Spielberg Smorgesboarge: The Films of Steven Spielberg Ranked

Steven Spielberg is my favorite director. I know. Revolutionary and controversial statement that the most common director known by name to mass audiences is one’s favorite. It’s a cliche to say, but it’s also the honest truth. Even in some of his lesser films, Spielberg has a way of framing a situation or giving his characters just the right lighting to show off something that’s spectacular yet instantaneously relatable. In honor of his recently release 30th film released in theaters* The BFG (I know, a bit late), I decided to rank his directorial feature length efforts from worst to best.

30. War Horse

war-horse

Dreamworks

Steven Spielberg has never been afraid to be sentimental. His detractors often point to his sentimentality as a flaw in his style, that he often dips into rather schmaltzy territory for the sake of driving home an emotional point the scenes themselves couldn’t really deliver. Usually, I’d disagree. The sentimentality tends to be earned by how he and his team build these characters up so that the film can tear you down emotionally. By contrast, War Horse drags out the sentimentality as the lingering thread to hang onto, along with some stunning cinematography from regular Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski. Yet, it all ultimately divulges into sappy entitlements that were originally conceived for children given the original youth based source material of a book and play, but come off as cloying in a more adult light. Basically, take National Velvet, but replace the child with a clear 20 something that has a sick obsession with his horse and an anthology method of killing people this horse encounters. A sizable low for Spielberg.

29. Always

always-spielberg

Dreamworks

Despite being one of the final films released in the 1980s, Always borrows more from melodrama of the 1940s, which makes sense given it’s a remake of the 1943 WWII melodrama A Guy Named Joe. Still, unlike his ability to craft a modern feeling series of films out of ’40s era serials with the Indiana Jones franchise, Always pretty much feels just as sappy as any of those lesser dramas of the time period. Spielberg replaces the WWII setting with (then) modern aerial firefighter planes, making for more than a few harrowing sequences of flight and fire fights that are shot rather well. Unfortunately, this is the only way he manages to update the story. Always is kind of full of itself. A grandiose tribute that revels in a nostalgia that Spielberg can’t seem to progress past. Much of this is hamstrung by Richard Dreyfuss’ character, a pompous wisecracker whose “witty banter” often comes off as smarmy as he whines as a dead man about what he wants. We’re supposed to root for him to realize his mistakes, but the character’s changes don’t feel gradual. They’re sudden and should have been realized far sooner, instead of played for rather flat humor.  This hurts so much for me to say about Dreyfuss, one of my favorite actors. Spielberg’s usual mixture of grounded charm and grandiose spectacle is blocked off by a bland script that replaces relatable human emotions with an incredibly outdated style of filmmaking.

28. The Lost World: Jurassic Park

jurassic-park-2

Universal Pictures

Spielberg has said himself that he has a problem with over confidence when going into a sequel to one of his earlier films. It’s probably why most of the sequels to his films aren’t done by him. The Lost World: Jurassic Park has a big problem with trying to differentiate itself from the first and dolling out all the elements that made the original such a hit. Between Jeff Golbum being much more dull and a T-Rex attacking San Diego, there’s so much winking and nodding but no evolving. The most impressive shots feel like Spielberg on autopilot, keeping the set piece in mind over the characters. Nothing illustrates this better than Golblum being saved from a velociraptor by his daughter’s gymnastic skills. It’s ludicrous, but not in the fun “dinosaurs are alive again” kind of way. It breaks the foundation of these (admittedly lesser) characters for the sake of flash.

27. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

crystal-skull

Paramount Pictures

George Lucas is an enabler. An enabler of stupid shit. While not as horrendous as some might claim, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is definitely Spielberg’s most inconsistent and confounding movie on a lot of levels, many of which have to do with Star Wars prequel style silliness. CG prairie dogs, alien invaders and fridge nuking all shows off a lack of interest in the consistency of the original Indiana Jones films, baby proofing the danger and fun that made the character so memorable. Sprinkles of that original spark found in moments like Harrison Ford and Shia LeBeouf’s first meeting or the elaborate pillar trap our heroes find that splits into four parts, but they’re few and far between. That tug and pull hints at a struggle between Spielberg the artist and Lucas the panderer that results in a underwhelming fourth installment. Needless to say, not very excited for them collaborating on a new installment for 2019.

