Monday, April 9, 2012

Worst to Best: Steven Spielberg Movies

Guess what I am?
(A)  An armchair
(B)  A massive Steven Spielberg fan
(C)  A douche
(D)  Asleep

If you answered (B), you are correct.  If you answered (C), you might be correct, but screw you.  If you answered (A) or (D), why would you do that?

Anyways, I've decided to put together one of my patented worst-to-best lists, which means I now have to decide what I think the worst Steven Spielberg movie is.
Luckily, that's not too hard.  It's:

#29 -- Something Evil  (1972)

Spielberg's second feature-length film is -- arguably -- the only true horror film he has ever directed.  Sadly, it's not a particularly distinguished piece of work, which is presumably why it has never been issued on DVD.  I suspect Spielberg would just as soon nobody ever saw the movie again.
This does not mean it's utterly worthless.  Like all of Spielberg's poorer films, it has moments that work quite well, and these moments make it worth seeing for hardcore fans.  However, it feels extremely cheap, almost as if Spielberg had only been able to film a maximum of two takes of any scene, and was forced to film twice as many scene per day as he would otherwise have been.

This movie was made after Duel, and it must seemed like a shoddy affair indeed coming from the director of that film.

Nevertheless, I hope it gets a DVD release someday, preferably on a box-set containing all of Spielberg's work for Universal television.

#28 -- The Lost World: Jurassic Park  (1997)

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I have seen this movie a grand total of twice: once in the theatre, and once when the DVD was released.  I didn't like it either time, and have only seen clips from it in the years since.

I say that so that anyone who is offended by the notion of me placing this movie so low on my list will at least have the knowledge that I haven't seen the movie in nearly fifteen years.

So who knows, maybe it's better than my memory tells me.  What I remember thinking at the time, though, was that it was depressingly soulless piece of work, one which had all the hallmarks of a sequel its director had virtually no interest in making.  Spielberg seemed only to connect with the material when it came time to do the setpieces.

Those, admittedly, are tremendous, so don't think I'm saying The Lost World is an utter failure. It isn't.  It just doesn't have much to recommend apart from a few setpieces.

#27 -- Hook  (1991)

I loved this movie when it came out, but have since lost the vast majority of that love.  The Lost Boy sequences are bad, to a cringe-inducing degree; the casting of Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and -- particularly -- Julia Roberts seems inappropriate, and their performances fail to coalesce one with the other; there is no sense of reality to the movie except in the non-Neverland sequences, which would be fine if the Neverland sequences were better.
It simply isn't a very good movie.
That said, there are good sequences, such as the scene in which Peter remembers his childhood.  Also, John Williams' score is an absolute delight, and the cinematography by Dean Cundey is gorgeous.

#26 -- The Terminal  (2004)

Remember when I said I've only seen The Lost World twice?  Well, I've only seen The Terminal once, and to be honest, I've felt no great desire to revisit it since then.  Unlike as with The Lost World, though, I don't have negative associations with The Terminal; I didn't think it was a bad movie, I just didn't feel it was much more than good overall.
One aspect of the movie that definitely was "more than good": Tom Hanks.  I mean, let's face it: even when Hanks is at his worst -- whatever that might be -- he's still pretty damn good.  When he's at his best, he's one of the best there ever has been, and when he's somewhere in the middle -- as in The Terminal -- then he's still better than most.
Here, he's terrific.  It's not one of his all-time best performances, or anything, but it needn't be; he's totally convincing as a foreigner, he's totally charming, and he gets close to breaking your heart on a couple of occasions.
The rest of the movie is a mixed bag.  Some of the subplots don't work at all, and overall it doesn't feel like much more than an excuse for Spielberg to construct a massive set and spend several months hanging out with Tom Hanks.
Which is fine by me. I just wish a great movie had been the result, rather than a merely good one.

#25 -- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull  (2008)

Can I be honest?
I like this movie.
It's not perfect; oh, nosir, not at all.  The CGI, in places, is terrible; the gag with the monkeys and Mutt is terrible; Marion isn't put to particularly good use; the pace seems a bit off in some way that I can't quite nail down; some of the sets are weak; Harrison Ford isn't at his best (although he's fine, he doesn't quite manage to recapture the spark he had in the original films).
Those are all legitimate problems, and they keep this from being a great movie.  But some of the other aspects of the movie which people frequently cite as being part of the reason why it's a bad movie are things I actually enjoy.  For example: the refrigerator scene is funny.  Yeah, it's silly; dumb, even.  But it makes me laugh.  I love that shot of the Russians trying to drive away from the nuclear blast, and the refrigerator is sailing past them overhead.  Retarded.  Funny.  If you didn't find it amusing, well, so be it.
Similarly, I don't know why people got their panties in such a wad over the fact that aliens were in the movie.  That seems perfectly in keeping with the rest of the Indiana Jones series to me.  Now, I will freely admit to wishing two things: (1) that it hadn't been a plot twist (i.e., I wish the aliens had been present in the story right off the bat -- it would have fit the '50s mood just fine) and (2) that the aliens hadn't been restricted to being shitty CGI at the end of the movie.  Sure, the execution could have been better; but that doesn't kill it for me, and I've got no problem at all with the concept.  Zero.
My inclination, in fact, was to slot this film several places higher on the list, but since I've not rewatched it in a few years, I'm going to bow a wee bit to popular opinion and leave it right here.
For now...

#24 -- Always  (1989)

Always falls a bit into the same category as The Terminal for me, in that it's a perfectly decent movie that doesn't excel in very many ways.  Richard Dreyfuss is fine, Holly Hunter is fine, John Goodman is fine ... it's a good-looking movie, and it's kinda funny, and it's kinda touching, and there's nothing wrong with it.
The only thing wrong with it is that it isn't awesome, and any time a Spielberg movie isn't awesome, it feels like a bit of a letdown.
Such is the power of the 'berg.

#23 -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade  (1989)

I know, I know; a lot of people ADORE this movie, and claim it as their favorite of all the Indiana Jones movie.
If that's you, well, good on ya: I begrudge you nothing.
But to me, this movie hasn't aged anywhere near as well as it seems to have for others.  Some of effects are quite bad; the tonal shifts between seriousness and comedy aren't always very smooth; and, worst of all, the characters of Brody and Sallah -- two of the better elements from the first film -- are not merely squandered here, but are actively devolved into buffoons.  Seriously, did Brody develop Alzheimer's between films?
That said, it's obviously got its major upsides, including the undeniably-awesome presence of the perfectly-cast Sean Connery playing Henry Jones Sr.  Most of the big action setpieces are terrific, Harrison Ford is at his best, John Williams brought his A-game.  There's lots to love here.

#22 -- The Adventures of Tintin  (2011)

Here's an interesting situation: Tintin is a movie I thoroughly enjoyed, and yet I find myself placing it at #22 on a list of 29 movies.  Seems low, but, looking ahead of it on the list, I can't honestly say that I put it in the wrong place.
It's a thoroughly entertaining movie, and it was a lot of fun to see Spielberg playing around in a new format (two of them, actually: mo-cap animation and 3D); there were times, such as during the big chase sequence, when you could practically feel the 'berg clapping his hands together like a little kid.
Overall, though, while I enjoyed the movie, it didn't really connect with me on any meaningful level.  I didn't fall into the movie; I found myself very much aware of it while I was watching it, whereas with the best movies -- and certainly the best Spielberg movies -- I'm more apt to almost forget that there is a world outside the theatre.
Maybe this is a function of the fact that Tintin himself is -- at least as presented here -- a bit of a bore.  Maybe I was feeling distracted when I watched it, and will revise my opinion upward after seeing it a second time.
Beats me.

#21 -- Amistad  (1997)

Of all of Spielberg's "serious" dramas, this is the one that comes the close to not working.
I think it does work, though, for the most part.  As with Hook, some of the casting doesn't quite gel (this time it's Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman, all of whom give good performances and yet somehow manage to feel utterly out of place), and that's the movie's biggest failing.
It's a gut-wrenching movie, though, as it should be, and overall there is way more good than bad.

#20 -- 1941  (1979)

Man, let me tell you: I love 1941.  Not ironically; I ain't no hipster douchebag.  No, I just love the movie for the insane goofball comedy that it is.  Is it a big mess of a film?  Sure.  Was it probably a bad idea from the get-go?  Yep.
Doesn't matter.  It makes me laugh, every time.
"Look!  I'm a fly!  Bzzzzzzzzz!"
"You ain't gettin' shit outta me!"

"Jesus Palomina!  Movin' trees!
"The name's Wild Bill Kelso ... and don't you forget it!"
Hey, I get it.  This movie isn't for everyone.  But it's definitely for me.
Now, to be fair, not every joke works, and the movie is probably too long.  But damn if it doesn't still look great thirty-plus years later, and the big setpieces still have tremendous energy, and the score by John Williams is still awesome.
In this particular instance, I'm happy to be in opposition to the majority: I LOVE this movie.

#19 -- Jurassic Park  (1993)

Placing this movie so low on a list of Spielberg's best films is possibly close to heresy in the minds of many Spielberg fans, but I just can't help it: I don't think it's one of his best.
But that's not to say it's bad.  Far from it.  In fact, it's held up remarkably well over the better part of twenty years, and goodness knows a huge number of kids grew up loving dinosaurs as a result.
No, it's certainly not a bad film.  The cast is great, and the effects are still fine, and there are several scenes which are utterly iconic.  It loses a bit of steam in the final act, though, and the scene in which the T-Rex saves the day by attacking the raptors ... well, let me be gentle and say simply that it doesn't hold up.
How long until cloning is a reality and Universal decides to construct a really-for-real Jurassic Park?  
Won't that be a trip?

