Diplomats are obliged to be up to date with cultural events. They should know the laureates of Chopin Piano Contests, they should know recent premieres at Broadway and West End. And they absolutely should know the Oscar laureates. As we are awaiting the 90th Academy Awards ceremony, some diplomats in Europe will suffer after a sleepless night of March 4, biting nails and keeping their fingers crossed for “Dunkirk”, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, “The Post” and other breath-taking movies. Before that, let’s look back at the history of “Best Picture” laureates that are to some extent attached to international relations. International relations students, experts and of course diplomats should surely watch them. Here is part I of the miniseries.
- “The Wings” 1927-28: the movie is most about love and friendship. World War I and its major Battle of Saint-Mihiel (north-eastern France) are a grand background to the plot though. The battle was fought on 12-15 September 1918. The US Army Air Service played a key role there, American and French forces under the command of General John J. Pershing won over German forces. The battle was pictured so well in this all-silent movie (!) that it has become a benchmark for battles presented in movies for years to come (especially those with air force on set). The movie is to some extent an anti-war manifesto, underlining brutality and stupidity of armed conflicts. What is also interesting, the career of Gary Cooper started with this movie.
- “All Quiet on the Western Front” 1929-1930 – another movie showing the brutality of World War I, based on the novel of Erich Maria Remarque, still considered by the American Film Institute as one of the best American movies of all time. It is a story of a group of German schoolboys who join the army and so have to become men as they are challenged by the mayhem of war. It focuses on the disillusionment that grows in young soldiers and is as tragic as only a war movie (and novel) can be. The scene with Paul spending the whole night with a fatally wounded French soldier in a hole is said to be a masterpiece of acting. Another anti-war manifesto on screen, and this one will not leave anyone untouched.
- “Mrs. Miniver” 1942 – this movie covered World War II – taking into account the year of its production and launch, that makes the whole thing very timely. It is a romantic war drama, inspired by the Jan Struther novel of 1940 with the same title. Acknowledged by the American Film Institute as one of the most inspirational films of all time. It is based in England and presents the story of … a British housewife. Her husband (“to be” as they marry during the movie), a Royal Air Force pilot is pictured as a less important character. The movie shows how Carol Miniver and other members of the family struggle to live their life under the circumstances of air raids and bombings in the first months of World War II. Reminds me of one of the chapters of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” where the author proves that bombings (he focuses on the Battle of England) make the citizens more resilient, not more fragile.
- “Casablanca” 1943 – the movie has the 36th highest rating in IMDb and is globally known for the grand acts of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart and the famous line “play it again, Sam” (even though Humphrey Bogart actually said “Play it!”). Casablanca is a Vichy-controlled city in Morocco where Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, runs a nightclub. The place becomes a safe haven for members of resistance trying to escape the Vichy regime and flee to America. At one point Blaine is challenged by his crush, Ilsa played by Ingrid Bergman, and her husband (a leading member of the resistance), trying to find some refuge, too. And the rest has to be seen on screen and felt beyond it (the vibe and a lot of “beyond-the-lines’ action makes this cinema noir movie a classic).
- “The Best Years of Our Lives” 1946 – the movie won 7 Academy Awards, it focuses on three veterans coming back to the civilian life after their service in World War II. All of them are challenged by how their families have changed and how life is different after being a soldier. Even though the movie focuses on personal stories, personal crises and reinventions, and takes place after the war, it says a lot about the conflict itself. It also tells the story of America in late 1940s and the way it changes internally after winning big in a global conflict.
- “Around the World in Eighty Days” 1956 – whoever had not spent some sleepless nights on reading Jules Verne adventurous novels in their teenage years, cast the first stone. This movie is also based on a Verne’s classic and pictures Phileas Fogg trying to win a bet that he would be able to arrive back from a journey around the world in 80 days. We speak about 1872 year here – God bless steamships and railways. He travels with Passepartout and the two are chased by Police Inspector Fix due to a false accusation. They visit France, Spain, Italy, Suez, India, Hong-Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco, the wild West and many more spots. What a journey, what a lesson of geography!
- “The Bridge on the River Kwai” 1957 – a British-American production with William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Alec Guinness in leading roles. The movie won 7 Academy Awards. Acknowledged by both the Amrican and the British Film Institute. It is a fictitious story based on the Pierre Boulle’s novel “Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai”, but the plot is set around the World War II prisoners’ of war (PoW) camp in south-eastern Asia, where British PoWs are forced (and later convinced by their Colonel Nicholson) to build a railway bridge for Japanese forces. It is a complex, psychological view of the minds of soldiers getting way beyond their comfort zones in the times of conflict, heat and sometimes torture (to say the least).
- “Lawrence of Arabia” 1962 – this movie won 7 Academy Awards (and was nominated in 10 categories). Based in the times of World War I and on a story of British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence. Together with a breath-taking role of Peter O’Toole, the cast includes also Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif and many more. The movie tells the story of Lawrence fighting in the Arabian Peninsula, especially in Aqaba and Damascus, his role as a liaison between the Arabs and the Brits in the fight against the Turks – but also, it features Lawrence’s personal emotional struggles. Often regarded as one of the most influential, impactful and greatest movies of all times.