Flicks’ Andreas Heinemann names the best films to feature the ultimate baddies.
The Great Dictator (1940)
We kick it off with a film that was doing the rounds while the Nazis were in full force. This pointed satire of Nazi Germany revolves around a poor Jewish barber who is the spitting image of dictator Adenoid Hynkel (no prizes for guessing which historical figure he is meant to be).
This brave and remarkably prophetic comedy was the biggest commercial success in Charlie Chaplain’s celebrated career. It bagged five Academy award nominations, possibly setting the trend for Oscar-hogging holocaust movies.
Hitler himself banned the film but curiosity eventually got the better of him and he watched a copy while in Portugal. His reaction wasn’t recorded but it’s safe to assume he was not amused.
The Sound of Music (1965)
A strange choice sure, but hear me out on my mother’s favourite. She always turned it off after Maria and Captain Von Trapp got married, which seemed like a conventional happy ending to me as a child. Only later did I discover that there’s about another half hour, mostly concentrating on Nazis. I later asked my mum why she always stopped the film at this point, thinking she wanted to spare her child the dark truths of his German ancestry. But no, it’s because all the best songs were finished.
Probably the first holocaust related film everyone sees as a kid, it picked up a respectable five Oscars including Best Picture.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
We’re getting to the serious films in a minute. But for all-out, kill-those-Nazis-thrills one can’t look past the comic-book style villains in this ode to 1930s serial adventures.
Originally cooked up by Steven Spielberg (who would go on to thrash more Nazis in The Last Crusade and Schindler’s List) and George Lucas as an alternative to James Bond, the flick saw archeologist-turned-adventurer Indiana Jones racing the Nazis to uncover to Lost Ark of the Covenant (look closely in 2008′s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and you’ll spot it again).
Spielberg couldn’t resist melting the Nazis’ faces off in this OTT climax, nor that famous shot where Indy pulls off the Nazi hood ornament as he slips under the front of a truck. That’s the great thing about having Nazi’s in movies like this – you can beat the shit out of them.
Au revoir les enfants (1987)
The French, being a nation that had a more intimate experience than most with the Nazi war machine, have produced some of the most powerful films on the subject and this is arguably the best. Director Louis Malle’s delicate approach heightens the evils of war, seeing it through the eyes of children.
In occupied France, Jews were ‘hidden’ to stay alive. Au revoir les enfants, while avoiding cliche and sentimentality, focuses on the friendship of Julian and Jean who share a boarding school. After learning Jean is Jewish, an innocent mistake of Julian’s has terrible consequences. It’s based on a painful memory of Malle’s.
Europa Europa (1990)
Critically panned by the local West German press upon its release and not even sent to the Academy for consideration as Best Foreign Film, it instead picked up a best Adapted Screenplay nomination, a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and become one of the most commercially successful German language films of all time.
Criticism has been directed towards it for playing fast and loose with the truths contained in the book from which it was adapted. Sure, if you’re all about ‘just the facts’, check out the book. However, if you’re more about a great story on the will to live in the most trying conditions imaginable, you just got another title to add to your must see list.
Schindler’s List (1993)
The film that elevated Steven Spielberg from Hollywood pro to the pantheon of great directors (and put Nazis in a more serious light than Raiders) is a no-brainer for this list.
Oskar Schindler uses Jewish labour to start a factory in Poland until he witnesses the horrors they face and decides to save them instead, sending sales of tissues and hankies through the roof and snaring seven Oscars.
Spielberg refused to be paid for the film, claiming that would be like accepting blood money and donated all his royalties to the Shoah foundation, which preserves the testimonies of surviving victims.
Martin Scorsese was initially slated to direct but he swapped duties with Spielberg who was set to helm Cape Fear. Even a Scorsese fan boy like me struggles to see how he could’ve done as good a job.
Life is Beautiful (1997)
Now better remembered for director and star Roberto Benigni’s over the top celebration when he won the Oscar. While the darkness and horror are acknowledged, it has a sense of hope that few films on the holocaust have matched thanks to the father’s sacrifice for his son angle, clearly showing the fine line between comedy and tragedy.
Some would claim that events seem contrived to elicit an emotional response. You’ll either fall into that joyless camp or appreciate the achievement of successfully pulling off a movie about love and imagination set in a concentration camp.
The Pianist (2002)
This film marked one of the first times we heard that cool sound effect when there’s an explosion and the character hears the resulting ringing in his ears throughout the next scene. Great idea!
Exiled director Roman Polanski’s brilliant true account of a Polish Jewish musician struggling to survive in World War II Warsaw saw Adrian Brody get rid of his apartment, sell his car, ditch his television, and lose 14kg in preparation for his role as Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman. Still, his self-inflicted torture allowed him to snog Halle Berry whilst picking up an Oscar – Brody was the youngest ever winner of a Best Actor award at twenty-nine.
The Counterfeiters (2008)
Hey look, another best Oscar winner (Best Film in a Foreign Language.) Colour me surprised. Oh, and again it’s based on real life events! Colour me shocked. I think I’m picking up a trend, or formula if you will, on how to make a critically acclaimed holocaust movie. Send me some money and I’ll mail you the inevitable Oscar.
Often incorrectly identified as German, it is actually an Austrian production, the first Academy award winner to originate in the country of Hitler’s birth. That recognition, prestigious as it is, is nothing compared with the stellar achievement of placing sixth in the Flicks.co.nz countdown of best movies of last year.
What sets The Counterfeiters apart is its unique perspective – a Jewish prisoner accepts ‘better’ treatment from the Nazis in return for his money-counterfeting skills. This makes for a more provocative and thought-provoking account than the clear-cut morality applied to many holocaust films.
The Reader (2008)
The Reader focuses on a personal story, and the impact of guilt implicit in Nazi cooperation. Kate Winslet plays a German with a young lover. Later in life, the man witnesses her war-crimes trial for working as a warden in a concentration camp. The drama here is not good vs evil, but the complex consequences of the holocaust on the German people.
The movie finally won Kate Winslet an Oscar after five rejections, er, we mean nominations. What was so great about her Oscar win is how it was predicted in her guest appearance in Ricky Gervais’ Extras, playing a nun in World War II. The exact quote was “And I don’t think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It’s like, how many have there been? You know, we get it – it was grim, move on. No, I’m doing it because I’ve noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust – guaranteed Oscar!”