#18 -- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom  (1984)

As is the case with 1941, I love this movie, flaws and all.  I love how vapid a character Willie Scott is; I love Short Round, despite generally despising cute kid sidekicks.  Yeah, it's a little too dark in some spots; don't care.  Yeah, it's a little too goofy in other spots; don't care about those, either.
Visually, this movie is pure gold, from start to finish, with only a few minor missteps along the way.  Harrison Ford is almost as great as he was in Raiders, which is saying something significant.  The big Bond-like opening sequence is one of Spielberg's best setpieces.  John Williams is very near the top of his game.
If you think is one of the bad Indy movies, I understand what you're saying.
But I disagree, and rather vehemently.

#17 -- War Horse  (2011)

The way a lot of people saw this movie, it is a corny old-Hollywood throwback, all sentiment and no content.
The way I see this movie, it is an emotionally-charged Hollywood epic in which we see various stories about what a horse could mean to people during a less technologically-advanced era.  I don't care about horses at all, in a general sense, but I cared about the one in this movie, because all the people around him cared about him.  
Some people were offended by the movie because they felt it was asking too much of an audience to ask them to care about a horse within the context of a WWI movie, when that war had such an appallingly high cost in human terms.  Intellectually, I get that.  However, to me it is always useful to see things through a new set of eyes, and I've never quite seen a movie that employed this set of eyes before.
In terms of the movie's point-of-view, it's a quite complicated series of shifts that Spielberg and the writers employed.  For some people, the approach seems not to have worked, but for me it seemed like a very consistent piece of work.  The emotion felt earned, not forced (as some people -- all of whom possibly wish all movies were oblique art pieces like The Tree of Life or no-nonsense indie dramas like We Need to Talk About Kevin -- claimed).  Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski made terrific use of the locations where they shot.
I saw the movie twice, and loved it even more the second time than I had the first.  This is terrific work from Spielberg, and while not all that many people seem to agree with me now, eventually this movie is going to have plenty of champions.

#16 -- Poltergeist  (1982)

Controversy time!
For years and years and years now, debate has raged over whether Steven Spielberg directed Poltergeist.  Some people say yes, some people say no, and most of the people who could answer the question definitively tend to stay a bit quiet on the subject.
I tend to lean toward feeling that Steven Spielberg did not direct Poltergeist.
So, you might ask, why am I including it on this list?  Easy: because regardless of whether he actively, physically directed the movie -- and there doesn't seem to be any substantial evidence that he did -- this is a movie authored by Steven Spielberg.
Allow me to clarify this opinion a bit.
As we all know, but may not always consciously consider, movies are a highly collaborative art form.  Every movie is a different scenario, too, meaning that while on some movies the director might be the most influential creative force, on other movies it might be the writer, or the producer, or the star, or the editor.  In the case of a musical, it might the composer(s).  On most movies, all of those players -- and many more alongside them -- will have absolutely essential roles to play.
In the case of some movies, though, it is clear that while there may have been multiple key components, all of those components were effectively working under the direct supervision of a single person.  We tend to think of the director as that person, but it need not always be the case, and while I do believe that Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist, I do not by any means believe that he was the guy supervising the entire project as a whole.
Instead, Poltergeist seems to have been more like a television program, where it is the producer who is king.  And on Poltergeist, Spielberg was hands-on in every capacity, at every stage: he wrote the story, co-wrote the final draft of the screenplay (without credit), supervised the creation of the storyboards, was involved in all phases of pre-production, was present on-set for every day of production, supervised the editing of the film with his regular collaborator Michael Kahn, and supervised the coring of the film with composer Jerry Goldsmith.
In other words: he wrote the movie, and then served in every capacity he normally served in as director except for the physical direction of the individual scenes.  Regardless of whether you want to say he directed it or not -- and to be clear, I'm saying he didn't -- he was the primary creative force on the movie to an overwhelming degree.
In other other words: he may not have directed it, but Poltergeist is a Steven Spielberg movie, nearly as completely as any other.  It absolutely belongs on any list of his movies.  We get too caught up in the idea of the "director"; we ought to remember that sometimes, the director may not be king, and that was exactly what happened on this film.
And as far as I'm concerned, it's a cracking good flick, too.  It's still scary as hell thirty years later.  It looks great, has a great cast, a terrific Jerry Goldsmith score.  There is some serious talent on display here, and there's no doubt about it.
For the record, this seems to be the only movie Spielberg has produced for which he ought to be credited as the primary creative force.  He's had a lot of influence of some of the movies he's produced, but in none of those cases has it been to this degree.

#15 -- War of the Worlds  (2005)

I'm going to tell you what I don't like about this movie.  Two things: (1) the reunion at the end seems unearned and forced and doesn't work very well at all; (2) Spielberg and the writers did an exceptionally poor job of explaining/dramatizing the idea that the aliens succumb to the flu.  Oh, and a third: I still have no idea what's happening in terms of how the aliens are arriving.  Are they all underground?  Are the ships underground, and the aliens are beaming into them Star Trek-fashion from a ship somewhere in orbit?  Are they beaming in from Mars?  That aspect of the movie doesn't work very well at all, either.

Now I'm going to tell you what I like about this movie: everything else.

Now I'm going to tell you what I love about this movie: everything that I like.

In other words, this is 97% awesome, with 3% of concept that simply does not work.  It's odd to me that so many people seem to have focused so squarely on the 3% that they ignored all the rest.  It didn't help, I suppose, that the movie was released at the height of Tom Cruise's first major round of image problems.  Fuck that; he's awesome in this movie.  He's awesome in most movies, and especially so in this one.  He might be a lunatic, and if he is, it doesn't bother me at all.  Maybe it should, but it just doesn't.

This is a great film.

#14 -- The Color Purple  (1985)

A remarkably touching film, this movie has a great cast and is nearly flawless in a visual sense.  It's maybe the closest Spielberg has gotten to making a musical, and if I have a complaint about that, it's that the scene toward the end where they are all walking to church feels a bit too much like a production number has broken out in the midst of a narrative that can't quite support a production number.

It bothers a lot of people that Mr. is redeemed somewhat at the end.  Well, no doubt about it, Mr. is one of the most despicable characters in all of '80s cinema, but I don't feel like his slight redemption -- which is, after all, only a slight redemption -- felt unearned.  It didn't come out of nowhere, and it didn't feel as if his new attitude was going to make any of the other characters forget what a lowdown bastard he'd been for most of his life.

Another complaint: I'm not a huge fan of the score by Quincy Jones.  It isn't bad music, and I can understand why it might have been necessary to bring in someone like Jones who had a bit more experience working with blues and gospel music.  However, I miss the type of stuff that John Williams typically provided, and I wish he could have been involved on the project in some way.  (For the record, I'm not dissing Jones purely because I miss Williams; after all, Jerry Goldsmith subbed in for Williams on Poltergeist, and I've got nothing bad to say about that whatsoever.)

All in all, this is a bit of a classic.  It doesn't get discussed all that frequently when Spielberg movies are being talked about.  It should be.

#13 -- Minority Report  (2002)

I've noticed over the past year or so that the admiration society for Minority Report seems to be growing its numbers a bit.  That's a good thing, but hey, where you folks ten years ago?

The movie had huge expectations behind it: it was a Spielberg sci-fi action movie, it starred the then-unimpeachable Tom Cruise, it was based on the work of the same guy who wrote Blade Runner, it co-starred up-and-comer Colin Farrell.  This thing was money in the bank.

Then it was released, and nobody seemed to actually care.  It did decent business, and got good reviews ... but nobody seemed to actually care about it.  The closest anyone got to caring were the people who complained that it ought to have ended with Tom Cruise in suspended animation.  (These were presumably the same dolts who thought A.I. ought to have ended with David trapped at the bottom of the ocean.)

That seems to finally be starting to change, and I for one am glad that people now realize that Minority Report is a great sci-fi spin on a Hitchcockian wrong-man thriller.  The effects are nearly flawless, the action scenes are brilliant, the cast is top-notch from top to bottom; really, there is very little not to love here.  And if you're one of those people who believes the end of the movie is all taking place in Anderton's head: cut that shit out.  You're wrong, and you're nowhere near as hip as you think you are.

#12 -- The Sugarland Express  (1974)

Remember a little while ago, when I said something to effect of how it's a shame more people don't talk about The Color Purple?

Well, that goes double for The Sugarland Express, which is a terrific movie, and one that deserves to be rescued from the semi-obscurity in which it currently resides.  It feels as if it might be totally forgotten, if not for the fact that it was Spielberg's first movie (the first one intended for theatres, at least).

I can imagine someone watching it and being so annoyed by Goldie Hawn that they gave up on the movie.  The thing is, her character is supposed to be shrill and awful and impulsive and senseless; all the negatives, they're purposeful, and if you aren't feeling that by the end of the movie, then I don't know what movie you've been watching.

So, I can imagine someone asking me, if that's the case, how come the tone of the movie doesn't reflect it a bit more?  How come the majority of the movie feels like a breezy romantic comedy?  Doesn't that seem like a serious problem in tone?

