War has always been a difficult subject to depict on the big screen, but meaningful portrayals of the most gruesome battles in history are a valuable tool for helping audiences see and understand the horrors of war.
Fans on the social media platform for film buffs, Letterboxd, have chosen the must-see war movies of the 2010s through their ratings. The highest-scored films on the site include dark comedies like Jojo Rabbit and foreign masterpieces like Casting Blossoms to the Sky. These war movies are considered classics at this point and should be essential viewing for fans of the genre.
10 The Breadwinner (2017) – 4.0
Director Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner brilliantly uses the perspective of its young female protagonist, Parvana, to illustrate how difficult it is for women to make a living in war-torn Afghanistan. She is forced to become the titular breadwinner after her father is injured in the Soviet-Afghan war.
It’s both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch as the protagonist realizes how challenging it is for a young girl to assume her parents’ responsibilities under an oppressive regime. Her resourcefulness and quick thinking barely keep her alive – audiences will likely find themselves rooting for her success until the very end.
9 Son Of Saul (2015) – 4.0
Son of Saul thrusts audiences into Auschwitz where a prisoner is forced to dispose of the corpses of his fellow captives by burning them. He finds himself in a horrific position when he has to do the same to a young boy, but struggles to be able to do anything about his hopeless situation.
The film presents one jarring scene after another, barely giving viewers the time to absorb each awful event. It’s a shocking but necessary reminder of the appalling things the victims had to endure during one of the darkest times in history.
8 The Wind Rises (2013) – 4.0
Director Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises is a Ghibli film that deserves more attention. The historical drama film chronicles Jiro Horikoshi’s experiences during World War II, as the aircraft engineer reconciles the beauty of his designs with the atrociousness they’re used for.
The uncompromising juxtaposition of the protagonist’s genuine love for his craft with the violent actions of the Empire of Japan is a crucial part of what makes the animated film so unforgettable. Miyazaki masterfully weaves together an intimate and personal story with the grand brutality of war.
7 Hanagatami (2017) – 4.0
Hanagatami is one of the best war movies ever made, as director Nobuhiko Obayashi tells a moving story about stolen youth and the unforgiving nature of war. Based on his own childhood, the movie revolves around Toshihiko’s experiences when he moves into a small town and makes exciting connections with new friends.
The bold portrayal of WWII’s devastating effects on the innocent youth is only heightened as the film progresses. By the time viewers reach the credits, they would have witnessed a deeply personal story transform into a tale about the inevitable consequences of war on those forced to live through it.
6 Tangerines (2013) – 4.0
The best and worst of humanity at war are thoughtfully portrayed in director Zaza Urushadze’s Tangerines. Set during the 1992 war in Abkhazia, the film is centered on Ivo and Margus, who decide to stay to harvest their tangerines despite the war raging outside their doors. Two unexpected visitors complicate their plans, and it’s not long before they’re all caught up in the chaos.
The movie doesn’t shy away from tackling complex themes like pacifism and forgiveness. It brilliantly highlights the futility of even the most humane actions in the middle of a cruel war. It’s as optimistic as it is nihilistic – a contradiction that is underscored by the irony of its ending.
5 Swing Kids (2018) – 4.0
Director Kang Hyung-chul delivers a surprisingly optimistic message through his musical drama film, Swing Kids. A North Korean soldier discovers his love for tap dancing after meeting an American officer in a prison camp, and the pair put on a vibrant show that is only made better by its odd cast.
It’s a daring ode to escapism during bleak times. With its nostalgic soundtrack featuring hits from David Bowie and The Beatles, audiences may find themselves dancing along with the film’s charming characters who persevere despite their dire situations.
4 Jojo Rabbit (2019) – 4.1
Often described as an “anti-hate satire,” director Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is an audacious film that tells the story of a 10-year-old Hitler Youth member. He’s forced to question his beliefs when he finds out that his mother is helping a young Jewish girl.
Jojo Rabbit’s best quotes highlight how its dark comedic approach to the serious topic of Nazism delivers some hard-hitting messages about blind nationalism and empathy. Its controversial depiction of its innocent protagonist serves as the perfect commentary about the possibility of change and humanity, especially in the face of devastating brutality.
3 1917 (2019) – 4.1
Two British soldiers are given a daunting task that can potentially save the lives of hundreds of soldiers during WWI. 1917 follows their grueling journey to the frontlines and depicts the awful things they go through along the way.
Director Sam Mendes’ critically-acclaimed masterpiece is not only known for its harrowing narrative, but also for its incredible cinematography and complex set pieces. The flawless techniques applied to the film perfectly complement its tear-jerking story, providing audiences with a gripping and visually stunning tale at the height of the Great War.
2 Casting Blossoms To The Sky (2012) – 4.2
Casting Blossoms to the Sky is one of the best foreign films of the 2010s, as director Nobuhiko Obayashi unapologetically tackles the dark side of Japanese history through the touching movie. Its protagonist, Endo Reiko, finds herself in over her head when she visits a war-torn village, which was also hit by a massive earthquake.
The devastation of the quaint village is almost too painful to see, especially when contrasted with the beauty of the fireworks used to remember the victims of the war. Its more intimate story that explores a broken relationship is the ideal lens for understanding just how terrible the effects of the two catastrophic events really are.
1 Incendies (2010) – 4.3
Arguably one of director Denis Villeneuve’s most powerful works, Incendies tells the story of two grieving twins, Jeanne and Simon, as they explore a crucial part of their deceased mother’s life in a Middle Eastern country. They soon realize that things are more complicated than they initially seemed, as the hostile hometown they find is embroiled in a dangerous civil war.
The raw portrayal of the damage caused by war is jarring when compared to the protagonists’ intentions of chasing the purity of their mother’s love. The harsh reality they have to endure is unexpected and unforgiving. It’s a one-of-a-kind film that will shock viewers with its impactful message and gruesome imagery, both of which audiences won’t soon forget.
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