The Best Years of Our Lives and director William Wyler were featured in the fabulous Netflix documentary Five Came Back about five famous directors who used their skills in service to the US government across both seas during WWII. With a running time of nearly 3 hours The Best Years of Our Lives contains elements of almost everything—joy, tears, drama, romance, tragedy, bitterness, and hope. It is so expertly made that there are moments that will stick with a viewer forever.
The performances are so outstanding, especially from the supporting players Teresa Wright and the real WWII-veteran and amputee Harold Russell. Wright’s naturalism is decades ahead of its time, and Russell’s charm and positivity is infectious.
Released just one year after the war ended, it is not overly political and does not get into detail about the horrors of war; though, the magnitude is clearly reflected in the faces of the three men at the film’s center. The movie was accessible to those who were at war and those tangentially affected by it (everybody).
In the aforementioned documentary, Steven Spielberg mentioned that he’s watched this film once a year over the last thirty years and it’s easy to understand why. What Wyler saw as a propaganda filmmaker amidst the theatre of war and what he drew from as he studied these men as they returned home surely affected him on a deep level. There are more nuances conveyed in this film then dozens and dozens of others combined. It has well-earned its reputation as one of the best pieces of art committed to celluloid.