No.  Not at all.  Most of the movie is seen through the eyes of the two lead characters, one of whom (Goldie Hawn) would have seen the events of this movie in that way, right up until the point at the end where things take an irrevocable turn for the worse.  The other character (William Atherton) is a more sensible and serious-minded person, but he's also perfectly willing to go along with his wife, because he loves her and wants to give her what she wants; there are some great scenes that give us his more complicated view of things.

So no, I don't think this movie has tone problems at all.  I think it's a masterpiece of tone and point of view, and it's one of my favorite Spielberg films.

I just wish more people were familiar with it!

#11 -- Catch Me If You Can  (2002)

2002 was a hell of a year for Spielberg.  Not quite the year that 1993 was, and possibly not quite the year that 2005 was, or 1982 either, but pretty damned good, between Minority Report and this flick.

Certainly it's enough to make you wish that Spielberg would work with Leonardo DiCaprio again.  Remember when people hated that guy?  Lol.  Fuck those people; DiCaprio is great, and this is one of his better roles.  Tom Hanks is awesome, too, as is Christopher Walken, and Martin Sheen, and (in a smallish pre-star role) Amy Adams.

I should probably have more to say about this movie.  I don't, currently, but let's not mistake that for anything other than a failing on my part.  This is a great movie.

#10 -- Duel  (1971)

Spielberg's first feature-length film remains one of his most potent.  Of all of his movies, it is maybe the one which is the most patently influenced by Hitchcock.  (Minority Report is the runner-up in that regard).  Well, it's one thing to be influenced by Hitchcock and to make a movie in emulation of him, but it's another thing entirely to make a movie that's actually worthy of Hitchcock.

Duel is worthy of Hitchcock.

It's masterful in nearly every way, from the editing to the stuntwork to the cinematography to the sound design; the screenplay is terrific; the music, though used sparingly, is effective; the acting is great (what little there is).  This would have felt like accomplished work coming from someone who had been the business for two decades; coming from a neophyte like Spielberg, it seems like a minor miracle.

#9 -- Empire of the Sun  (1987)

This movie was more or less dismissed when it was originally released, and looking back on that now, it seems like the culmination of the mildly anti-Spielberg sentiment that swept through the Hollywood establishment (particularly the fine folk at the Oscars) during the '80s.  How did it begin?  Hard to say; maybe it was a response to the behind-the-scenes controversies that happened on the sets of Poltergeist and the Spielberg-produced Twilight Zone: The Movie, or maybe it was just a reaction to the meteoric ascent to worldwide fame.

Or maybe there was no real anti-Spielberg sentiment, and people simply didn't respond to Empire of the Sun (or to The Color Purple, which preceded it).

Who knows?

Either way, as far I'm concerned, Empire of the Sun is little short of a masterpiece.  It's one of Spielberg's two blatant attempts at making a David Lean movie (the other being War Horse), and as far as I'm concerned, he nailed it.

The film has picked up some additional cachet these days thanks to its status as a Christian Bale movie, and sure enough, Bale is terrific in it.  But the real stars are Spielberg and his cinematographer, Allen Daviau; this movie is absolutely gorgeous.

#8 -- Munich  (2005)

Apparently, the politics of this movie bother some people.  Well, either I don't understand them enough to be bothered by them, or I simply don't care about them enough to be bothered by them, or maybe I'm actually on the same page with Spielberg as far as the politics go.

Beats me.

And ultimately, I'm responding to this movie as a movie moreso than as a political message.  That's how it should be, as far as I'm concerned; anyone who turns to the movies and expects meaningful political discourse is someone who is frequently disappointed by the movies they see, I'd imagine.

In any case, Munich is a masterful suspense film, and it's also a masterful character study.  Avner, like so many of Spielberg's protagonists (from Duel all the way to War Horse), is a character who is living in a world that just doesn't quite make sense to him.  Here, it leads him right up to the brink of madness, and you get the feeling that he's not the only person in the world going through some version of the same dilemma: in fact, it seems that most of the world is following right along with him.

It's a pessimistic message, but there's also hope in it: Avner found his way out, so maybe the rest of us can, too.

Some of the camerawork in this movie is nothing short of awesome.  Spielberg has always been an expert at designing shots that are complicated, and while I'd never want to take any credit away from the many fine cinematographers with whom he's collaborated, it's clear that Spielberg is conceiving the majority of these shots.  Thing is, they aren't just brilliant on a technical level, they actually serve to advance the story and themes of the overall movie.  This is another way in which Spielberg is similar to Hitchcock, another master of camerawork who always used the camera not merely for its own sake but to help tell a story.

There's a lot of that going on in Munich, and it's a masterpiece if for no reason other than that one.

#7 -- A.I. Artificial Intelligence  (2001)

I think it's fair to say that this is the most divisive film Spielberg has ever made.  I'm not sure there's even a close second.  Those who love the movie LOVE it, and those who hate it HATE it, and there don't seem to be all that many in the middle.  If there are, they seem to be keeping quiet about it.

I LOVE this movie.  You want to complain about how the movie ought to have ended with David at the bottom of the ocean?  Go right ahead.  But seriously, what the fuck movie were YOU watching?!?  The ending of a story should be a summation and resolution of its themes, and the theme of this particular story involved asking a question: what is the responsibility of a creator to its creations?  Now you tell me, how would that theme have been summed up or resolved by leaving David at the bottom of the ocean?  Or a better question might be this: what theme would that ending have summed up and resolved?

Movies are unlike books in many ways, but they are like books in the sense that their contents must be interpreted.  I'm sure some readers have read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and gotten to the end of it only to be outraged that the escaped live didn't get his comeuppance.  Those readers have been interpreting Mark Twain's story incorrectly, and viewers who get to the end of A.I. and feel the entire sequence set in the far future ought to have been deleted have been interpreting Spielberg's story incorrectly.

There have also been lots of people who complained that Spielberg took a Kubrickian idea and ruined it with Spielbergian sentiment.  These people are apparently unaware that prior to his death, Kubrick had decided to produce the movie ... with Spielberg directing.  Kubrick himself was aware that the idea made more sense as a Spielberg film than as one of his own.

The film Spielberg ended up making is more complicated than that, though: it's the story of Spielbergian character trying to make his way through a Kubrickian world.  He's very consciously playing with ideas about what those two things are, and while that might sound like way too metafictive or self-aware a concept, it's actually a universal concern of the arts: should emotion reign, or should intellect be king?

Here, the question is more along the lines of this: is love real if someone creates it?

It's a good question, and the fact that the movie never actually answers it proves that Spielberg was more than capable of making a Kubrickian movie.

#6 -- Saving Private Ryan  (1998)

The opening scene is stunning.

Let's talk about the rest of the movie, which is just as good, but doesn't get credit for it.  (Sure, the bookend sequences are schmaltzy, and perhaps might ought to have been cut.  Let's ignore that.)  What you've got here is the story of soldiers who are ordered into a senseless situation, to perform a largely symbolic task.  They do so in a professional manner, and not all of them avoid dying painfully.

In other words, it's a metaphor for the kinds of situations soldiers have found themselves in since time immemorial.  Some people take the movie to task for being overly pro-war.  Those people are lunatics; anyone who sees this movie and walks away from it thinking Spielberg is glamorizing war ... well, I'd like to recommend that you next complain about the notoriously pro-heroin movie Trainspotting.

There are other people who see the movie as being overly critical of the armed forces.  Me, I watched it and immediately felt like I needed to buy six beers for every single soldier who has ever lived.  I can't afford it, though, so don't wait on me long if you're at the bar now.

It's the opening scene that gets all the glory, and it deserves a lot of glory ... but the rest of this movie is awfully fine, too.

#5 -- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial  (1982)

One of the best family films ever made, as far as I'm concerned, but let's not sell it short: it's also one of the best fantasy films, one of the best science-fiction films, and maybe one of the best films of any kind at all.

E.T. himself is certainly one of the best practical special effects ever achieved on-screen.  John Williams' score is one of the finest ever composed.  The cast of child actors do some of the best, most natural acting ever seen from children in a movie.

I'm speaking in superlatives because it's difficult not to do so.

I've heard a few people -- all of whom ought to know better -- express the opinion recently that the movie hasn't aged very well.  Honestly, I don't know what that means.  Are they saying that E.T. has no robots punching each other in the crotch, or that there are no sparkly vampires, or that Madea isn't in the movie?  Hasn't aged very well?!?  I watched it again at Halloween last year, and it seemed just as fresh and vital as it ever has.

It is, I must admit, an inescapable fact that as time continues to roll on by, movies from the early era of Spielberg and Lucas are going to get older and older, meaning that fewer and fewer people will be talking about them without asking each other why nobody in those movies has a cellphone.  Well, that's life, I suppose, and movies from that quaint old era have no choice but to become older and more antiquated.

This does not mean they aren't aging well.

It simply means that, like us, they are aging.  Kids will continue to love the movie, though, and so will teenagers and young adults who fall in love with the movies.  When I was a kid thirty years ago, kids were still falling in love with The Wizard of Oz and Snow White, and film nuts were still falling in love with On the Waterfront and Psycho.  They still are, too, and probably always will be.

So don't tell me E.T. hasn't aged well.  YOU haven't aged well, because you persist in thinking you're not aging at all.

As for E.T., it's great now, it was great then, and it will always be great.

#4 -- Jaws  (1975)

Speaking of great, howsabout Jaws?

