Everyone loves lists. Top Tens, Billboard Top 200, Bottom Ten, Top 100, etc. It is inherent and ingrained in our human nature to take the chaos around us and put it in some sort of orderly fashion. Every Tuesday, Josh lists his Top 5 movies based on an actor, genre, director, theme, holiday, sandwich or general whimsy and posts it for your consumption and discussion. If you want to submit your own list you can email Josh at J.A.Crabb22@gmail.com with the subject line, “RWT Top 5 Tuesday”, give a short 50-100 word description of the theme and your choices, you could end up seeing your list right here!
TOP 5 TUESDAY – TOP 5 MOVIE GENERALS
Today is November 11th, 2014, and it is Veteran’s Day. This morning when I woke up and shambled into the kitchen my daughter looked up from her Star Wars: The Clone Wars cereal bowl full of Cookie Crisp and said, “Happy Veteran’s Day, daddy!” We make a holiday like today a big deal not only because we thank those who have served in our country’s wars, but we are thankful that we can still honor them on a day like today. My friend Dick, my uncle Bill, my old roommate, and a couple of my co-workers have all served our country in one form or another over the years and I am very thankful that they do what they do. As comedian Mike Birbiglia says, “I love our troops because if they weren’t the troops, I would be the troops, and I would be the worst troops.”
In honor of this very important day, even though I did a war movies top 5 the other week, I thought it would only be fitting to name our Top 5 Movie Generals. You don’t always know the individual men and women who serve on the ground, but there is always one person who stands as an important figurehead for the successes and failures of wars, and that is the general. In real history, we remember famous and infamous generals like Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Rommel, and others who served on both sides and have different legacies, but the point is we remember them. So, without further ado, I offer up the Top 5 Movie Generals, and not specific to modern wars or World War II/Vietnam.
General Waverly – White Christmas – What do you with a general, when he stops being a general? One of my favorite Christmas movies, White Christmas, also has one of the best movie generals. Dean Jagger plays Major General Thomas F. Waverly, a retired army general and owner of a Vermont lodge, who is trying desperately to make it by and find a new life for himself after the end of World War II and a career in the army. His troops loved him, singing lines like, “We’d follow the old man wherever he wants to go,” and giving him a rousing tribute toward the films end. Jagger manages to play a very sympathetic character who is tough as nails and authoritative but vulnerable and wishful of years gone past. The ending sequence of the movie with his tribute is a tear-jerker and you love the “old man” and that whole sequence is a fitting tribute for any veteran of the army. Here’s to you General Waverly!
General Patton – Patton – Capturing the dichotomy of the war and the man, George C. Scott gives a commanding performance as the titular character and controversial World War II general, General George S. Patton. From the opening line, “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor bastard die for his country,” Scott captures the bombastic and unique personality of one of America’s most mercurial war-time leaders. He was patriotic, but insubordinate, implacable, yet temperamental, but one of the best commanders America has ever had. I need to give this movie another shot, as I loved Scott’s performance and gravitas, but the movie was kind of boring, but being a 16 year old kid raised on action movies will do that to you.
General Maximus Decimus Meridius – Gladiator – “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the TRUE emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” Truly oen of Russell Crowe’s finest performances, he is the immense and tragic Maximus, Roman general and eventual gladiator and revolutionary. The opening battle sequence in gladiator is one of my favorite battle scenes ever and having been a history major and styling myself as a bit of an amateur expert of Greco-Roman military, the battle is also extremely historically accurate to real battles between the Germanic tribes and Roman phalanxes. Crowe is a rad general and an even more rad gladiator and one seriously bad dude (why am I talking like a Ninja Turtle?). Few generals can match the charisma, skill, and sheer will to have vengeance than Maximus, and ultimately his fight to avenge his family is carried out and Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix plays a fantastic whiny, sister-molesting Emperor) gets his comeuppance. This movie is so awesome!
General Longstreet – Gettysburg – I am a HUGE Gettysburg nut. When I was a kid, I read Killer Angels and actually had a history book that mapped out all the battles of the Civil War. I used to copy those maps and draw out my own battles based on who I actually wanted to win those battles. I WANTED to be Joshua Chamberlin when I grew up and was always bummed I did not live in the 1860’s (ah, so young, so naïve). My parents took me to Gettysburg in Middle School and I did not want leave the battleground, since my favorite movie was Gettysburg and the movie was actually filmed at a lot of the sights and locations. We got this cassette tape we could play in the car and we could drive around to the different locations and play the cassette to hear about the sight of the battle and I used to listen to it back home when I was falling asleep at night. Oh man, I want to go back to Gettysburg…
Anyway, enough serious Civil War nerdiness, and on to why Tom Berenger as General James Longstreet is totally awesome. Most people concentrate on Jeff Daniel’s performance as Joshua Chamberlin, but Berenger is the real star as the Confederate General Longstreet. His relationship with Chamberlin perfectly illustrates the tragic duality of the Civil War. It pitted old friends against one another for the sake of state and ideals, and Berenger brings pathos and melancholy as he wrestles with his dueling loyalties to family, Virginia, and friends. If you have never seen this movie, it is the fastest and most wonderful four and a half hours you will ever watch. I love this movie and everything about this movie is great!
General Zod – Superman II – For those of you who think I would choose General Zod from Man of Steel, you are sadly mistaken. I’m going old school Superman and my top movie general is the Krypton super-villain warlord, General Dru-Zod. After being released from the dreaded Phantom Zone, a parallelogram floating through space, by a nuclear blast in outer space caused by Superman in the first movie, General Zod and his two fellow criminals, Ursa and Non, come to Earth and quickly destroy a small town and make their way to the White House and demand the allegiance of all of Earth’s people to, “Kneel before Zod!” Terrence Stamp has a commanding performance as the power hungry criminal , who’s ire and wrath is soon turned on Super Man when he learns that Superman is the son of the man who imprisoned him, Jor-El. Commence Superman in an epic battle with the three Kryptonian criminals and, of course, he wins and Zod is defeated. You have to give major props to General Zod for his great facial hair, as well as having the gall to only blow up a couple buildings in Idaho and then demand the world bow at this feet. It’s comic-booky and totally worthy of the highest honor imaginable, a place at the top of Reel World Theology’s Top 5 lists. A tip of the cap to you, General Zod, and all your ilk that marshalled the big screen with commanding performances as movie generals.
Josh Crabb is an editor at Reel World Theology, as well as sometimes contributor to the Reel World Theology podcast. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, or on Letterboxd.