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Old 08-29-2007, 11:26 PM
Dominic Dominic is offline
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Default Ranking Spielberg

As strange as it may sound, I believe Steven Spielberg to be an underrated talent. When film is being critically discussed he seems to get the short-end of the stick, often labeled as a technically brilliant director of simple stories meant to entertain the masses.

Well, I disagree. Not only has his movies made more money than any other film director ever, no one has consistently turned out films of such high-quality. Because of this, he's taken for granted. Even though he admittedly has a sentimental streak that some people disdain, his films have always struck me as intensely personal and human stories, even in the midst of some of the most SFX laden films of a all-time. He is a master story-teller.

Yes, I could have done a "ranking Kieslowski" or "ranking David Lean," but I wanted comments from more than Pryor, Blarg and John Cole! [img]/images/graemlins/grin.gif[/img]

I've decided to rank Spielberg's films as all-in-one artistic achievements. It'd be very simple to break them down by his "serious" films and his technologically-brilliant-yet muddled-story ones, but I thought that'd be cheating. So here you go. Steven Spielberg's films, from worst to best:

(by the way, I'm not counting Duel, as that was a TV movie and not truly a feature, or his contribution to Twilight Zone: The Movie.)


The Terminal, 2004

While parts of this film are interesting, it is a complete misstep for me and one I do not ever plan on revisiting again. Catherine Zeta Jones is miscast and Tom Hanks's character is too precious by half. There's never going to be a Spielberg movie where you can complain about the lighting or framing or music (although I'd really like him to force himself to use someone other than John Williams), but this is the only film of his I can honestly say just plain stinks.

Hook, 1991

Wow, what a great concept that somehow became completely muddled and boring. Strangely enough, the exciting parts of the movie are when Peter Pan is in the real world and doesn't realize who he is. The boring parts are when we're in Never Never Land! How in the world did this happen? If anyone has the right pedigree to make a Peter Pan movie, it's Spielberg! Dustin Hoffman was fine as Hook, Robin Williams was perfectly ok...I think what makes this film a mess is the fact that The Lost Boys seem like extras from the Goonies. In other words, not at all memorable. But maybe your kids will like it.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park, 1997

Fun movie, but one that was completely unnecessary. They seemed to have made it for one purpose: to perfect the CGI dinosaurs. Oh, and the money.

1941, 1979

I have a soft spot in my heart for this one. It's generally considered to be Spielberg's one bomb, but I kinda like it. While he doesn't really have a great touch for slapstick, there are some incredible set-pieces in this movie that are pretty spectacular and funny: The ferris wheel, the cannon in the house, and the planes crashing in the street. Great cast, too.

War of the Worlds 2005

Boy, I was excited about this one but it seems he was saddled with (yet again) a great concept that doesn't make a great story. Really can't blame H.G. Well's stupid ending (give the aliens a cold!) on Spielberg, but the whole movie falls apart for me when Cruise and and his daughter meet up with Tim Robbins. Up until then, I was hooked.

The Color Purple, 1985

This is a film I admire. But why do I have no desire to ever see it again?

Always, 1989

If there's a Spielberg movie people haven't heard of it's this one. But I'm a sucker for a love story with ghosts, and it has Holly Hunter, Richard Dreyfuss and John Goodman, so for that, it makes it eminently watchable for me.

AI: Artificial Intelligence, 2001

Damn is this movie a mess. there's so many incredible ideas and visual mastery that it is certainly a watchable and enjoyable film, but I find it to be a movie that bites off more than it can chew...either stick with the maker of the robots...or the robot child with his new family...or the robot on the run...or the robot searching for his maker...but putting all of these together just makes it a mess, to me. Plus, the ending was annoying.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984

Decent, fun movie with some incredible stunts and sequences. But really, that's what the whole movie is to me: one long stunt.

Amistad, 1997

I'm always moved by the film, especially by the performance of Djiman Hounsou. However, I think Spielberg makes a misstep in this film that compromises the rest of the picture: the "middle passage" sequence is so horrifying and real that it makes what come after completely forgettable.

Empire of the Sun, 1987

In part, a great adventure movie, but one that I have to admit bores me sometimes.