I suppose you have to admit that the shark effects don't look all that great in a few shots.  I'd say they haven't aged well, but the truth is that they've aged just fine: those particular shots were never very convincing, and never will be.  And really, if you're involved in the story, you might notice that the effects suddenly became a bit dodgy, but you're not likely to care.

In any case, Jaws works because of the people, not because of the shark.  Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw are all about as good in this movie as it's possible for actors in a movie to be.  Early on in his career Spielberg was apparently thought of as being primarily technically-proficient, as opposed to being a good director of actors.  It's a good thing there was no Internet back then, and it's a better thing that I wasn't on it, because I'd've gone nuts every time I saw somebody express that sort of an opinion.

Those few effects aside, everything in this movie works, and works flawlessly.  It's about as close to perfect as movies get, as are the next three movies on this list.

#3 -- Raiders of the Lost Ark  (1981)

There are those who say this movie is too lightweight to be considered a masterpiece.  In theory, I see what they're saying, because this is a movie that has nothing on its mind but entertaining you.  However, saying that a movie which exists only for entertainment's sake is too lightweight to be considered a masterpiece implies that in order to be masterpieces, movies must be serious-minded exercises in philosophy or politics or religion or sociology or some other intellectual and/or spiritual pursuit.

And as far as I'm concerned, that's bullshit.

From my point of view, any art ought to be judged in terms of how well it satisfies its internal goals.  If a movie wants primarily to be a romance, then it ought to be judged in terms of how effectively it engages one's thoughts and feelings about romance. If a movie wants to be an exploration of the tension between religion and politics, then it should be judged on the basis of whether it has anything interesting or useful to say on that topic.  If a movie wants to be an existential exploration of man's place in the universe, then it ought to be judged on whether it does so successfully.  

If a movie wants to be an action/adventure film, then it ought to be judged on how effectively it provides a series of action/adventure setpieces within a context that is real enough to be believable and yet escapist enough to not be exploitative.

Raiders of the Lost Ark did that about as well as any movie in history has ever done it.  And that means it achieved its goals about as well as any romance, political drama, or existentialist fable ever has.  Art should never only be one type of thing.  People who insist that a movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark is somehow less important than a "serious movie" are incorrect.  They are, perhaps, the kind of people who can't enjoy things unless someone whom they perceive to be better and/or more intelligent than they themselves are first gives them permission to do so.

Those are crazy people.

Do not trust them.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the best movies of any kind ever made.

#2 -- Schindler's List  (1993)

Just as some people cannot cope with the notion that a movie made for entertainment's sake cannot also be art, there are some who would have you believe that no entertainment can be derived from movies about unpleasant subjects.

Case in point, Schindler's List.  On more than one occasion, I've heard people express some variation of this sentiment: "it's a great movie, but I never want to see it again."  Or this one: "it's a great movie, but I wouldn't say I enjoyed it."

I understand what's being said here, but I don't agree with the sentiment at all.  Schindler's List is an entertaining movie, in the sense that it tells a compelling story, with interesting characters, and is not boring.  That's almost the definition of entertainment.  So in my mind, you're either entertained by the movie -- which, yes, DOES mean you enjoyed it (safely experiencing painful emotions is, in fact, enjoyment, whether you want to believe it or not) -- or you're not.  This, to me, means that saying Schindler's List -- or some similarly cathartic movie such as United 93 or Requiem for a Dream or Boys Don't Cry or whatever other movies about painful subject matter you'd care to include in this conversation -- is either worthwhile or it isn't.  Like any great movie, if it's worth seeing once, it's worth seeing multiple times, and if it isn't worth seeing multiple times then it can't have been very good.

So don't come at me with that "it's great but I don't ever want to see it again" garbage, because I don't believe in what you're saying, and you're never going to be able to convince me to be any other way.

That said...

Can anybody name me another director in all of film history who could have taken a movie about the Holocaust -- surely one of THE most unpleasant happenings in all of human history -- and made a crowd-pleasing blockbuster out of it?  (I say "crowd-pleasing" in the sense that people, en masse, were emotionally satisfied by it. Let me reiterate: safely-experienced negative emotions are transformed into positive emotions.  So yes, people were pleased by Schindler's List, although I will admit that few think of it in those terms.)

I can name a few potential candidates.  John Ford and Frank Capra might could have pulled it off.   Hitchcock...?  Maybe, but only if he found some sort of suspense/thriller aspect to hang the project upon.  Scorsese...?  If we're talking the Scorsese of 2012, then probably; the Scorsese of 1982, absolutely not.

Kubrick?  Lol.  No way.

Kurosawa?  Beats me; I don't know his movies, sadly.

I think Tarantino is capable of directing a movie in that vein ... but incapable of writing one in that vein.

Nobody else is coming to mind, frankly.

And whether anyone else has ever been capable of crafting such a film, I don't think anyone else ever HAS crafted such a film.  If so, I'm blanking on it.

Schindler's List is a legitimate masterpiece, start to finish, in every aspect of filmmaking.  I suppose I could start listing some of those aspects, but is there a point to doing so?  

Not really.  Someday I'll have more to say about this powerhouse of a film, but for today, I think I've said what I set out to say.

#1 -- Close Encounters of the Third Kind  (1977)

Here's the thing: I was strongly tempted to put Schindler's List at #1, but when I sat down to write this I found that I just couldn't do it.  The rational side of my brain insists that it's his best film (although there is a nagging voice in the back of my head that whispers that his best film is actually Raiders of the Lost Ark), but my heart tells me that it's Close Encounters.

As I typically do, I'm going to listen to my heart.

I'm 37 as I write this, and I was 3 when the movie came out.  When I first saw it, I would have been ... well, I first saw it on television, and I'd guess that was '79 or '80.  So for all intents and purposes, I have grown up with the movie, and I think it has informed who I am to a large degree.  Roy Neary is a man who seeks to define his life based on something he saw that filled him with awe.

In a sense, so am I, and that thing I saw which filled me with awe was The Movies.  One of the most important of them, to my childhood and ever since, was Close Encounters, so I dunno, maybe a little to close to the movie and ought to have listened to my head a bit more and placed it at #2 instead of #1.  Or even at #3.

But I can't do it.  You want it there, you make your own list ad put it wherever you want to put it.  Me, I'm putting it at #1, because there aren't many things in life that have affected me like sitting in front on that television in 1979 or 1980 or whenever it was, a foot away from that gigantic mothership as it came around Devil's Tower and started singing its bizarre song.  But it wasn't just that; it was the whole movie that held me, rapt with attention.  It was the scenes of a man sculpting a mountain out of mashed potatoes, it was the scenes of people all pointing into the sky at the same time, it was the scenes of Richard Dreyfuss flinging stolen chickenwire into his kitchen.  It was Francois Truffaut's accent; it was Bob Balaban's glasses; it was the kid whopping Roy on the ass with a ping-pong paddle; it was the Budweiser commercial playing in the background on the television.  It was the mailboxes doing the jitterbug, and it was Barry standing in that doorway while alien light poured through it.  It was the John Williams music.  It was "He says the sun came out last night; he says it sang to him."  It was "Toby!  You are close to death!"

It was the whole shebang. So many moments from that movie are literally written into the fabric of my personality that there's just no way I can contemplate putting anything else at the top of this list, and in fact, amongst ALL movies, Close Encounters is second only to The Wizard of Oz on my list of favorites.

And on some days, it's first.


Well, that's my list.  Odds are you disagree with some of it, possibly vehemently.  Feel free to tell me all about it in the comments.


  1. Good point re: authorship of Poltergeist, and I could NOT agree with you more about A.I. I have gotten into it with so many people on that film over the years. (Now I'll just send them here...)

    And is Crystal Skull the most weirdly-reviled film ever made? (Outside of John Carter?) I just do not understand people's extreme distaste for that one. (JC, either, but we've discussed that before) Sure it's not great. Whomever suggested the Indy films diminish in quality from 1st to 4th is probably right, but I still really enjoy the 3rd and 4th ones. (Tho I only LOVE the first 2.)

    One of these days I might grab all of the Young Indy Chronicles, a show I should have loved, on paper, but didn't enjoy at all, when it was on the air, and go through all of them. (I'll save that for some summer when the missus and I either aren't getting along or getting along SO well she won't even mind...)

    Close Encounters, ET, Jaws... what more can I say? I agree.

    I'm not a particular fan of the rest of Saving Private Ryan. Like anyone else, I'm amazed at the opening scene. I've probably watched that a million times. But I'm just not into the rest of it. I think it's the amount of familiar faces. Something that didn't bother me in The Thin Red Line, for some reason, but I just never fullly-bought Ed Burns, Streisand's kid, and Ted Dansen as soldiers. They all did a fine job, and it's (perhaps-obviously) a technically-brilliant film, but after the opening sequence, I just lose interest/ can't connect/ get very critical. Hanks and Sizemore deliver great performances, though. One of these days I'll probably watch it again and wonder what the hell I was thinking and love it, but for the moment, it remains the Spielberg film everyone seems to love but me. (The inverse to A.I.)

