Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of V-E Day Through Film
May 8th marks the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (V-E Day). For those fortunate enough to be spending this Friday in the Washington, DC, an event call "Arsenal of Democracy: World War II Victory Capitol Flyover" will feature more than 40 vintage WWII aircraft flying over our nation’s Capitol between noon and 1 p.m. The path will start along the Potomac River; turn left at the Lincoln Memorial to follow Independence Avenue along the Mall, bank right from the House office buildings, away from the Capitol toward the river, with planes landing in airports in Culpepper and Manassas, Va.
If you can’t be present in our nation’s capital for the Flyover, you can still celebrate this incredible day in history (and remember our greatest generation) with a World War II themed movies – focused on the European Theater. Here are a few of our favorites. You can find them, and just about anything you want to watch on, WheretoWatch.com.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Benedict Cumberbatch shines as real-life war hero and pioneer of modern-day computing, Alan Turing. The Imitation Game follows Turing as he leads a motley crew of scholars, linguists, chess champions, and intelligence officers in cracking the so-called unbreakable codes of Germany's World War II Enigma machine, potentially saving millions of lives by helping to shorten the war. Also depicted is Turing's tragic fall from grace when he was convicted of homosexuality – a crime in post-war Britain. Co-starring Academy Award®-nominee Keira Knightley.
The Monuments Men (2013)
Writer/director George Clooney adapts author Robert M. Edsel's book "The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History," to tell the incredible true story of the seven art historians and museum curators who went behind enemy lines during World War II on a mission to recover some of the world's greatest works of art. As the Third Reich begins to topple, the German army receives explicit orders to destroy every work of art in their possession. Determined to prevent 1000 years of culture from going up in flames, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt assembles an unlikely task force comprised entirely of art experts to enter Germany, recover the works of art, and ensure they are returned to their rightful owners. With little knowledge of modern weapons or warfare tactics, the ragtag squadron successfully makes their way into enemy territory before realizing they've got their work cut out for them. Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Daniel Craig, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin star.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
A group of hardened Nazi killers stalk their prey in Nazi-occupied France as a Jewish cinema owner plots to take down top-ranking SS officers during the official premiere of a high-profile German propaganda film. As far as Lt. Aldo Raine (aka Aldo the Apache, Brad Pitt) is concerned, the only good Nazi is a dead Nazi. Raine's mission is to strike fear into the heart of Adolf Hitler by brutally murdering as many goose-steppers as possible, or die trying. In order to accomplish that goal, Lt. Raine recruits a ruthless team of cold-blooded killers known as "The Basterds," which includes baseball-bat-wielding Bostonian Sgt. Donnie Donowitz (aka "The Bear Jew," Eli Roth) and steely psychopath Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), among others. When the Basterds' secret rendezvous with turncoat German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) goes awry, they learn that the Nazis will be staging the French premiere of "The Nation's Pride," a rousing propaganda film based on the exploits of German hero Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), at a modest theater owned by Jewish cinephile Shoshanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), posing as a Gentile after the brutal murder of her family by the ruthless Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). As the Basterds hatch an explosive plan to take out as many Nazis as possible at the premiere, they remain completely oblivious to the fact that Shoshanna, too, longs to bring the Third Reich to its knees, and that she's willing to sacrifice her beloved theater in the process.
