Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Top 10 Conservative Movies of the Last Decade

By Nile Gardiner

This is a list of the ten best films of the last decade that have advanced a conservative message, ranging from strong support for the military and love for country to the defence of capitalism and the free market. These are all brilliant movies that conservatives can be inspired by, and which are guaranteed to offend left-wing sensibilities in one way or another.

This is not intended as a list of films made only by conservative filmmakers, who are, it has to be said, few in number. Ironically, some of the best films of all time that have projected conservative values have been made by directors who are apolitical or even politically liberal. Steven Spielberg’s magnificent Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, Cy Enfield’s Zulu, and Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields, are cases in point.

Hollywood may well be a bastion of liberalism, but it does continue to occasionally produce major films that advance conservative principles, not least because a large percentage of filmgoers in the United States are conservatives. Many of the films listed below were hugely successful at the box office.

A central theme that runs through several of my top ten picks is the eternal conflict between good and evil, and why the forces of tyranny and despotism must be confronted and defeated. They include films that Barack Obama should watch as he contemplates appeasing the likes of Iran and North Korea, or turning a blind eye to mass murder in Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe. They also provide important lessons for the president as he faces the Taliban in Afghanistan and the broader threat posed by al-Qaeda.

1. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003)

Peter Weir’s unashamedly old-fashioned and visually stunning adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s novel is one of the greatest odes to leadership ever committed to celluloid. Australian director Weir has made many terrific films, including Gallipoli, Dead Poets Society, The Year of Living Dangerously, and Witness, but Master and Commander was the pinnacle of his career so far. Nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, it should be essential viewing for any commander-in-chief. Russell Crowe delivers a powerhouse performance as Jack Aubrey, Captain of HMS Surprise, a British warship that hunts and ultimately captures a far larger French adversary during the Napoleonic Wars. Set in 1805, it is an epic tale of heroism and love for country in the face of incredible odds, and a glowing tribute to the grit and determination that forged the British Empire.

2. Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, 2001)

Sir Ridley Scott’s searing depiction of the ill-fated US raid on Mogadishu in 1993, which left 19 American servicemen dead, was released just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the launch of the War on Terror. Based on the book by Mark Bowden, it won Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Sound, and Scott was nominated for Best Director. Many critics enthusiastically dubbed Black Hawk Down an anti-war film, and it is in some respects a cautionary tale about the perils of nation-building. But I regard it above all as an extraordinarily powerful and deeply patriotic tribute to the heroism and bravery of the US military, faced with overwhelming odds in a hostile city dominated by brutal Somali warlords. It is essentially a story of incredible sacrifice and camaraderie in the heat of battle, and ranks alongside Zulu, Saving Private Ryan and A Bridge Too Far as one of the greatest war films of all time.

3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001, 2002, 2003)

All three parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy were great pieces of cinema – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and finally The Return of the King, which won Best Picture at the 2004 Academy Awards. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of Lord of the Rings, was a devout Catholic and conservative, and a close friend of C.S. Lewis at Oxford. His vision of a mighty battle between good and evil in the realms of Middle Earth was brilliantly transferred to the screen by New Zealand director Peter Jackson, perfectly fitting a post 9/11 world where the forces of freedom found themselves pitted against a barbaric enemy.

4. Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000)

Ridley Scott is without a doubt one of the finest directors of the modern era, and preceded Black Hawk Down with his masterful Best Picture winner Gladiator. The tale of an enslaved former Roman general, Maximus (played by Russell Crowe), who becomes a gladiator and brings down a corrupt Emperor, features some of the most exciting action sequences ever filmed, backed by Hanns Zimmer’s soaring soundtrack. In essence this is a movie about confronting evil and destroying it. There is not an ounce of appeasement or the whiff of “engagement” in Maximus’s blood, only the desire to avenge the murder of his family and see justice carried out. It is the sort of uncompromising movie experience guaranteed to send pacifists and lily-livered liberals running for the exits.