    You know, looking over this list, I've STILL never seen Sugarland Express. Or Color Purple, Amistad, or Tintin, for that matter. I'm slacking - got some homework to do. So, since I can't comment on those, I think my personal top 10 would look like this:

    10. ET
    9. Munich
    8. Schindler's List

    (quick digression since you brought up Kubrick for that part. One of my favorite Kubrick anecdotes, as relayed by Michael Herr in a Vanity Fair piece he wrote after Kubrick's death: I guess he sent Herr this massively-footnoted 'The destruction of the European Jew' tome about the Holocaust and kept calling him, bugging him to see if he'd read it, sometimes in the middle of the night, but every night for weeks and weeks. Finally, Herr said, 'Look, I'm sorry, Stanley, but I just don't want to read any book called 'the destruction of the European Jew,' it's too much, it's just too much.' Stanley responded, 'No... what you don't want to read is the destruction of the European Jew part TWO.' Tough joke to work into conversation, but that has always made me laugh. And I find it very revealing about Kubrick. Anyway.)

    7. Duel
    6. Poltergeist
    5. A.I.
    4. Close Encounters
    3. Temple of Doom
    2. Jaws
    1. Raiders

    Keep 'em coming! I'm amazed at what I find on this blog when I start digging.

  2. The thought of Stanley Kubrick cracking a joke makes me smile. I'm glad every filmmaker isn't like him, but dammit, that guy was a treasure.

    Hard for me to argue with your top ten list; I don't think I've ever seen anyone rank "Temple of Doom" that highly, but it's a terrific romp of a movie, and it deserves more praise than it receives, so good on ya.

    I take your point about "Saving Private Ryan." Some of the acting does seem a bit on the flat side, but for me, the virtues so far outstrip the negatives that they are meaningless comparatively.

    God, how I envy a Spielberg fan who has never seen "The Sugarland Express" before! I didn't see it until I was probably 25 or so, and even then it blew me away. The only downside is that you MIGHT despise Goldie Hawn's acting; it's good acting, but purposely annoying, and if it strikes you the wrong way, it'll hurt the movie. Otherwise, though, it's glorious stuff.

  3. I might differ with the way I'd position the entries on my own list, but I completely agree with the choice for number one. CE3K isn't just my favorite Spielberg flick; it's my favorite film, period. Much like you, it reached deep inside me and forever altered the way I looked at...everything.

    I was 11 when it was released. I was still riding the high from seeing Star Wars some months earlier when I went to see CE3K...and my mind was blown even more, and in a completely different way. I was awestruck as I left the theater that cold Ohio night, and I remember babbling to my mom when she picked me up. I tried to articulate what I'd seen, but couldn't. Not really. Even today I can't fully explain at what depths this movie touched me.

    The double punch of Star Wars and CE3K within a year's span of time when I was 11 truly opened up my imagination. I'd been a fan of science fiction, but these two movies cemented my love for the genre. I was already a voracious reader, but these movies sent me on a hunt for more material that could push my horizons out even further. In Search Of... was in the first few seasons of its run already, and CE3K galvanized me into watching ISO fanatically. And of course there was Starlog. Then...Carl Sagan's Cosmos hit the airwaves in 1980, and gave me context for CE3K, expanding my mind to look out upon the vast ocean of the universe and know, intellectually, that the possibilities were endless, just as CE3K had expanded my heart into knowing it on an emotional level a couple years before.

    One aside I always mention when CE3K comes up: the second scene in the movie, the air traffic control scene, is, in my opinion, the single best film scene I've ever watched. For the entire time it lasts, it becomes real for me. All this despite it breaking some big rules of film narrative: none of the characters ever appear in any other scene; and it really doesn't advance the narrative. Think about it; that scene could be taken out of the movie and not alter a single thing in the story. But it advances the story in an emotional, intuitive way; remove it, and the film is diminished. Pure movie magic.

    1. Jeff, I couldn't agree more about that scene in the air traffic control room. Genius-flavored icing on top of a genius-flavored cake.

      I dearly hope the movie gets rereleased someday; it's one of my two or three favorite movies, and I've never seen it in a theatre!

    2. Years later, and now I have seen it in a theatre.

      Every bit as great as you'd expect.

  4. It is safe (and fair) to say I'm unreasonable about Temple of Doom. I still love every frame of that film and quote it constantly. I was living in Germany when it came out stateside and had to wait an agonizing 6 months before it showed up in the theater at Rhein Main Air Force Base. I had every bit of tie-in material that was available for it, including a magazine that came out shortly after and had the plot for "Indy 3 and the Cave of Death." I've always wondered what happened with that. It had pictures, but nothing from the production (obviously, since there was no production) but a great deal of text and supplemental material. Was it just a rumor rushed out as a "sneak preview" to separate a nerd like me from his allowance money? An actual project that was never made?

    Look forward to Sugarland Express. I'll keep you posted.

  5. For those who might be interested:

    I'll give it a few more films from the 'berg before I revise and update this list, but having seen "Lincoln," my initial judgment would place it just ahead of "Amistad" and just behind "1941." It's a good movie, with a couple of legitimately great performances, but within the broad scope of Spielberg's canon, I don't it to be terribly distinguished.

  6. I disagree with Jaws and E.T. they belong at numbers 1 and 2. I also disagree with the placing of Hook and The Termimal at such a low position. I have seen The Terminal 6 times and it keeps getting better. I am glad that people are starting to enjoy it more and it has created a cult following. You need to watch it again, as you will enjoy it more with every viewing. I agree with you on Jurassic Park though, it is overrated and Crystal Skull and Temple of doom are definitley underrated. Good list though! PS: Spielberg didn't hire Quincey Jones over John Williams to write the music for The Color Purple, it was the other way around! The story goes that Quincey had already been hired by the producers and he suggested to them that Steven Spielberg would be a good director for the project. Quincey also encouraged them to let him co-produce the film. This is probably the only situation where he came into someone elses project, rather than conceiving it himself. Sadly very few know the story though.

    1. That makes sense about Quincy Jones. I like the music, so it's not like a Williams-free Spielberg is automatically garbage. Definitely not.

      I couldn't argue much with a best-of-the-'berg list that had Jaws and E.T. at #1 and #2. His best movies are basically as good as movies get, and there's several I'd put in that category.

      I DEFINITELY need to watch "The Terminal" again. I was just thinking that the other day, oddly enough. In fact, I'm waaaaay past due for a run through his entire filmography. Somebody seriously needs to give me more hours in the day!

      Thanks for reading!

  7. I'm quite pleased you placed DUEL in the top ten. Think about it...Spielberg was only a kid when he did it , and as a made for TV movie, I would think the budget was not much to work with. And the finished product was amazing...a very exciting, tense and entertaining couple of hours, the quality of which had rarely been seen on television. I never get tired of watching it!

    1. Why would you? It's awesome!

      Glad to hear from a fellow fan!

  8. Well, folks, I've seen "Bridge of Spies" and can give you a brief review of it.

    I liked it a lot. I think I stopped just short of loving it, but only just. My gut-reaction ranking would probably put it between "Jurassic Park" and "1941," but I really need to watch everything again and create a new version of this post.

    I definitely liked it more than I liked either "Lincoln" or "Tintin." I liked it a bit less than I liked "War Horse," though, so among recent Spielberg films I'd say it's close to the top but not at it.

    Tom Hanks -- here's a shocker... -- is fantastic. It's isn't a hugely showy role, so I doubt he's going to win any awards; he may not even get nominated. But this is the sort of acting performance that can only be delivered by a great actor who is also a big-time movie star.

    I was also very impressed by Mark Rylance, who will be playing the titular Big Friendly Giant in Spielberg's next movie, "The BFG." Unless I am badly mistaken, he's going to own America after that movie comes out. Here's hoping!

    One element about the film which may intrigue you is whether it suffers from not having John Williams composing the score. In my opinion, that's an affirmative. I like Thomas Newman fairly well (his first James Bond score was better than I expected it to be), and his work here is competent. However, that little kiss of inspiration that Williams often brings to Spielberg films is absent. The movie soldiers on without it; it's not like it ruins the proceedings or anything. You just sense that maybe some extra element is missing. And, sure enough, it is.

    But overall, it's a very good movie. I hope Spielberg will step the pace up a bit, because we could use one like this every year or two.

  9. Good write up on "Bridge of Spies" and Spielberg in general. How do you rate "2001" versus "Close Encounters", tough call right? Also wondering, do you have any interest in reviewing the films of Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, or Terence Malick by any chance?

    1. I would give "Close Encounters" the nod over "2001," but not by much; they'd both be in my top ten, and maybe in my top five.

      I'm not a fan of Lynch (though I might yet turn into one), but I like all the other names on your list. I'm unlikely to write about them around here any time soon, though; they've got even less to do with Stephen King than Steven Spielberg has!

      Speaking of Nolan, by the way, I'm reminded that I still need to see "Insomnia" (I know, I know; I'll get to it). Also, a good question now becomes: "2001" vs. "Interstellar"?

    2. Very good question as I am a fan of "Interstellar". I think though if push comes to shove, I'll still have to pick "2001" for it's timeliness and overall brilliance.. Tough though because "Interstellar" is great. My guess is you would pick "2001" also?

      Tarantino has "The Hatelful 8" coming out in a couple of months at 182 mins, wow looks like an epic. Can't wait, Tarantino is brilliant. I would have to say you are a fan of Tarantino when reviewing your blog here, am I correct?

      Are you a particular fan of Wes Anderson's films as he seems to be very divisive amongst the film community? He sure is different but very original and distinctive.

      Is Nolan one of your favorites? "Insomnia" is a good film as I enjoyed it.

      Malick seems to channel Kubrick to a degree as lot of scenes in "The Tree of Life" reminded me of "2001". He is poetic and I really enjoyed "The Thin Red Line" and "Days of Heaven". Still wanna check out "Badlands" though.

