Friday, November 16, 2012

Ranking Spielberg

Jurassic Park
Since Lincoln is opening this weekend (against Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 - good luck with that, prestige picture), Vulture's Will Leicht and Tim Grierson took it upon themselves to rank all 28 of Steven Spielberg's previous films. I mostly agree with their lower rankings (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes in dead last and deservedly so), though I had a few quibbles with their Top 10, so I decided to create my own list of the Top Ten Spielberg Films of All Time. And here it it is:

10. War of the Worlds - 2005 (Vulture's #6): As much as this movie has against it (Tom Cruise simply cannot play the 'Everyman' and Dakota Fanning spends far too much time screaming), it has an awful lot going for it. Josh Friedman and David Keopp's adaptation of H.G. Welles' classic is perfectly modernized for a Post-9/11 America and the effects are quite stunning. The only thing that keeps it from being higher on my list is the treacly, feel-good ending which ranks among the director's sappiest of sappy happy endings.

9. Jurassic Park - 1993 (Vulture's #12): David Keopp's adaptation of Micheal Crichton's mostly preposterous novel is spot on, as is just about every performance from its remarkable cast. A roller-coaster thrill-ride movie of the highest caliber, Jurassic Park holds up much better than many of Spielberg's other Sci-Fi Adventures nearly 20 years after it was made. And it is totally worth the price of admission just to hear Jeff Goldblum say "Think they'll have that on the tour?"

8. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - 1984 (Vulture's #11): This prequel (along with Joe Dante's Gremlins) inspired the mostly useless MPAA to create the PG13 Rating. Kate Capshaw may not be Karen Allen and Jonathan Ke Quan's borderline racist Short Round may be annoying, but Harrison Ford is at the peak of his hotness; the chamber full of insects is exceptionally creepy; Amrish Puri's Mola Ram is particularly villainous and that coal car chase sequence is nothing short of pure adrenaline.

7. The Color Purple - 1985 (Vulture's #20): Spielberg's adaptation of Alice Walker's novel had skeptics wagging their tongues. What did a White Jewish man know about the Black experience in the South of the 1920's and 30's? Assembling a top-notch cast which included Whoopi Goldberg (in a performance that should have won her an Oscar); Oprah Winfrey (what I just said about Whoopi); Danny Glover and the always amazing Dana Ivey, Spielberg's film is emotionally manipulative and probably 15 minutes too long, but it never fails to set me sobbing like the sentimental old fool I am. 

6. Saving Private Ryan - 1998 (Vulture's #5): I hate war films. I hated this movie. But I hated it because it brought home the horrors of WWII unlike any film had before. Grim and harsh with a rather amazing performance from Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan also suffers from a treacly Spielbergian ending, but it runs the audience through the wringer before it gets there.

5. Jaws - 1975 (Vulture's #4): Making lemonade from lemons turned Spielberg's first major motion picture into the first "Summer Blockbuster." If 'Bruce' the Shark had worked the way it was intended, Jaws would have been a very different movie and people might not have spent the latter half of the 1970's afraid to swim in the ocean. Terrific performances from Roy Schieder, Richard Dreyfus and Robert Shaw didn't hurt, and John Williams' score only added to the tension. A decidedly 'happy accident' movie, Jaws still can still inspire fear, nearly 40 years after it was first released. 

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 1977 (Vulture's #8): Mysterious, exciting, fanciful and often beautiful, Close Encounters is a movie about wonder, awe and obesession. Richard Dreyfus gives one of his best performances as Roy Neary, an 'everyman' invited by extraterrestrial beings to join them on a trip to who knows where. After I saw this movie, I spent several weeks looking up at the night skies.

3. E.T. The Extraterrestrial - 1982 (Vulures's #2): Not the first or last time Spielberg would explore the themes of parental abandonment; peer exclusion; childhood wonder and distrust of authority, E.T. is still effective today in part because there has been no sequel to sully the experience of seeing for the first (or 20th) time, but also because it taps into so many universal childhood experiences. Christian allegories aside, E.T. manages to inspire hope that children know what's best for both humans and non-humans alike. It's also the prime example of the director's signature camera angles and close-ups.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark - 1981 (Vulture's #1): Inspired by the serials of Spielberg and George Lucas' youth, Raiders is a nearly perfect adventure movie. Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones is a practically archetypical hero, brave; handsome; cocky (but not too cocky); sexy; resourceful and intrepid, Jones is the man every woman wants and every man wants to be. He fights Nazis; he travels the world; he finds exotic treasures... who wouldn't want to be Indy? Add a spunky heroine (was there ever an actress more perfectly cast as Marion Ravenwood than Karen Allen?), another exciting John Williams score, snakes, the Hand of God and officious government officials and you have one hell of a movie. I saw this movie with my sister on opening day and while we had no idea what we were about to see, we knew it was going to be special. And we were so very right.

1. A.I. Artificial Intelligence - 2001 (Vulture's #13): Stanley Kubrick intended to make this film, based on a short story by Brian Aldiss, but passed it on to Spielberg. Released two years after Kubrick's death, A.I. remains the director's most hotly contested film. With remarkable performances from Haley Joel Osment as David; Jude Law as Gigolo Joe; Frances O'Connor; William Hurt; Clark Gregg; Enrico Colantonio; Robin Williams; Ken Leung; Ben Kingsley; Meryl Streep and Chris Rock (among others), A.I. is most certainly Spielberg's masterpiece. Love it or hate it, A.I. is a heavy meditation on life; parental love; existentialism; reality; time and any other number of other subjects. It was my personal choice for Best Film of 2001; my choice for the Best Spielberg Film and my Number 2 choice for Best Science Fiction Film of All Time. Misunderstood by many when it was first released, A.I. continues to gain the support of film critics and cinephiles as time goes by.

What are your favorite Spielberg films?

More, anon.

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