26. Hook

hook

Tristar Pictures

Hook has all the hallmarks of what should be a classic Steven Spielberg film; elaborate sets, themes of parental hardship, a general sense of whimsy. Yet, there’s something missing in the cluttered fantasy of it all; a consistency of tone. It wants to be this raucous fantasy film for families like any Peter Pan story, yet constantly wants to include this darker material about growing old in the modern world to contrast the high fantasy.That’s not uncommon for a Peter Pan story, but there never seems to be a bridge to carry these reasonable themes together in Hook, giving the ridiculous moments a rather sharp out of place feel with the more intimate drama. Hook has its moments for sure, mainly due to the highly capable casting of Dustin Hoffman as Hook, but Robin Williams suffers from dipping his performance in a childlike glee that steps its boundaries from being Peter Pan the magical boy adventurer to a sort of stand up character. It all just culminates in a kernel of an idea given a wonky disappointing execution.

25. 1941

1941-belushi

Columbia Pictures

Steven Spielberg isn’t a comedy director. There are plenty of examples of great comedic relief moments in his films, but his attempts at flat out comedy often show an inexperience with how humor on its own is crafted. With 1941, he had so much at his disposal to craft a truly great comedy, with Back to the Future writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale writing the script and then-current comedy stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd amongst the cast. Yet, the hubris of young Spielberg at the time lead to a film where comedy was conflated with “Let’s just blow things up and have people run around screaming.” Spielberg clearly took comedic influence from something like the comedy epic It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World yet didn’t know how to stage the comedy effectively. 1941 has comedy by way of excess, but there’s no control to this wild experiment aside from the highlight that is Belushi actually being hilarious in his usual roguish way. There’s a craft to the destruction, but it doesn’t result in that many laughs. Still, the technical achievements, Belushi and a rousing score by John Williams make this better than a fair share of Spielberg films that followed.

24. Amistad

amistad-mcconaughey

Dreamworks Pictures

Post-Schindler’s List, Spielberg’s period piece dramas have been spotty. Despite intriguing subject matter, Spielberg often has the trouble of pacing to make his historical dramas more than the sum of their parts. Amistad is a key example, with its solid cast and honest brutal depiction of slavery at the time. Yet, everything feels lost with its bloated running time and uneven utilization of characters. The big stand outs are Anthony Hopkins delivering a monstrously long monologue while injecting a sense of presence as then-former president John Quincy Adams and Djimon Hounsou as the often silent but powerfully motivated West African Joseph Cinqué. They hold an attention that keeps us invested lesser elements, like the initially compelling yet ultimately underwhelming Matthew McConaughey or a rather passive Morgan Freeman. The brutality of the slavery elements are displayed by Spielberg, yet often feel sidelined by the lengthy court scenes that are more performance showcases than they are engaging bits of storytelling. Amistad is one of the more forgotten Spielberg films, which may be slightly unfair yet not unreasonable.

23. The BFG

the-bfg-hills

I already talked about The BFG recently in full detail, so I’ll be brief. The general whimsy of Spielberg still lingers from his prime in the genre, but there’s a weird stunting of the scope here despite the immense technology used to bring it to life. While charming throughout, The BFG is missing the genuine tension to make it more than an entertaining distraction. It’s also missing something I forgot to mention in the review: consistent compositing effects. Ruby Barnhill’s head genuinely looks like its floating over her body at points.