      P.T. Anderson is another filmmaker I like checking out. Have you seen "Inherent Vice"?

      I'm looking forward to your Spielberg revision and where you will rank "Bridge of Spies" after a few viewings.

    3. I'd still go with "2001," also, because there's still never been another movie quite like it. But "Interstellar" isn't far behind. Weird thing is, I didn't love it the first time I saw it. I got hung up on a certain plot point: basically, I was unconvinced that black holes would behave in the way the one toward the end behaves, and the movie didn't quite gel for me as a result. But I watched it a second time the next night and it made more sense to me, and with that "problem" solved, I flat-out loved the movie.

      Tarantino -- I'm a big fan. Not so much of the man himself; he seems like a colossal prick. But he has yet to make a movie as a director that I don't love. Even "Death Proof" -- don't understand the hate that one gets from some folks. My big three directors are Spielberg, Hitchcock, and Kubrick; everyone else is way behind, but Tarantino might be fourth.

      Wes Anderson -- I do like him quite a bit, yes. He sort of lost me for a while there, though; I didn't like "Moonrise Kingdom" at all. In fact, I kind of hated it. So much so that, even though I work at a theatre and see movies for free (and, better than that, by myself in the middle of the night), I just skipped "The Grand Budapest Hotel" altogether. I did later watch it at home, though, and loved it. My favorite of his is probably "The Life Aquatic."

      Nolan -- I've yet to dislike a movie of his, although I've not seen "Insomnia." Also, I was only so-so on "Memento," but I feel like I should see it a second time. He's the real deal, no doubt about it. I'm going to be excited about literally anything he does next.

      Malick -- I like him, but I didn't care for "The Tree of Life" at all and have lost a bit of my interest in him since. Which is very unfair, but what can I say? I'm sure I owe "The Tree of Life" a second look.

      P.T. Anderson -- Not only have I not seen "Inherent Vice," I also still haven't seen "The Master." I have no idea why in either case, except that they did not play at my theatre, and I just haven't made time for them since. I'm a huge fan of "Boogie Nights," though; not AS big a fan of "There Will Be Blood," but it was certainly great.

    4. Interesting. Ditto on Tarantino as I'm a huge fan and I agree he does seem like a prick.

      Same goes for Nolan(other than the prick part), I've liked everything he has released and had to watch "Memento" a second time to appreciate. That movie hurt my brain the first time around as I did not know what to expect. Ha!

      Curious does Scorsese rank far behind your big 3?

      I also agree on Malick, I prefer "Days of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line" over anything else he has done which includes "The Tree of Life".

      I forgot to mention Michael Mann. I really dig most of his films(or at least the ones I have seen) and I feel he is a great action director. Have you seen Heat or Collateral?

      "Inherent Vice" and "The Master" are both films in a similar vein as "There Will Be Blood" rather than "Boogie Nights" or "Magnolia", at the very least in tone and pacing. Just a heads up on that in case you were wondering.

    5. Scorsese would probably come in at . . . I'm going to say #6. Behind Tarantino and the Coens. Although it feels like I've forgotten somebody, somehow. Yes! I have! Let me amend all of this. John Carpenter is my #4, so shift everyone else down a spot.

      I do like Michael Mann. both "Heat" and "Collateral" are GREAT movies. I was not a big fan of "The Insider," though, and he's made a few I haven't seen at all (such as "Blackhat," which got atrocious reviews).

      What's your take on the Coens? For me, they are fascinating even when they make a misfire. I wasn't all that impressed by either "A Serious Man" or "Inside Llewyn Davis," for example; but in those cases, I didn't hold it against them, whereas I kind of did with, for example, Malick and "The Tree of Life." Not sure why any of that would be true, but there you have it.

      A recent film that deeply impressed me: "Sicario." It's directed by Dennis Villeneuve, who also made the deeply-impressive "Prisoners." Here's a guy to watch out for! I haven't seen the movie he made between those two, "Enemy," but I want to.

    6. Yes John Carpenter and I notice you have a blog on him too. Will be checking that out. I haven't seen all his films but love the ones I have seen. I am a horror fan and it's hard to come by a good horror film these days, "The Conjuring" excepted.

      As for Michael Mann, would love to see "Manhunter", the precursor to "The Silence of the Lambs" . I did see "Blackhat" and thought it was a good piece of entertainment(though not his best film by a large margin). I don't think it deserved the negative reviews it got so I guess I can say it's underrated.

      I like the Coens more and more as time goes by. In other words certain films I wasn't crazy about the first time around, turned out better for me on repeated viewings. I really like "Blood Simple" and "Fargo" . Warmed up to "Miller's Crossing" and "Barton Fink". "Raising Arizona" is a classic too. "Son is that a panty on your head"? I have yet to see "A Serious Man" or "Inside Llewyn Davis". Are those two films more along the lines of say "True Grit" or their more quirky stuff such as "Burn After Reading"?
      With regards to you cutting slack on the Coens rather than Malick, maybe it's because the Coens have many more films and can afford a misfire here and there unlike Malick? Just a wild guess but figured it was apt. "The Tree of Life" looked more like a documentary photo shoot(few shots taken right from "2001") and the narrative got lost in the mix. I got the meaning behind it all from reading about the film rather than really seeing it when watching it thus lacking cohesion, if that makes any sense?

      You know it's funny you mentioned Dennis Villeneuve. I just picked up on and first heard about him thru another blogger last week and he stated to watch out for him too praising all 3 of the films you mentioned. So with that said I think it's safe to say you will watch "Enemy" soon? I will be checking those 3 films out for sure now getting 2 positives in a row. Thanks for the tip.

      Aronofsky is a good one to check out for too. "The Black Swan" and "The Fountain" are excellent. Have you seen "Noah"? That didn't have the best reviews and wondering if worth my time or not.

    7. I thought "Noah" was okay. It's not great; I'm not even sure I'd call it good. But it IS interesting, so it's worth seeing just from that standpoint. It ain't no "The Fountain," though, that's for sure; I love that movie.

      I would like to see "Enemy" -- as well as "Incendies," another Villeneuve movie -- at some point. I don't think it's going to be anytime soon, though; my dance-card is full.

    8. I take that back, I have seen one Villeneuve movie "Prisoners" and yes I remember it being deeply-impressive as you mentioned. I'm excited to check out his other films at some point. Check out whenever you get time . I think you may find it interesting esp the top lists and directors tabs.

      One other filmmaker I meant to ask you about is what is your take on Ridley Scott? I read in some circles that he is the British equivalent to Spielberg. I don't agree with that at all, but I do love Alien...

    9. I will check that site out.

      I like Ridley Scott, but I've only ever loved him twice: "Alien" and "Blade Runner." "The Martian" was very good, and I am also a fan of "Prometheus" (warts and all). I've never seen a movie of his that I thought was bad; but some -- "Gladiator," for example -- just kind of leave me cold.

    10. I agree with "Gladiator", I was underwhelmed after seeing it the first time due to all the hype. I much prefer "Braveheart" that came out in the same time period. Anyway thanks for sharing and your time especially since you mentioned your dance-card being full at the moment. It's cool to share opinions and views of directors and films in general with others. Great blog you have here and regarding Stephen King, big fan here and love "Storm of the Century" among many others.

    11. I've always got time to chat with commenters, so come back any time! I'm a big fan of "Storm of the Century," too, by the way; it's as good as many of his novels, which is saying something.

    12. Thank you sir! We've covered a lot of ground in a short time but no worries, I'm sure I'll think of something sooner or later. ;) - And yes I completely agree that is saying something because usually the novels win over the films. I'll also make an exception to "The Shining", one of my all time favorites and Kubrick is a genius!

    13. I hope to produce a worst-to-best post about Kubrick at some point in the not-too-distant future; I've been (slowly) rewatching all of his movies, so a post is the logical result. I've also got a long-range goal of doing a complete exploration of his movies, one at a time; I think understanding Kubrick's work is essential to understanding and appreciating "The Shining," so it will be my full-court-press attempt to put forth my thoughts on that movie by way of putting forth thoughts on ALL his movies.

      That's a ways in the future, though, because it will be a very intensive process. I'm already looking forward to doing it, though.

  10. Great to hear! Will be very interested in checking that out when the time comes.

  11. Hey there Bryant. Happy New Year! Have you screened "The Hateful Eight" since I was curious as to what your take on that film is? Is it "Django Unchained" part 2 or more like his earlier work?

    1. I watched it a few nights ago. I loved it. I think I'd say it's better than "Django Unchained," but I only saw that one once, so I'm not sure.

      It's VERY talky. You could easily turn it into a stage play. A lot of people will be put off by that. But it's a 2:47:00 movie that felt like about ninety minutes to me, so clearly he did something right.

    2. Sounds great! Only Tarantino could get away with that, ha! Well besides Hawks. Meaning he writes such great dialogue which makes the film pass by quickly via pulling you into his world. Awesome. I look forward to seeing it. Thanks Bryant.

    3. You bet! Let me know what you think.

  12. I sure will. I will probably wait until it comes out on Blu Ray simply because I have a big screen at home(60 inch) and I appreciate subtitles especially dialogue heavy films. I'm hearing impaired.

    1. Understandable!

      If the theatre closest to you doesn't have closed-captioning devices, hound them about it them until they get them.

