The first and more orthodox World War II war film of 1998, Steven Spielberg’s heroic yarn Saving Private Ryan follows a troop of assorted all-American types through the European theater on what seems to them to be a fool’s mission: retrieving a soldier (Matt Damon) from battle after his brothers are killed elsewhere. Tom Hanks rings true as an unlikely macho commander, and the opening D-Day sequence is justly famous for being gut-twisting. With Edward Burns and Tom Sizemore.
In this bestseller-derived drama, Gregory Peck plays a memory-haunted vet who returns to his suburban life and a new media PR job, only to struggle with the banality of corporate striving, with the ghosts of the war still impinging on his consciousness. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit may be the first film to seriously weigh the difference between leading a happy life and succeeding in the business world—a common, if not easily dramatized, modern dilemma. Fredric March plays the hard-charging boss as if he’s imagining the saddest future possible for his bank-exec vet character in 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives.
Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki ‘s final film, portraying the youth of a flight-obsessed Japanese boy who grows up to design airships and war planes for his country prior to WWII. It doesn’t sound like rich material for poetic animated epipanies, but Miyazaki is a wizard, and the film is a eye-candy elegy for everything lost in life, and the exquisite beauty of ephemeral things. The Wind Rises might also be the single best film ever made about flying and the machines that enable it.
One of the great European films, made when director Bernardo Bertolucci was only 29, this startlingly beautiful character study and essay on fascist collaborationism and political cowardice is by no means just an evocative Euro-travel primer; it’s essential viewing for anyone who cares about movies. Even so, the film’s passage from World War II–era Rome to Paris to the snowy Alpine forestland between the two cities is as powerful as a dream.
It’s winter 1947 in Washington State, and postwar racial animosity is sky-high. A white fisherman is found dead on his boat, and a Japanese-American neighbor is accused of his murder. The winter vibe of this dreamy adaptation of David Guterson’s bestseller is virtually the film’s main protagonist (Ethan Hawke’s conflicted trial observer is relatively passive), from the opening scene of snow falling gently on the harbor as a lighthouse blinks its warning to the frosty breath of the Japanese citizens as they march out of town (in flashback), wearing fur-collard coats, toward the internment camps. The film was unjustly maligned and ignored when it was released; there is good acting all around, particularly by Max Von Sydow as the stalwart defense attorney, and the snow-crusted cinematography is breathtaking.