22. AI: Artificial Intelligence

ai-artificial-intelligence

Dreamworks Pictures

Started under the noble intention of completing the work of his late friend and directing mastermind Stanley Kubrick, AI: Artificial Intelligence is a curious experiment if nothing else. Spielberg’s devotion to Kubrick’s style is commendable, if occasionally misguided by a sort of meandering story. The key consistent elements the keep the film afloat really are the production design and the dynamic between Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law. There’s wonderful world building to show off the dystopian nature of this future, echoing Kubrick’s own work in films like A Clockwork Orange with a modern tinge that fully realizes them. Some of it showcases what Spielberg would later emphasize fully in Minority Report, particularly the sleek cold design of the environments. Law and Osment’s chemistry is friendly in an endearingly odd fashion, paring two opposite ends of desire for human kind on the road to some bigger purpose. The problems really lie in the secondary human characters that populate Osment’s adventure, including one of many distant performances from William Hurt during this time that seemed less human than his robotic counterparts. The culminating false endings aren’t without merit in concept, but they still feel a bit too saccharine for the movie that proceeded them, regardless of if it was Stanley Kubrick’s original intent.

21. The Terminal

the-terminal

Dreamworks Pictures

As I mentioned, Spielberg’s comedic sensibilities tend to work best when used as relief for a bigger more heavy drama or genre piece. He knows how to utilize comedy for the sake of helping endear an audience to a character, but not necessarily use it to keep the necessary escalation for comedy. The Terminal tempers that comedy with a dramatic immigrant story that keeps things from getting too far into Always levels of sentimentality, mainly because Tom Hanks knows how to walk a fine line between genuine humanity and caricature. The side characters vary, but the most impressive ones – such as a semi-villain with solid motives in Stanley Tucci and Catherine Zeta-Jones’ layered romantic foil – manage to level out the more oppressively quirky ones. Spielberg keeps The Terminal small overall, but utilizes every nook and cranny of the airport set to his full advantage in making the setting feel like a thriving community for commuters. It’s lesser Spielberg, but has its fair share of advantages, including one major one: John Williams’ most underrated score, which features some heartbreaking jazzy tracks that show his range as a composer.

20. Duel

duel-1971

Universal Pictures

Early Spielberg is a curiosity. Few have seen his pre-Jaws work and it’s kind of a shame, since the inner workings of the man who created one of the seminal horror movies can still be seen within his television work. Duel shows off his ability for economic and quick storytelling, the young director at his hungriest state film wise. Duel only had access to a a few roadside locations, a truck, a couple cars and Dennis Weaver. Yet, he managed to craft a taut thriller,  full of exciting chases, believable paranoia and gritty authenticity. The type of filmmaking one can still be shocked by despite its source of early 70s television.

19. Lincoln

lincoln-daniel

Dreamworks Pictures

Humanity is something we take for granted in our major historical figures. Lincoln tries to give more of a human angle to the man most Americans see every day on a penny or five dollar bill, a portrait of a man who tries to inspire through speeches and deal with the emotional weight of leading a nation full of turmoil. That dedication is in Tony Kushner’s nuanced script, one that displays Lincoln at his best as worst states with his relationship to Mary Todd and his cabinet. Daniel Day Lewis has his usual dedication, though without the type of rigidity that many could easily paint the 16th president with. Instead there’s an authoritative appearance masking a fragile caring soul underneath. It gives a humanity to historical events we were aware of, that can connect us more with the history rather than distance ourselves from it. Still, aside from Lincoln and Mary Todd, the supporting cast is a bit more diluted in humanity, either for needed comedic relief, a needed villain for Lincoln to tear down without any true nuance or even a surprise reveal that doesn’t add much interesting perspective. Those disappointing short cuts temper Lincoln from greatness, which is on full display with its massive cast and impressive historical detail.

18. The Sugarland Express

the-sugarland-express-goldie

Universal Pictures

Spielberg’s second feature is a lesson in how to construct tragicomedy on a story level. The doomed perspective of William Atherton and Goldie Hawn has an initial depiction of sadness that endears us to these two searching for their child for foster care, yet we’re fully aware of their inability to survive long against this situation. They have all of Texas’ police force after them and they’re too sucked into their modern celebrity and flighty dreams of having a reasonable family after this is all over. The Sugarland Express doesn’t quite build up to its dark ending on a consistent tonal level, but it’s still foreshadowed heavily. Despite the happiness these people feel, a darker turn always feels on the horizon. Spielberg keeps that ominous nature in the background just enough for us to hope for the best, but expect the inevitable in a beautifully tragic fashion.

17. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

temple-of-doom

Paramount Pictures

The initial red headed step child of the Indiana Jones saga before someone else came along. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom isn’t as full on sequelitis as it could have been.There are a few moments of sequelitis, but they’re mainly used as subversion points for the first film’s iconic moments rather than straight up repetition. This second Indiana Jones entry took weird darker chances, managing to start as a musical, becomes a “save the children” picture and resolves with magical cult implications. With the child slavery and dark magic, it’s easily Spielberg’s darkest blockbuster effort. It’s insane, offensive and more than a bit grating. Yet, it’s still deserving of praise for just going in these disturbing avenues, even some of them aren’t very good. The screwball and cultish elements often clash, Kate Capshaw is honestly a terrible love interest and the dinner scenes is full of horrid stereotypes. Yet, Harrison Ford is still compelling as ever as Indie, the set pieces are as brutally elaborate as ever and the production design is lavish in a way that creates an incredibly believable environment.

16. War of the Worlds

war-of-the-worlds-cruise

Dreamworks Pictures

Tom Cruise seems sort of impenetrable as a star in most of his films. Aside from his more dramatic roles and stripped down action pictures, Cruise always seems to be a superhuman, one unable to be killed thanks to his convenient wit or intense running skills. For War of the WorldsSteven Spielberg managed to strip away that sort of lacking emotional connection with a much more vulnerable Cruise action role. He’s shown as a realistic deadbeat father, one filled with a desire for change yet unable to really listen. It’s the type of role where Cruise earns the right to be his usual self. The relationship he builds with his estranged daughter Dakota Fanning through survival is a fine example of great visual storytelling, making the grounded threat of these aliens feel all the more immersive and real. Then again, that also has so much to do with Spielberg’s effective use of disaster imagery that keeps the focus of terrified people in tact. The first hour or so really is the first great cinematic reaction to 9/11, right from the moment people turn to ash that Cruise is covered it. It’s direct imagery, yet it never feels too exploitive or overly manipulative. Other aspects fit that far better, mainly the treatment of Justin Chatwin and Tim Robbins’ characters that mars the third act pretty badly. Or the rather half assed narration for Morgan Freeman to attempt a stronger connection with HG Wells’ story, especially when Spielberg already does a descent job of tying the famous ending with themes of the least likely to defeat a massive threat managing to do so.

15. The Color Purple

the-color-purple

Warner Bros

The serious direction wasn’t one expected of Steven Spielberg when he dove into it. After a solid decade of delivering major blockbusters, the director decided to adapt the best selling dramatic novel after encouragement from producer/composer Quincy Jones. Thus, we have The Color Purple, a film that drops the genre constructs Spielberg built his career on and shows that Spielberg could ride a film on pure character drama. The best moments here are literally conversational, when people like Oprah Winfrey or Whoopi Golberg merely talk to others in a sincere or disturbed way. Golberg in particular dazzles in her film debut, showing the complex shades of regret, depression and occasional joy felt by Celie throughout her life. It’s honestly a shame that Spielberg himself wasn’t as willing to go the extra mile on this front with elements like Celie’s lesbian relationship with Margaret Avery’s Shug Avery, which feels completely abandoned after the initial kissing scene. Yet, he still manages to build such tension through the simple tragedy of a life lived through abuse, whether it be the emotional turmoil of Goldberg under the thumb of abusive men or Winfrey’s sudden descent into sad servitude after a horrible interaction with racist townsfolk. The tragedy blossoms into occasional overwrought wallowing, but at its peaks The Color Purple shows how small and beautiful Spielberg can be as a director.