  13. Thanks Bryant. I didn't realize and I sure will check into it. :)

  14. Hey Bryant. Just to let you know, the AMC closest to me has closed captioning devices so that's good news. For some reason, the theory of closed captioning never crossed my mind at a movie theatre, but sure glad I mentioned it. Curious to see what these devices actually are. Will be checking it out soon.

    On another note I wanted to ask you what your take is on Brian De Palma? Films such as Blow Up, Carrie, Carlito's Way and many others? Also do you like any of David Cronenberg's body horror films? I have only seen two Cronenberg films "The Fly" and "A History of Violence". There was one body horror film, can't remember which one but it was too bizzare and couldn't get thru it on first viewing.

    De Palma, I haven't seen all his films either but I have seen more and do love some of them.

    1. I like a few DePalma movies: "Carrie," "The Fury," "The Untouchables," "Carlito's Way." I'm not very knowledgeable beyond that, but I didn't think much of "Scarface" or "Snake Eyes" and flat-out hated "Mission to Mars." I should probably give him a fairer shake one of these days.

      Cronenberg: I've seen none of his major early films, including (if you can believe this) "The Fly." I loved "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises." I need to make time for him one of these days.

      If the theatre near you has what we have, it's a closed-captioning device that you sit inside your seat's cup-holder. It comes up to roughly eye level and can be moved around depending on where you want it. So you're looking back and forth from screen to screen, but that's probably not much different than reading burned-in subtitles.

  15. Interesting reply on De Palma, I watched "Body Double" the other night and couldn't believe the riffing on Hitchcock as it was so blatantly obvious. I think you will like "The Fly".

    I checked out your John Carpenter list, I need to see more of his films since you rank him pretty high as your #4 director. Is he retired or just on hiatus. Hopefully he comes back.

    Thanks again for letting me know about the closed-captioning device. I appreciate it, could do wonders for me in the theatre since I don't have the luxury of rewinding something I missed. I usually do ok without at the theatre but with dialogue heavy films, it could be quite resourceful.

    1. As far as I can tell, Carpenter is retired from filmmaking. He occasionally mentions getting a new movie going, but he seems more interested in watching basketball and playing video games. Literally. Good for him, I say! He's earned a happy retirement.

    2. And Cronenberg beat him to the punch with Videodrome, maybe a remake is in the works. haha!

  16. Hey Bryant! I wanted to ask you, how do you rate Spielberg's latest film "Bridge of Spies"? I read your short review on that when it was first released but I think you mentioned you would repeat viewings before making sound judgement on the film and where it ranks in your Spielberg listing. Seeing mixed reviews and several comparing it to "Lincoln". The Coens "Hail Caesar" comes out this Friday and interested to hear your thoughts on that one too. Nice write up on "Cujo" by the way.

    1. I've still only seen "Bridge of Spies" once. I thought it was very good; maybe a hair short of great, but still well worth seeing.

  17. Sounds good, I'll be picking it up on Blu Ray. I noticed you have "The Terminal" pretty low on your list here. I actually love that movie. Have you rewatched it since this listing? Where do you place "Bridge of Spies" on this list? Also you mentioned rewatching all of Kubrick's films lately, What's your thoughts on "Barry Lyndon"? I just watched that film again last week and was mesmerized by it. Love that movie but then again I love just about all of Kubrick's films meaning I would be hard pressed to find one that I didn't at least like.

    1. I've only ever seen "The Terminal" once, actually; I'm so far overdue for a rewatch on that that it's silly.

      My Kubrick rewatch stalled out, actually, so I didn't get to "Barry Lyndon." I need to resume that. I love the movie, although I didn't think much of it the first time.

      "Bridge of Spies" would probably end up somewhere in the middle of the pack. I don't think it's A+ Spielberg, but it's A- or B+ at worst, and that's pretty dang good. Could have used a John Williams score; Newman's music didn't do much for me.

  18. "Bridge of Spies", missing John Williams, I agree, I noticed that too. But I loved the movie as a whole on 1st viewing last night and place it in the upper echelon of Spielberg's work. Will watch it again this weekend.

    As for Kubrick, I expected not to like "Barry Lyndon" as much as I did on 1st viewing but it captivated me. What an epic masterpiece imo, those shots are stunning and the story gripped me.

    Maybe "The Terminal" will grow some love on ya the next time you watch it. ha!

    Any chance you catch "Hail Caesar" last night?

    1. I did. Well, two nights ago, but same difference. I didn't love it. However, I enjoyed it well enough, and it's already growing in stature in my mind.

      "Bridge of Spies" came out on Blu-ray this week, didn't it? I'll be making a trip to the store later, I believe.

  19. Yes "Bridge of Spies" came out this week. I picked it up last night not long before store closing with just 2 left on the shelf. The guy at the register said the Blu-Ray is selling like hotcakes. I said it should, after all it's Spielberg with a grin.

  20. I ended up watching "Bridge of Spies" twice more so I guess I have fallen in love with this film.

    Are you familiar with Steven Soderbergh's work? Interesting filmmaker who does much of the editing and even cinematography along with screenplay collaboration and producing. "Traffic" is a masterpiece and I love several of his films. Looks like he retired for the time being due to being tired of fighting the Hollywood tight suits. He is currently filming "The Knick", HBO series in it's 2nd season. Hope he returns to feature filmmaking in the not so distant future. Just curious as to what your take on him is if any?

    1. I like Soderbergh, but I haven't seen all of his movies, and I've missed most of the recent ones.

  21. Most everybody was expecting Sly to win for CREED, but Mark Rylance took it for BRIDGE OF SPIES. In an earlier blog, you commented favorably on his performance, and predicted big things ahead for him... GOOD CALL!!

    1. I was happy to see him pick up that award. I'm looking forward to seeing him in "The BFG" next.

  22. Howdy Bryant,

    I've been wanting to ask you what you thought of "Hail Caesar" considering you have already seen it at the theater? I have avoided it due to the bad reviews on the film for the most part.

    1. I didn't care for it, to be honest. It's okay; some of it is very funny, and the acting is great. But it felt to me like the Coens were really having to strain for effect, and not getting where they were trying to go more often than not.

      Worth seeing for a Coens fan, but maybe with lowered expectations.

  23. As I expected, not a big Coens fan here so will probably pass. Thanks for the review. I forgot to ask what you thought of "The Martian" or "The Revenant"? Are these two films as good as they say they are in your opinion?

  24. So I take it you haven't seen "The Martian" or "The Revenant" ?

    By the way I caught an article on Spielberg's new upcoming film "The BFG", 1ST early screening from the Cannes Festival. Very positive review and looking forward to this one. Check it out.

    1. Sorry for the late reply -- work has not been conducive to replying to emails and whatnot this week.

      I saw "The Martian" and loved it. I skipped "The Revenant" on account of having been intensely annoyed by "Birdman." I kinda feel bad for not having seen it, though.

      I've seen both positive and negative reviews for "The BFG," as well as indifferent ones. It's a Spielberg movie, so I'm definitely looking forward to it. For the John Williams score if nothing else!

  25. Oh no worries, I completely understand.

    I too just saw "The Martian" and loved it as well. I never saw "Birdman" because it never appealed to me. Ya know many people compare it to "Rope" in how it was filmed such as a continuous take. The director Alejandro sure seems full of himself when reading an interview saying he hates that his film "Birdman" is being compared to "Rope" because he thinks "Rope" is a bad movie. Are you kidding me? First of all I would be happy for someone to compare me to Hitchcock and I just can't imagine anyone disliking "Rope". Ok it may not be Hitch's best film but I just love that movie and can watch it anytime. But more to the point, it shows the arrogance of Alejandro perhaps and that is why I have avoided seeing "Birdman" and "The Revenant". Though "The Revenant" sounds like the more interesting film based on storyline.

    I have seen 1 negative and a couple of indifferent ones but Cannes hasn't let me down in recent years so I have faith in them at this point. Bring on Spielberg and "The BFG". He is on a toll as of late being that I thought "Bridge of Spies" was fantastic and one of Spielberg's top tier. As fans it appears we have a lot to look forward to as Spielberg is wasting no time now that his kids have grown up and diving straight into his last chapter in filmmaking. Exciting times to be a Spielberg fan indeed. I think he's still got it. Don't work too hard Bryant. Just curious and if you don't mind sharing, how does one avoid watching a movie at a theater who works there to oversee any issues throughout its playing time? Perhaps reading a book or playing on a smart phone until someone shouts out "malfunction" ? ha

  26. Just curious are you a fan of Tim Burton?

  27. Wow, here I have been mourning a lack of updates on your blog and I stumble across such a fun discussion of directors hiding deep within your site! I have to say that I agree with virtually everything you guys are saying here although I do have to admit that Bridge of Spies really didn't do much for me, not sure why though as it is a very well-made movie across the board. I'm wondering if either of you guys have an opinion on my favorite two American directors that you've yet to discuss: Orson Welles and Woody Allen. Between them they have the auteur style of movie-making covered from the 40s up through present day. Also are you aware of the They Shoot Pictures Top 1,000 movies site? I believe Shawshank and The Shining are the only King movies to crack the top 1000.

    1. I know very little about Welles. The only film of his I've seen is "Citizen Kane." Great movie, but I don't revere it; I'm going to stop just short of calling it overrated, but if I'm being honest, I kind of do believe it's a bit overrated. Or maybe I just don't have the proper context for it.

