Nile Gardiner of the UK’s Telegraph has an article on the top 10 conservative movies of the past decade. His criteria, or what he means by conservatism, are that the movie:
- Has a conservative message, ranging from strong support for the military and love for country to the defence of capitalism and the free market;
- Inspires conservatives;
- Offends left-wing sensibilities in one way or another.
The movies may not even have been made by conservative filmmakers, who as we all know are few in number. Gardiner observes that “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.”
Here’s Gardiner’s top 10:
1. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003): An 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. 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. 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): 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): 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. 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): 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… 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…by far the best conservative film of 2009, and one of the greatest of the decade.
8. Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004): 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): 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…. 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: 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).
Of Gardiner’s list, I’ve seen Black Hawk Down, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Dark Knight, 300, Chronicles of Narnia, Gran Torino, Passion of the Christ, United 93, and We Were Soldiers, and I definitely agree with Gardiner on those, except for Chronicles of Narnia. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is far superior.
How about you? Do you agree with Gardiner? Are there conservative movies that Gardiner should have included?