14. Bridge of Spies

bridge-of-spies

Dreamworks Pictures

Steven Spielberg loves to use the nature of perspective. Whether it be the literal point of views for characters or the ever morphing point of view of the camera, Spielberg is always dead set on allowing varying points of view to clash for the sake of drama. Bridge of Spies is at its most compelling when Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks counteract each other, showing the Cold War drama from an average spy’s perspective. Even some of the smaller details of Hanks’ interactions with the Russian leaders has weight, showing the human realities of a conflict this monumental. Human ingenuity that helped stop conflict through reason rather than bran, reason that lead to conversations Spielberg still manages to make visually dynamic and contemplative character wise. It’s slight, but in a way Spielberg makes larger in terms of a genuine human connection.

13. Empire of the Sun

empire-of-the-sun-christian-bale

Warner Bros

An underrated entry in the Spielberg canon that manages to combine two of his biggest strengths. One is his ability to work with child actors, being able to make them display far more complex yet relatable moments to get us invested. A very young Christian Bale makes his presence known here, a privileged young boy thrown into the fire and expected to come out fine. His episodic adventures show another engaging side of Spielberg; his knack for weaving episodic set pieces into a full immersive tale. That tale here is one of the previously mentioned perspective, as a young boy shielded from the true horrors of war experiences some of them and isn’t the same. All his various adventures show him gaining wisdom well beyond his class and years. Even Empire of the Sun has a bitter sweet ending, of a boy’s innocence gone finding some sort of sanctity in home again.

12. Minority Report

minority-report-tom-cruise

Few manage to adapt writer Phillip K. Dick’s material with an appropriate sense of weighty sci-fi potential. Minority Report has its troubles with this mainly from the perspective of the ending, which softens the blow of the story’s tone in a disappointing fashion. It leaves the story on a whimper of a happy ending, one that doesn’t keep people as engaged walking out. That being said, the earlier parts of the film did an amazing job crafting this amazing sci-fi world and setting fantastic action set pieces throughout. The touch screen tech alone shows an ingenuity that would later become common place over a decade later. The performance from Cruise is a solid one, but he’s admittedly out shown by people like Samantha Morton delivering one of the more underrated emotionally crushing monologues in a Spielberg film.

11. Munich

munich-craig

Universal Pictures

Despite his sentimental reputation, Steven Spielberg can still be quite brutal when he really passionately cares about he project. Case in point, Munich is a violent gory film, but with purpose. Spielberg wants the tragedy of every death to truly settle in, even those our heroes are aiming to kill. The whole experience is a brutal one, full of disturbing scenes of death that seems genuinely terrifying. Right from the start of the actual 1972 Olympics, the tension is heavy and without mercy, displaying the brute force of the killings without ever forgetting the human horror of it all. While some of this can get lost in the massive running time, Munich paints its characters with a genuine interest and a strong cast to back up their complex attitudes & feelings. It’s the blunt and harsh type of Spielberg we don’t see often enough anymore.

10. Saving Private Ryan

Saving-Private-Ryan-Hanks

Paramount Pictures

The iconic late 20th century war movie that shaped media about WWII for the New Millennium is at it’s heart a story of brotherhood. Perhaps a… Band of Brothers, if you will. But seriously, the brotherhood that builds over the course of Saving Private Ryan isn’t one dedicated to all of the men in this battalion becoming brothers as much as leaning on each other with mutual respect for the uniform and purpose. The unforgettable D-Day scene is brutal, but with absolute purpose. Said purpose is to show the brutal truth behind the event and establish the destruction that’s inherent within that event and what’s at stake. It gives the titular mission all the emotional weight that makes the eventual “earn this” moment all the more disturbing at the end of Tom Hanks’ journey and Matt Damon’s eventual life long torment.