      As for Allen, I've seen a good number of his movies, but by no means have I seen all of them. Favorite? Probably "Annie Hall," although "Manhattan" might give it a run for its money.

      Never heard of that site, no. A top one-thousand would be a tough list to create, so I'm give 'em kudos for doing it.

  28. Scratch that, Carrie is also on the list at #500. Shawshank is #381 and The Shining is #104. Stand By Me is also listed in the 1,001-2000 list.

    1. Among King-based movies, I'd say the only other ones that would even merit consideration would be "The Green Mile" and "Misery."

      I'm a little surprised "Shawshank" is that low.

  29. The list is an attempt to compile every "top films ever" list created by film critics from throughout the history of film. Each year it gets updated as more old lists are discovered and new lists are created. I think the most weight is given to the Sight and Sound lists which get made every ten years. Spielberg is well represented with 7 on the list - Jaws ranking the highest at #92.

    Stand By Me is my favorite King film but I understand why it isn't ranked and I definitely agree that Green Mile and Misery are the only other two worthy of consideration - even if I do personally love Creepshow top 1,000 film it is not.

  30. I watched "The BFG" a few days ago, and I regretfully inform you that I didn't love it. If I were ranking the films again based on my gut, I feel like this one would come in at very near the bottom of the heap, either one spot ahead of or behind "Hook."

    I think it's a better movie than "Hook" in many ways, but "Hook" does catch fire and ascend into excellence in a few places, whereas that only happens with "The BFG" in one sequence. Conversely, "The BFG" never descends into the depths like "Hook" does (although it gets close a couple of times).

    All in all, this feels like Spielberg at his most disengaged. There are simply no hallmarks of the magic he tends to bring to his movies. I had a similar problem with "Lincoln," but "Lincoln" had great performances and dialogue to balance that out a bit; this has a couple of strong performances and some Roald Dahl-ian wit, but it isn't enough.

    All in all, it's Spielberg's drabbest film visually since his '70s television work. A few sequences shine, but in many respects, this is a movie that I would not have guessed Spielberg directed if I had not already known it.

    Very disappointing. Not awful, and maybe not even bad on the whole; but certainly disappointing, in my opinion.

  31. Thanks for your review on "The BFG", and I see your opinion is shared by many who were anxious to see it from the beginning, yourself included. That's a bummer. Maybe Spielberg needs to slow it down a bit as he seems to be rushed as of late showing several projects on his list not including his productions of any kind. Although he has done 2 movies a year from time to time dating back to '93 with some consistency. In those instances, I have usually favored one over the other by a large margin, for example, "Schindler's List" and "Munich" over their counterparts that same year. You're right that is a pretty low ranking. "Radio Player One" is next I believe.

    1. My thing with "The BFG" is that there is no realism to it. Spielberg built his career on being a guy who could make his audiences believe in all sorts of things: shark attacks, resurrected dinosaurs, aliens who like Reese's Pieces, etc. He did that by applying brilliantly realistic filmmaking techniques to his work, and he had to work within the realms of what he could achieve with the effects at his disposal to do so.

      With "The BFG," this may as well be an animated movie, and it suffers from the same problem that (in my eyes) plagued "Tintin": with no restrictions on what he can do with the effects, Spielberg's storytelling becomes a bit formless and drab.

      I think I'm trying to say is that a Spielberg who doesn't have to spend a considerable amount of energy on designing shots that can be physically accomplished with a camera and actual lights is a Spielberg who isn't what I think of as Spielberg. I enjoyed parts of "The BFG" but I also found it to be mostly lifeless.

      The 3D adds nothing, by the way, except a layer of murkiness to the image that makes it more unappealing than it already was.

      I hope "Ready Player One" is great, but the mediocrity of "The BFG" has thrown a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm for it.

  32. Wouldn't the Goonies be worth putting on this list, seeing how Spielberg came up with the story, executively produced it, and according to Sean Astin, served as a "co director" of the film. I feel like it's a very similar background to Poltergeist. If it was on your list, where would you rank it?
    P.s. Love your rankings, much more thought put into them then most web rankings, and not overly negative on the lower films.

    1. I briefly considered putting "The Goonies" on the list. It's definitely got a Spielberg-y feel to it.

      I don't know that there's enough evidence of Spielberg directing for me to actually consider it, but I haven't given it much thought. I might change my mind eventually.

      My first thought of where I'd rank it is between "Jurassic Park" and "1941." But this list needs redoing pretty badly; I think I'd move "Jurassic Park" up considerably, if nothing else.

      Thanks for the input! I will do a Truffle Shuffle in your honor.

    2. Just want to put it out there that I am related through marriage to Chunk. :)

    3. I either hope you HAVE asked him to do the Truffle Shuffle or that you HAVE NOT. And I'm honestly not sure which.

    4. Found an interesting quote from Sean Astin's autobiography which may help support the idea that The Goonies could be considered "authored" by Spielberg as you said about Poltergeist or at least a collaborative effort between him and Richard Donnor (See link below.) Another quote I found was from a friend of Donnors. By most accounts, Donner was firmly in charge, but it doesn’t seem to have been the easiest of working relationships; the director’s friend and editor Stuart Baird told Hotdog Magazine in 2004 that “I think it was a difficult time because it’s very difficult to have a producer on the show who’s also a director. And I think Dick allowed Spielberg to shoot a lot of second until stuff. He had known Spielberg for a long time – I think he’d been kind to [Spielberg] when he had been a kid, letting him come on a stage and watch shoots of the TV shows and stuff, and they had always talked about working with each other – but I would imagine it wasn’t the warmest or easiest of collaborations.”

    5. Glad to see by the way that you've brought up Stranger Things onto your blog. I personally loved the show and was interested in seeing your opinion on it. Needless to say, I'm glad that you enjoyed it as well. Hoping season 2 is as good as season 1.

    6. Oh, wow, that's a very interesting tidbit from Astin's book. If Spielberg did indeed shoot a lot of second unit, that might explain it; then again, I doubt that anything the kids would have been involved in could really be considered to be second unit, so if Astin worked directly with Spielberg then that's certainly meaningful.

      Thanks a bunch for sending that my way!

  33. So, about "Poltergeist"...

    I watched it again the other night -- it's still great -- and got to thinking about the controversy over the direction.

    Then, tonight, I started plowing my way through the documentaries on the new Shout Factory Blu-ray of "The Thing." Richard Masur is interviewed in it, and he says that he delayed making a commitment to be in "The Thing" until after he met with Steven Spielberg for casting on "Poltergeist" (including testing with JoBeth Williams). Spielberg didn't think Masur was right for that, but did hold out the possibility of casting him in his next movie -- one he'd be directing himself -- pending the decision of who would be playing the little boy in it. That, obviously, would have been "E.T."

    So right there, we get two pieces of evidence: (1) that Spielberg was not saying he would be directing "Poltergeist" and (2) that he was personally involved in casting at least one of the lead roles.

    Not exactly revelations, but worth mentioning.

  34. Hey Bryant. What is your take on Arrival and it's relationship to 2001 as I'm seeing the comparisons online? Denis Villeneauve is on a roll isn't he? I loved Sicario and Prisoners. Enemy is great too! What a mindtrip of a film, similar in style to Vertigo. Next is Blade Runner 2049 and is taking on the Dune sequel.

    1. I liked "Arrival," but did not love it. B+, let's call it. It and "2001" are cut from the same cloth in some respects, but in my opinion, "2001" is by far the superior film. I do like Villeneuve in general, though -- both "Prisoners" and "Sicario" are great (haven't seen "Enemy") and I like the look of "Blade Runner 2049."

      Him making a "Dune" film thrills me.

    2. I think "2001" is much better as well. I am excited for "Blade Runner 2049" and "Dune". I don't think Lynch did a good job with the original, his bizarre ways were not a match fot the subject matter at all imo. Thanks for your input and as a last note, any chance for a Kubrick or Hitchcock blog in the near future?

    3. Never say never, but currently there are no plans.

  35. I'm sure I speak for all of my fellow nerds when I say we would welcome your thoughts on films, both new and old, as often as you're able to post them. This blog really is wonderful, I've so enjoyed working my way backwards through your posts. I appreciated your thoughts on A.I. in particular, partly because I don't think Spielberg receives enough credit for what he accomplished, and as many have pointed out, it's probably his most misunderstood film.

    I know you're busy, but one day I'd love to read a review of Barry Lyndon here, seeing as you're a fan. It's a Kubrick film that I've always viewed as being terribly

    Are you looking forward to Alien: Covenant? I thought Prometheus killed any interest I had in the franchise, but I've been hooked again. I simply can't NOT get excited about Ridley Scott making a sci-fi film.

    1. One of these days, I'm going to do a series of posts on Kubrick's filmography, movie by movie, with (naturally) "The Shining" serving as the centerpiece. That's the plan, at least; who knows if it will ever actually happen? These things take a lot of time, and there's only so much I'm able to realistically get to.

      That's an important one to me, though, so I'd say it's likely.


      I am a fan of "Prometheus." It's a bad movie with a lot of great elements, or maybe a great movie with lots of piss-poor elements; not sure which. But I enjoy it on the whole, and if "Covenant" can be as strong technically with some of the story issues ironed out, then we'll all be in for a treat. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting on that to happen, but I'm hoping for it.

      Thanks for the kind words! And yes, obviously, I agree with you on the subject of "A.I." It's a hell of a film, and one of these days people are going to realize it.