Das Boot (1981)
Das Boot is one of the most gripping and authentic war movies ever made. Based on an autobiographical novel by German World War II photographer Lothar-Guenther Buchheim, the film follows the lives of a fearless U-Boat captain (Jurgen Prochnow) and his inexperienced crew as they patrol the Atlantic and Mediterranean in search of Allied vessels, taking turns as hunter and prey. There's very little plot, so the movie's power comes from both its riveting, epic battle scenes and its details of the boring hours spent waiting for orders or signs of the enemy. With the exception of one staunch Hitler Youth lieutenant, none of the crew is particularly loyal to the Nazis, and some are openly hostile toward their Fuhrer; this allows viewer sympathy with the men as they perform their laborious, monotonous duties in cramped, filthy quarters, or await death as depth charges explode all around the sub. Prochnow is excellent as the nerves-of-steel commander, and many of the supporting actors — all German — are solid as well, although the characterizations border on war movie clichés (the young crewman who has left behind his pregnant girlfriend, the Chief Engineer whose wife is seriously ill). The real star, however, is cinematographer Jost Vacano, who makes the sub's grimy, claustrophobic interior come to vivid life, as his camera follows the crew through hatches, up ladders, into bunks, and under pipes, creating a palpable sense of claustrophobia while injecting it with movement. Originally edited by writer/director Wolfgang Petersen as both a two-and-a-half hour theatrical release and a six-hour German miniseries, Das Boot was re-released in a restored version in 1997 with nearly one hour of added footage which made it even more suspenseful than before.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Steven Spielberg directed this powerful, realistic re-creation of WWII's D-day invasion and the immediate aftermath. The story opens with a prologue in which a veteran brings his family to the American cemetery at Normandy, and a flashback then joins Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) and GIs in a landing craft making the June 6, 1944, approach to Omaha Beach to face devastating German artillery and machine gun fire. This mass slaughter of American soldiers is depicted in a compelling, unforgettable 24-minute sequence. Miller's men slowly move forward to finally take a concrete pillbox. On the beach littered with bodies is one with the name "Ryan" stenciled on his backpack. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall (Harve Presnell), learning that three Ryan brothers from the same family have all been killed in a single week, requests that the surviving brother, Pvt. James Ryan (Matt Damon), be located and brought back to the United States. Capt. Miller gets the assignment, and he chooses a translator, Cpl. Upham (Jeremy Davis), skilled in language but not in combat, to join his squad of right-hand man Sgt. Horvath (Tom Sizemore), plus privates Mellish (Adam Goldberg), Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi), cynical Reiben (Edward Burns) from Brooklyn, Italian-American Caparzo (Vin Diesel), and religious Southerner Jackson (Barry Pepper), an ace sharpshooter who calls on the Lord while taking aim. Having previously experienced action in Italy and North Africa, the close-knit squad sets out through areas still thick with Nazis. After they lose one man in a skirmish at a bombed village, some in the group begin to question the logic of losing more lives to save a single soldier. The film's historical consultant is Stephen E. Ambrose, and the incident is based on a true occurrence in Ambrose's 1994 bestseller D-Day: June 6, 1944.
Life is Beautiful (1997)
In this WW II tragicomedy, Italian funnyman Roberto Benigni (The Monster) portrays Guido, who moves during the '30s from the country to a Tuscan town, where he is entranced by schoolteacher Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni's real-life wife). Dora likes Guido, but she remains faithful to her pompous fiancé, so Guido has an uphill struggle. Meanwhile, anti-Semitic attitudes lead to attacks against Guido's Jewish uncle (Giustino Durano). Leaping ahead to five years later, during WW II, Guido and Dora are married and have a son Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). After they are imprisoned in a concentration camp, Guido goes to elaborate lengths to keep his son from understanding the truth of their situation. He tells the boy that they are competing with others to win an armored tank — so everything from food shortages to tattoos is explained as necessary for participation in the contest.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Based on a true story, Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List stars Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, a German businessman in Poland who sees an opportunity to make money from the Nazis' rise to power. He starts a company to make cookware and utensils, using flattery and bribes to win military contracts, and brings in accountant and financier Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to help run the factory. By staffing his plant with Jews who've been herded into Krakow's ghetto by Nazi troops, Schindler has a dependable unpaid labor force. For Stern, a job in a war-related plant could mean survival for himself and the other Jews working for Schindler. However, in 1942, all of Krakow's Jews are assigned to the Plaszow Forced Labor Camp, overseen by Commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), an embittered alcoholic who occasionally shoots prisoners from his balcony. Schindler arranges to continue using Polish Jews in his plant, but, as he sees what is happening to his employees, he begins to develop a conscience. He realizes that his factory (now refitted to manufacture ammunition) is the only thing preventing his staff from being shipped to the death camps. Soon Schindler demands more workers and starts bribing Nazi leaders to keep Jews on his employee lists and out of the camps. By the time Germany falls to the allies, Schindler has lost his entire fortune — and saved 1,100 people from likely death. Schindler's List was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Picture and a long-coveted Best Director for Spielberg, and it quickly gained praise as one of the finest American movies about the Holocaust.
