Welcome to Breaking Geek, a weekly column where uber-geek Nick Doll offers commentary and reactions to the most interesting news of the week, using his expansive knowledge of all things geek!
So, this was one of the hardest things to do…
Narrow down Steven Spielberg’s — my favorite director — entire catalogue into his ten best films. Because I do celebrate the guy’s (nearly) entire collection!
The first nine are pretty set in stone, though I wavered on #10. It almost became a game of “which of these ten other entirely deserving films can’t be left out?” In the end, I went with a flawed personal favorite instead of balancing it out with a film to please the masses.
Because, like my Marvel Cinematic Universe complete ranking, these are my opinions — though I would like to hear from you in the comments at the end. As you’ll see, I tend to gravitate towards the more action-adventure style of the ‘Berg. Yes, films like Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and The Post are excellent, but that’s not why I love Spielberg. I’ve also left out many classics one could argue are great, and believe me, I agree with you. But in celebration of Ready Player One hitting theaters, these are MY Top 10.
Extreme and consistent tension, powerful emotion, unmistakable action, and strong characters are why I think Spielberg is the most iconic director to ever live.
10. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Like I said, a flawed movie. There are many movies I considered for this spot… E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Catch Me If You Can, and even War of the Worlds. But JP2: The One Where They Go to Site B the First Time snagged the spot due to some imagery even more iconic than Jurassic Park, hindered only by a scene or two that should have been dropped.
A screaming mother watching her daughter be mauled by “Compys” (Compsognathus) smash cutting into Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm yawning! Two T-Rex pushing a trailer off a cliff! The raptors in the grass! The ghost ship! T-Rex in San Diego! Jeff Goldblum is the main lead!
All of that, stunning.
The weakness… why can Ian Maclolm’s daughter defeat Velociraptors with gymnastics? If anyone can explain that decision to me — “de-fanging” the scariest monster from Jurassic Park — I’d appreciate it. Some people don’t like the T-Rex in San Diego (I LOVE it!), but I can’t stand that gymnastics is all it takes to knock those scary fuckers out. Might as well show us Darth Vader as a teenager! As if!
It doesn’t hurt that a character named Nick saves everyone by calling the mainland (though it does hurt that he is played by Vince Vaughn…).
Like I said, #10 was tricky. But onto…
9. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan is one of those movies that has a flawless, absolutely perfect opening action scene, that is so impressive the film is unable to deliver the same thrill at any other point in the movie.
So, even if the rest of the film is not the most original war movie in the world, that opening sequence alone earns Saving Private Ryan a spot on this list and my Blu-Ray collection. That’s right, I wouldn’t recommend a single Steven Spielberg movie to you that I don’t own.
If the rest of the film sucked? Yeah, it could destroy the credibility of the D-Day scene. But the rest the film is solid, tracking Tom Hanks leading a team to save the last living Ryan brother serving in Europe during WWII, as they question their orders and encounter Nazi threats. The cast is great, and though the finale cannot live up to the opening D-Day sequence, it is explosive and emotional nonetheless.
Speaking of emotional, those bookends have been known to make me cry… then again, many of these films have made me cry… so, I’ll be sure to point out when as a fun drinking game!
8. Duel (1971)
Okay, I never cried watching this one, but as the least seen movie on this list… you should really see it! You can borrow my DVD, if you like.
Duel was Steven Spielberg’s first feature film, even if it started as a TV movie (something the man is quick to criticize these days when speaking of Netflix…). It was later released theatrically with extra “scenes” to make it closer to feature length, so I guess Spielberg has me there.
Duel is the simple story of a city-slicker played by Dennis Weaver stalked on the remote roads of California by an unseen driver in a very large, ugly, and dangerous tanker truck.
I wrote an entire paper once about Duel, Jaws, and Jurassic Park to get my high school International Baccalaureate diploma (not trying to brag, I’m just saying my instructor made me think really, really, hard about Spielberg and his techniques… and this level of obsession likely influenced my geekiness). Duel, his very first film, is the beginning of a common theme for Spielberg: “Man Vs. Leviathan.”
That is, a normal man, up against a very large, powerful, and often monstrous villain. In Duel, it may just be a truck driven by a trucker we never see, but it extends later in into Spielberg’s career into a shark, dinosaurs, and even aliens from Mars; monsters that a very flawed human must face to survive a Spielberg movie.
Fun fact, the finale is so explosive, the sound of the truck “dying” was reused when the shark explodes in Jaws. Further connecting this theme Spielberg likes to explore.
7. Munich (2005)
Like Saving Private Ryan, Munich is enough of a marriage of action film and historical drama that it meets my Spielberg needs.
If it weren’t for the next pick on my list, I would say Munich is one of Spielberg’s most harrowing films. I absolutely cry watching this movie (drink!). At multiple points throughout the film (drink again!).
Eric Bana leads a spectacular cast of four men, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Hanns Zischler. These five men are chosen to eliminate the ones responsible for the tragedy at the Munich Olympics, and boy does their mission make for one of Spielberg’s darkest films.
The one scene I like to point to that is exceedingly exemplary is the when Bana’s crew have rigged a phone to explode when picked up by the right man. The plan is perfect, everyone at their stations, but extreme Spielberg tension intervenes when the target’s daughter returns home immediately after leaving, and the five men are nearly not able to communicate well enough visually to save an innocent’s life. Thankfully, they do, but this bittersweet moment is underscored by them blowing up her father immediately after. War is hell, and Spielberg knows that by this point in his career.
The film has no happy ending. Well, “victory” is achieved, but like saving the innocent girl, all is not well as the film pans to show the twin towers as a lead into the credits.
Also, Munich is totally one of John Williams’ most underrated scores! If you have a moment, track down the score and play “A Prayer for Peace.” It may be available on Youtube… who knows?
6. Schindler’s List (1993)
Oh man, this is as heavy as heavy gets. Though it lacks the action element that many of these picks carry, the pure power of emotion and artistry of craft make Schindler’s List one of Spielberg’s best!
Honestly, I think I’ve only seen it twice, because it is such an ordeal to watch! But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a spectacular film.
Spielberg employs his most powerful tools to show the horrors of the holocaust with unflinching honesty. His combination of black and white with splashes of red is just as powerful as the subject matter. I don’t think much more needs to be said about Schindler’s List. It’s in a league of it’s own.
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