The Sugarland Express, 1974

Spielberg's first feature, and a very entertaining, thought-provoking one. Fantastic performances by Goldie Hawn and William Atherton, as well. You get the feeling after watching this that if his next film hadn't been Jaws, Spielberg would've turned out to be John Sayles!

Catch Me if You Can, 2002

A wonderful piffle of a movie. Fun, funny and gorgeous to look at, with a great period color-scheme and design. But if it were any lighter it would float away.

Jurassic Park, 1993

This is a tough one to rank, as it contains some of the most thrilling images ever put to film; however, it also has some story problems (it doesn't have an ending) and at times it seems like an amusement park ride more than a movie. Nothing wrong with that, it's just difficult to judge the movie's artistic merit.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989

Sean Connery as Indiana's dad is pitch-perfect, isn't he? And Jones finally has a worthy artifact to chase after - The Holy Grail. Pure b-movie fun.

Munich, 2005

Very powerful film, and one I've viewed again and again. Eric Bana gives a devastating performance, and the rest of the cast acquits itself admirably. Well-done, thought-provoking and intense.

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982

Cute, funny and a tear-jerker. Incredibly well done. Why it gets put up on lists with the best films of all-time, I'm not sure, because I think that does a disservice to this fine, little film. It's the perfect children's movie. Period.

Minority Report, 2002

I think this just may be Spielberg's most underrated movie. I love it. Brilliantly photographed, with a fantastic story, it's exciting and "important" all at the same time. And as a bonus, it's a great who-done-it!

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977

Put this next to the other "space" movie that came out the same year - you know, the one about "The Force?" Close Encounters is heads and tails above it. It's adult, it's child-like, it's scary, it's thrilling...and finally, it's life-affirming. Every time poor Richard Dreyfuss sculpts his mashed potatoes I want to yell at him - "you're not crazy!" I can watch it over and over again.

Raiders of the Lost Arc, 1981

Has there ever been a more perfect adventure movie? Put it up there with The Four Feathers and Gunga Din. It's magic. And for me, Harrison Ford will never be anyone else but Indiana Jones.

Jaws, 1975

I was lucky enough to have been around when this came out in the summer of 1975. It was an EVENT. Beach towns all across the country were reporting less-than-normal attendance and it was all because of this movie. Scary as [censored], while making you want to go hunt sharks at the same time. It was the very first "adult" movie my parents took me to, and thank god for that. "Smile you son-of-a-bitch!" BOOM!

Saving Private Ryan, 1998

I know a lot of critics don't like the bookends of this movie, but I feel they're necessary to first bring you into the past, and second, bring you back out again. Yes, the movie is technically brilliant, but it is also incredibly humane and good. I'm not sure what that means, I just know it to be true. Every character we meet - and ultimately lose - is indelible and real...this movie takes you back to WWII and introduces characters that could've been your father, your brother, your friends, and makes you watch their amazing sacrifice. That's the whole point, I think.

Schindler's List, 1993

Spielberg's masterpiece. At the time, we maybe thought he didn't have it in him. But boy, did he. I'm not going to wax poetic about the greatness off this film, all I can say is that if you don't agree with me, just watch it again. It really is that good. Everything comes together for Spielberg on this one: cinematography, story, performance, meaning. I'm sure he'd be happy with a legacy that only includes this film.
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Old 08-29-2007, 11:36 PM
rothko rothko is offline
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Default Re: Ranking Spielberg

spielberg is absolutely terrible. him making lots of money is exhibit A.
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Old 08-30-2007, 12:04 AM
Dominic Dominic is offline
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Default Re: Ranking Spielberg

[ QUOTE ]
spielberg is absolutely terrible. him making lots of money is exhibit A.

[/ QUOTE ]

This is a completely useless post. Do better.
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Old 08-30-2007, 02:46 AM
midnightpulp midnightpulp is offline
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Default Re: Ranking Spielberg

I 100% agree with you that he is terribly underrated. Not necessarily among main-stream critics, since they seem to appreciate his work, but by elitist cinephiles who pack the arthouses, read Filmmaker religiously, and genuflect at whatever Foreign or Indie director is en vogue.