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
It's late 1944, and the Allied armies are confident they'll win World War II and be home in time for Christmas. What's needed, says British general Bernard Law Montgomery, is a knockout punch, a bold strike through Holland, where German troops are spread thin, that will put the Allies into Germany. Paratroops led by British major general Robert Urquhart (Sean Connery) and American brigadier general James Gavin (Ryan O'Neal) will seize a thin road and five bridges through Holland into Germany, with paratroops led by Lieutenant Col. John Frost (Sir Anthony Hopkins) holding the most critical bridge at a small town called Arnhem. Over this road the combined forces led by British Lieutenant Gen. Brian Horrocks (Edward Fox) and British Lieutenant Col. Joe Vandeleur (Michael Caine) will pass. The plan requires precise timing, so much so that one planner tells Lieutenant Gen. Frederick Browning (Dirk Bogarde), "Sir, I think we may be going a bridge too far." The plan also has one critical flaw: Instead of a smattering of German soldiers, the area around Arnhem is loaded with crack SS troops. Disaster ensues. Based on a book by historian Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far is reminiscent of another movie based on a Ryan book, The Longest Day. Like that movie, it is loaded with more than 15 international stars, including Sir Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Hardy Krueger, Gene Hackman, Maximilian Schell, and Liv Ullman.
In 1943 North Africa, George Patton (George C. Scott) assumes command of (and instills some much-needed discipline in) the American forces. Engaged in battle against Germany's Field Marshal Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler), Patton drives back "The Desert Fox" by using the German's own tactics. Promoted to Lieutenant General, Patton is sent to Sicily, where he engages in a personal war of egos with British Field Marshal Montgomery (Michael Bates). Performing brilliantly in Italy, Patton seriously jeopardizes his future with a single slap. While touring an Army hospital, the General comes across a GI (Tim Considine) suffering from nervous fatigue. Incensed by what he considers a slacker, Patton smacks the poor soldier and orders him to get well in a hurry. This incident results in his losing his command-and, by extension, missing out on D-Day. In his final campaign, Patton leads the US 3rd Army through Europe. Unabashedly flamboyant, Patton remains a valuable resource, but ultimately proves too much of a loose cannon in comparison to the more level-headed tactics of his old friend Omar Bradley (Karl Malden). Patton won 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Scott, an award that he refused.
The Dirty Dozen (1966)
Director Robert Aldrich took what he considered a hopelessly old-fashioned script by Lukas Heller and Nunnally Johnson and fashioned The Dirty Dozen into one of MGM's biggest moneymakers of the 1960s–and the sixth highest-grossing film in the studio's history. Lee Marvin plays Major Reisman, assigned to coordinate a suicide mission on a French chateau held by top Nazi officers. Since no "normal" GI can be expected to volunteer for this mission, Reisman is compelled to draw his personnel from a group of military prisoners serving life sentences. This "dirty dozen" includes a sex pervert (Telly Savalas), a psycho (John Cassavetes), a retarded killer (Donald Sutherland), and the equally malevolent Charles Bronson, Trini Lopez, Jim Brown, and Clint Walker. On the dim promise of receiving pardons if they survive, the criminals undergo a brutal training program, then are marched behind enemy lines dressed as Nazi soldiers, the better to overtake the chateau and kill everyone in it–including the innocent wives and mistresses of the German officers.