Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Oeuvres: Steven Spielberg

I'm not quite ready to review Super 8 just yet - I want to get another look at the film first. In the meantime, however, it's more than appropriate to look back on the career of the man to whom Super 8 is a loving homage. He's my second favorite director, after Martin Scorsese. They have very different styles, but both share a great passion for the power of film - and Spielberg is perhaps the most intuitive of them all. He's a born entertainer - and more importantly, a born storyteller.

This roundup considers only Spielberg's feature-length projects as a director, and not his work as a producer. Cos then I'd have to talk about the Transformers movies. Ew.

Duel: To this day, I think this film is the reason that trucks make me nervous when they pass me on the highway. GRADE: A

The Sugarland Express: Spielberg's feature debut is an underseen gem. Even at this early stage, his command of composition and logistics was truly impressive. GRADE: A

Jaws: Still the only movie that has ever made me scream out lout. Not even The Exorcist pulled that off. GRADE: A+

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Spielberg once said the shot of the little boy opening the door with all that light flooding in was his shot that best represented him. I wonder if he still thinks so. GRADE: A+

1941: Not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests. In fact, it's not really bad at all. Sure, it's noisy and cluttered, and it's several rungs down from his previous work. But darn it, it has a lot of laughs in it, particularly the great opening scene. GRADE: B

Raiders of the Lost Ark: My favorite of Spielberg's "popcorn" movies and the best action film of all time. One of the greatest moviegoing experiences of my life was when Indy shot the swordsman and that huge ROAR went up in the theater. GRADE: A+

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial: "I'll be right here." *sniff sniff* BAWL!!!!!! GRADE: A+

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Great beginning. Great ending. WEAK middle section. And awfully mean-spirited too. GRADE: B

The Color Purple: Some consider this film the problematic beginning of the director's "grown up" work. Even though the slick technique sometimes feels at odds with the material, emotionally, it packs a wallop. GRADE: A

Empire of the Sun: Here's the real problem child of the "adult" period. Individual sequences are brilliantly staged, but the screenplay loses focuses and ultimately the movie feels a bit hollow. GRADE: B

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The series rebounds, with the brilliant casting of Sean Connery. GRADE: A

Always: Spielberg takes what was a merely decent programmer from the 40s (A Guy Named Joe) and turns it into a confection so gloppy it sticks in all the wrong ways. The one movie in the director's filmography I can't recommend. GRADE: C

Hook: Not nearly the misfire people said it was, but not nearly the classic it ought to have been either. Still, it has enough good moments to carry it through, especially in the first half. GRADE: B

Jurassic Park: A return to popcorn form. Enormous fun, and as is no longer the case with a lot of films from the same period, the effects are still spectacular. GRADE: A

Schindler's List: Oh, only one of the 10 best movies ever made. GRADE: A+

The Lost World: Jurassic Park: Some outstanding action sequences redeem a rather lazy screenplay, and the ending sequence in San Diego is uncharacteristically clunky. GRADE: B-

Amistad: Sometimes strains too hard for effect, but when it works, its extremely affecting, thanks largely to great performances by Djimon Hounsou and Anthony Hopkins. GRADE: A-

Saving Private Ryan: Some revisionists have said this film is only worth it for the D-Day sequence. Hogwash. It's the best modern-day film about World War II, pure and simple. GRADE: A+

A.I. Artificial Intelligence: This adventurous melding of the incongruous styles of Spielberg and Kubrick doesn't always take - and yet, even in that way its absolutely fascinating. Haley Joel Osment's spellbinding performance gives it a strong heart. GRADE: A+

Minority Report: A supremely exciting and thought-provoking sci-fi thriller, with some truly imaginative action sequences on the level of Raiders. GRADE: A+

Catch Me If You Can: Marred only by an overlong third act, this film is a wonderfully entertaining breeze, not least because it's the film where people first noticed one Amy Adams. GRADE: A

War of the Worlds: One of Spielberg's most underrated films, it transmuted H.G. Wells' classic into a terrifying treatise on a post 9-11 world. GRADE: A+

Munich: An emotionally overpowering look at how killing eats away at the soul, even when you can argue that it's justified. In an interesting way, like its predecessor, this is also a 9-11 statement. GRADE: A+

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: No, it's not as good as it should have been. But screw you naysayers, I liked the fridge gag - because we all know we love the Indiana Jones movies for their gritty realism. (scoff). Even though the climax is disappointingly inert, on balance it's still a better film than Temple of Doom. So there. :P   GRADE: B+

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