They really have no legitimate argument of why they hate him. They just know they have to. It's hipster cinesthete law.

Spielberg is definitely one of the world's great filmmakers. His great talent is to take pop formula and transform it into art. Tarantino does the same thing with pulp. Fassbinder, Sirk, and Ray did it with melodrama.

Yet all those directors are relatively respected, but not Spielberg.

It's a shame.
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Old 08-30-2007, 02:54 AM
Dominic Dominic is offline
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Default Re: Ranking Spielberg

I think it's because a lot of people consider him a populist, when in fact he's simply making movies that are either very personal to him (Close Encounters, ET, Schindler's List) or films he think it'd be a blast to see (Jurassic Park, Raiders, Jaws). The fact that his movies just happen to be hugely popular is somehow seen as him selling out.
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Old 08-30-2007, 03:10 AM
midnightpulp midnightpulp is offline
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Default Re: Ranking Spielberg

Yep.

BTW, Dom, did you get my PM?
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Old 08-30-2007, 03:15 AM
Triumph36 Triumph36 is offline
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Default Re: Ranking Spielberg

[ QUOTE ]
I think it's because a lot of people consider him a populist, when in fact he's simply making movies that are either very personal to him (Close Encounters, ET, Schindler's List) or films he think it'd be a blast to see (Jurassic Park, Raiders, Jaws). The fact that his movies just happen to be hugely popular is somehow seen as him selling out.

[/ QUOTE ]

His more intellectual points always seemed incredibly facile to me. I love Jaws and Indiana Jones, and while I've probably only seen less than half of Spielberg's oeuvre, there's just not that much depth there. Saving Private Ryan just seemed forced past the incredible Omaha Beach scene.

To me, he's like the filmmaking version of Stephen King - something about his work IS very poignant and he's a terrific crafstman. 'Literary' people have the same problem with him - which causes other people to rush forward and make ludicrous claims like King will one day stand beside Melville and Dickens. No, he won't. He's more than an 'entertainer', but less than an 'artistic genius'. To call him a sellout is absurd.
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Old 08-30-2007, 03:51 AM
midnightpulp midnightpulp is offline
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Default Re: Ranking Spielberg

Good points.

Personally, I think something brilliantly crafted can stand on its own as a work of art without those characteristics we commonly associate with "great" narrative art - like insights into humanity or an exploration of love.

When the mention of Spielberg comes up as a great filmmaker, I think too many people try to compare him to directors who operate in a totally different context. "He ain't no Altman. He ain't no Bergman."

I think Spielberg's kindred spirits are Hitchcock and Tarantino. Both directors can be accused for their lack of depth (Vertigo and Psycho are, however, very deep films), especially when they're compared to directors who take on more "mature" material, and again, such a comparison is unfair.

Simply speaking, these directors just flat out know how to entertain, and do it with such a style that is unlike anything else that they can get away with having their work be art without needing any great depth.
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Old 08-30-2007, 04:37 AM
youtalkfunny youtalkfunny is offline
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Default Re: Ranking Spielberg

Heckuva post there, Dom. I liked "The Terminal" more than you did, but can't quibble much about the rest of it.

[ QUOTE ]
spielberg is absolutely terrible.

[/ QUOTE ]

Sorry, but if "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is his 4th-best movie, then he's not terrible.
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Old 08-30-2007, 04:45 AM
context context is offline
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Default Re: Ranking Spielberg

The guy is technically brilliant but has poor judgement. You can never fault his cinematography, but the stories themselves can be banal. Take Saving Private Ryan. If you took that first third of the film it would be one of the best films of all time. Technically brilliant, breathaking, fantastic realisation of an awful battle. But then he goes off into his old routine. The film just wanders, drifts and loses itself in sentimental nonsense for a couple of hours, something he does in many of his films. Sometimes the sentimental thing doesn't matter, ET works, but then it's sentimental most of the way through. If he had an editor who could keep him on track his films would be consistently great, but many of them fall away. His self-indulgence lowers them by a few notches. But hey, the guy isn't a bad film maker [img]/images/graemlins/wink.gif[/img].


Btw. I find it funny, you say he's under-rated then keep repeating that his films are either messy, or he made a "misstep".
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