Whiplash is easily one of the best features of 2014.

4. Nightcrawler: No telling why it took so long to combine Network and American Psycho, but Nightcrawler is here now, so buckle down for a helluva ride. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his absolute best in a film that is as scorchingly relevant an image of modern media as it is a brilliant character study in psychosis.

3. Birdman: Meta-magical-realism at its finest, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s look at the transience and transcendence of fame will nab some Oscars this season. This is a brilliant director and a magnificent cast at their playful, creative best.

2. Selma: Ava DuVernay’s account of the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama doesn’t flinch. You can expect the kind of respectful approach common in historical biopics, but don’t let that lull you. This is not a laudable and forgettable historical art piece, and you’ll know that as you watch little girls descend a staircase within the first few minutes. Selma is a straightforward, well crafted punch to the gut.

1. Boyhood: Richard Linklater manages the impossible. By checking in on one family every year for 12 years, collecting not the major incidents but all those everyday moments, he provides an achingly, hilariously, touchingly realistic impression of an entire childhood. The cast is brilliant, and the sense of family they evoke is as authentic as anything you will ever see on film. Boyhood is a film like none other ever made, and it is imperative viewing.