9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

close-encounters-3rd-kind

Columbia Pictures

Bad Spielberg whimsy only stings so much because of his ability to spark wonder. Close Encounters of the Third Kind has that spark of an alien visitation from a human POV, spending so much time curious about the general human perspective, from government officials around the globe all the way to the curious and almost deranged perspective of a man hell bent on seeing them. That worldwide awe that takes place makes this landing a cultural event, but not in a global destructive fashion. It’s the human race uniting in a desire for knowledge, for the unknown. It’s something Richard Dreyfuss puts a joyfully mad picture to as he stand gobsmacked at the events around him, even at the sacrifice of the family he’s built. That drastic decision still manages to make his struggle endearing, one that Spielberg’s admitted he wouldn’t make now given his family status. For that alone, it’s one of his riskier films that pays off tremendously on a sci-fi level.

8. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

et

Universal Pictures

To contrast Close Encounters, Spielberg went much smaller scale and a slightly more cruel eye on humanity for E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, with the blank slate connection of a child and an alien who are both unaware of what the world will bring. What the world will do to their brief yet wonderful connection. The animatronic alien and Henry Thomas have a more believable connection than most “Boy and His Dog” style stories Spielberg is emulating. Their mirroring actions reflects the influence of the world on the impressionable, with our culture, our food and our destructive curiosity on those who simply want to exist. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial swept through our hearts because the genuine nature of the connection, the masterful build up of these two beings finding a sincere friendship that’s doomed to disappear, but stick with the both of them forever.

7. Jurassic Park

spielberg-jurassic-park

Universal Pictures

The double whammy of 1993 saw Steven Spielberg change the pace of cinema… again… with two massive films. Jurassic Park shaped the nature of blockbuster cinema permanently, with its efficient storytelling, immediate grasp on characters and groundbreaking technology. The T. Rex terrified and amazed at the time, but sticks with people because of the presence made by Spielberg’s shot construction. The build up he has to the reveal of this creature in the pen. The reaction from these relatable people stuck in its path. The effects are only as good as the characters they bump off of, formulas Spielberg took at the time to ground us in this crazy concept of dinosaurs coming back from extinction. It’s basically a B-movie done with complete dedication and craft, where as the follow ups just became higher budget yet soulless retreads of this and other far better produced B-movies.

6. The Adventures of Tintin

tintin

Paramount Pictures

The fourth Indiana Jones film was a disappointment. We already went through how it failed to capture Spielberg’s knack for memorable action set pieces, but perhaps it wasn’t due to lack of imagination. Despite being an adaptation, The Adventures of Tintin has some of the more original kinetic action set pieces of any Spielberg actioner, but with a cartoonish edge that allows the director to go even more insane than the literal laws of physics would allow him to go down. Captain Haddock can keep the plane afloat by burping into the gas tank. Two cranes can basically box each other silly. An elaborate tracking shot can take place where Tintin zip lines with the wheel of a motorcycle while following a falcon through a city. Despite the motion capture tech that often alienates, The Adventures of Tintin managed to find the perfect balance between relatable characters and cartoon physics in a perfect entertaining marriage.

5. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

indiana-jones-jr

Paramount Pictures

Indiana Jones as a character often works because of his pridefulness. So much of Indiana Jones’ adventures is either playing that pride to straight badass effect or subverting that pride to hilarious effect. Case in point, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade takes Jones’ hubris and gives him a seemingly doddering yet capable father to bounce off of, with the beautiful in joke that sputters out into a wonderful chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. Their back and forth builds a believable father-son bond that’s strained yet filled with emotional moments that truly matter. The MacGuffin of the Holy Grail has so much more meaning when the two of them end up are at the crossroads they encounter here, giving the set pieces more tension and the religious dire consequences more genuine. It manages to make up for Brody and Sallah pretty much just being comedic relief or any of the other smaller factors that strip to the side for a film that often feels like the best in its series… but is it?