5. The Pursuit of Happyness (Gabriele Muccino, 2006)

This Will Smith vehicle, based on the autobiographical bestseller by Chris Gardner, is one of the most powerful tributes to the free market and the value of individual responsibility ever made. Smith plays an impoverished entrepreneur from a humble background in 1980s San Francisco who through sheer determination and strength of human spirit defies all odds to become a stockbroker with a top investment firm, before making his fortune. Smith’s character embodies the can-do spirit of Reagan’s America, and rejects the welfare state in favour of the capitalist ideal, while bringing up a young son on his own. The Pursuit of Happyness is an inspiring and often deeply moving tribute to the American dream, and one of the great conservative movies of this generation.

6. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
Christopher Nolan’s global mega hit raked in over $1 billion worldwide, and it’s not hard to see why. Featuring some of the most striking set designs since Blade Runner, Nolan’s towering vision of Gotham City looked glorious in IMAX, and was a ground-breaking cinematic achievement. Heath Ledger’s pitch-perfect performance as The Joker deservedly won him a posthumous Best Supporting Actor award. It is though its depiction of Batman’s relentless war against the Joker’s campaign of terror, which marks The Dark Knight as a standout conservative film. The Dark Knight himself, played to perfection by Christian Bale, is unwavering in his determination to defeat his adversary, whatever the cost.

7. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)
Kathryn Bigelow’s critically acclaimed tribute to the heroism of US Army bomb disposal experts in Iraq has already been nominated for three Golden Globes. It is a searing and tense war film that has been the surprise hit of the year in the United States. What is refreshing about the film is its willingness to portray the US military presence in Iraq in an overwhelmingly sympathetic light, and the al-Qaeda-backed enemy as barbaric and fundamentally evil. There are no shades of gray in The Hurt Locker, and this is a strikingly patriotic motion picture that has been embraced by an American public weary of the anti-Americanism churned out by Hollywood in its portrayal of the War on Terror – from Rendition and Lions for Lambs to Redacted and In the Valley of Elah. The Hurt Locker is by far the best conservative film of 2009, and one of the greatest of the decade.

8. Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004)

Hotel Rwanda is one of the most powerful films ever made depicting genocide. In its unflinching portrayal of the weakness and indifference of the United Nations and the broader international community in the face of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Terry George’s film vividly captured the horror of the mass slaughter of the Tutsis by the Hutus, which left one million people dead. The film’s moving true story is told through the eyes of Paul Rusesabagina (played brilliantly by Don Cheadle), a hotel owner who selflessly saved the lives of over a thousand refugees from the minority Tutsi tribe. It is a hugely important film with a powerful conservative message on two levels – it demonstrated the impotence and moral bankruptcy of the UN’s leadership in the face of genocide as well as the limits of multilateralism, and ultimately made a compelling case for the use of force by the free world to act against evil. It is a film that former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan (head of UN peacekeeping at the time), should be made to watch over and over again.

9. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)

There have been surprisingly few films made about the massive human cost inflicted by Soviet Communism, and its ruthless dominance of eastern and central Europe over the course of nearly four decades. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is one of the very finest, and is a damning indictment of the totalitarian surveillance society run by the Secret Police in East Germany. Set in East Berlin in 1984, the film tells the ultimately redemptive tale of a conflicted Stasi officer (played by Ulrich Mühe, in his final role) tasked with spying on a dissident playwright (Sebastian Koch). The Lives of Others deservedly won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2007 Oscars, and was a huge success in its native Germany, where it forced the country to once again confront the ghosts of its recent past and the huge pain and suffering inflicted by Communist rule in the east.

10. 300 (Zack Snyder, 2007)

Any film that prompts howls of indignation from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his brutal acolytes in Tehran deserves recognition. 300 achieved that in spades with its fiery retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, where three hundred Spartan warriors took on a vast army of Persians commanded by Xerxes. Zack Snyder’s faithful adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel featured incredible battle sequences shot with the latest digital technology, and proved a major box office hit. As he contemplates how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, Barack Obama should ditch his failed appeasement strategy and take some tips from the Spartans about standing your ground in the face of an evil tyrant.

Honorable Mentions
These films didn’t make the final list, but would be strong contenders for a top 20.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005); Cinderella Man (Ron Howard, 2005); Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008); Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007); The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004); Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, 2006); Tears of the Sun (Antoine Fuqua, 2003); United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006); We Were Soldiers (Randall Wallace, 2002).

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