4. Schindler’s List

schindler-ring.jpg

Universal Pictures

That brutal honesty I talked about earlier? Well Schindler’s List multiplies this by ten. Spielberg’s most personal and brutal drama is one that lives and dies on its blunt and cruel nature. Stanley Kubrick once claimed that the nature of the Holocaust isn’t one that can be filmed because of the very nature of this atrocity was fueled by failure yet Schindler’s List revels in the concept of success given its narrative structure. This is sort of accurate, especially with later Holocaust films that strove to replicate Schindler’s List in a soulless screed to gain Oscar attention. With Spielberg’s film, the success isn’t one that’s entirely up lifting. The only uplifting aspect is that something small can come out of this. Some small amount of people lived from this, but the horror never leaves. The pain we see depicted in disturbing cruel detail isn’t something that will ever be erased from time. It’s something that lingers far longer, suggesting that there still isn’t a true winner as much as there are a few simple humans that barely managed to escape with their lives. Even then, Liam Neeson’s titular millionaire is still full of regret for his earlier hedonism and true remorse for not being able to do more for others, which still racks him even as everyone tries to calm him down. It’s not as storybook an ending as Kubrick may claim, one full of lingering questions and dimension ideas. Where even Ralph Fiennes’ cruel Nazi commander can be a dimension if cruel person. Where Jews can capitalize on their fellow men. Where no amount of success can make up for the countless death and destruction that took place.

3. Catch Me If You Can

catch-me-if-you-can

Dreamworks Pictures

Catch Me If You Can‘s true story was destined to be a great film. One with varying disguises and globe trotting that was bound to be cinematic in its mysteriously fun way. Spielberg combines his love for true story fiction and fantastical adventures into one film. It’s perfectly contrasted between Leonardo DiCaprio’s sly charm that allows him to fit into any number of new situations and costumes like a glove as Tom Hanks tries to hunt him down with all the square know how of an old school FBI agent. It’s a cat and mouse game that builds over the course of the run time, but devolves into something more than old chasing young. It’s about two men who have abandoned their families in pursuit of their passions. Their destructive yet addictive passions. One is trying to chase the security of the other, whether it be security in confidence or security in community. A beautiful tragedy that unravels with witty banter and globe trotting fun. Plus, it’s got a jazzy score from Williams and one of Christopher Walkens few great non-jokey performances of the new millennium.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

raiders

Paramount Pictures

Raiders of the Lost Ark based itself in total unabashed nostalgia. Spielberg and George Lucas were in love with the idea of older serials that predated even their time as children, immersed in the cheap yet endearing serials of old and decided to turn the concept into a high budgeted adventure of their own. The flawless movement of Raiders of the Lost Ark could easily be misconstrued as mechanical formula. The action, character and spectacle beats hit so perfectly that it almost feels cold and calculated due to the sheer fine tuned precision of it all. Yet, there’s a consistent heart to all of it that makes it more than a series of action beats or bits of Harrison Ford being rugged. It’s an adventure film that sets up the mystique and rousing fun of Indian Jones as a character, giving us all we need and not too much through this kinetic adventure to gage who these people are and what they’re after. It’s quick, efficient and fun storytelling that never tires even after multiple rewatches.

1. Jaws

jaws-shark

Universal Pictures

The summer blockbuster and directorial career defining Jaws is a film shaped by accidents. Accidents in production. Accidents within universe of trust or covering things up. Accidents in assuming that a small town on the beach is safe from harm. The crashing of that normalcy is key to what makes Jaws terrifying. We know this town for the archetypes that are breathed to life with subtle detail. We know what’s at stake as this normalcy is blown apart by the teeth of a maddening shark hiding beneath the surface. A creature bellowing beneath the depths to drive its three heroes apart, whether it be by pressure, scientific curiosity or mad obsession. The shark is more than the sum of its total appearances or it’s simple theme. It’s a dangerous entity that threatens not just directly, but in the hovering foreboding that destroys this town through its role destroying its economy and trust in the future. Quint, Brody and Hooper show a dilution of methods, from street smart to novice to book smart and how all three barely manage to survive against animalistic nature. How they barely survive without being swallowed whole.

Other Works:

* While Duel was originally made for television, it did receive a limited theatrical release.
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