Friday, April 09, 2004

Over the last few months I've seen all three of the Indiana Jones films again, as they've been released on DVD. I found them to be as enjoyable as they ever were, and I look forward with cautious optimism for the fourth, currently slated for sometime in 2006.

In honor of the occasion, a rough list of my top ten favorite Spielberg films:

  1. Catch Me If You Can (2002) - Spielberg has consistently improved, and this seemingly modest accomplishment is his most personal film. It displays a new level of elegance and control in his style, and DiCaprio is one of the most gifted actors Spielberg's ever worked with.

  2. Empire of the Sun (1987) - An awfully heavy film, but a tour de force nonetheless. A meaningful and unique war drama, another terrific cast (including a small turn by...Ben Stiller!?!)

  3. Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001) - Audiences turned their noses up at this one, but it's a brilliant film, teeming with visual wonder, a perfect synthesis of Kubrick's and Spielberg's ideas (and, as such, it holds a special place in film history).

  4. Jurassic Park (1993) - My favorite of Spielberg's amusement-park-ride films. Not only were the effects a real breakthrough, but the ideas put a fresh spin on the old Faustian theme. Spielberg finds the best use yet for his thematic obsession with families. Plus, a SF picture that isn't about aliens and outer space!

  5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - THE classic action-adventure summer popcorn film. Along with Star Wars it defines New Hollywood. It holds up very well, though sometimes it seems almost too witty for its own good. Having watched these movies again, it was such a relief to see how terrific Harrison Ford once was, charismatic, sexy, funny and a rousing hero. Here's hoping Steven will light a fire under his ass for Indy 4.

  6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) - Pure magic, with unforgettable imagery (the tower of mashed potatoes, the sunburn on one side of the face, the boy's room full of activated toys.

  7. Minority Report (2002) - Demonstrating that Spielberg is THE master of modern SF movie-making, even over George Lucas. I can't stand Tom Cruise anymore, but even I liked him in this film.

  8. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) - A retread to the Nth degree, but so much fun. River Phoenix turns in an excellent performance as young Indy, and Sean Connery is delightful as Jones' dad. (But who would have guessed Connery and Ford would outlive Phoenix?)

  9. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) - A great film, but never one of my favorites. Truthfully, it gave me nightmares as a kid! But a tearjerking masterpiece.

  10. Jaws (1975) - Another film that gave me nightmares as a kid, but also great. I have a mild phobia about the sea, and I wonder if this film is partly responsible!

    The rest:
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) - The least of the Indy series, but having just watched it on the new DVDs I was surprised how well it held up. Spielberg experiments with new levels of violence (towards children, but also just plain gore and gross-out, as well as occultist-tinged ideas).

  • Saving Private Ryan (1998) - A very well made film--sections of it are brilliant, like the Normandy Beach invasion sequence--but ultimately I loathe this film for its propagandistic qualities. The acting, esp. Giovanni Rabisi, is excellent.

  • The Color Purple (1985) - Much too starchy. It screams, Take Me Seriously! But the acting is often great--remember when Whoopi seemed like a fresh, exciting new presence in film?

  • Hook (1991) - Ugh.

  • Poltergeist (1982) - Rumor has it Spielberg directed all of part of this film, and if that's true it was a highly effective job. But he's not officially credited, so I don't count it.

  • Schindler's List (1993) - There's no way to rank this film with the others. I'd feel creepy putting it in my top ten. It would feel almost sacrilegious. It had a unique effect on me. It's a masterpiece, but it's not a film one wants to revisit, despite its displays of virtuosity. My favorite sequence will always be the one where the various Jews are called by name and each one is shot in a different way, profoundly suggesting each character's individuality.

  • Always (1989) - I haven't seen it in 15 years and honestly can't remember more than merely liking it and being happy to see Audrey Hepburn in it.

I haven't seen: Amistad, Duel, 1941

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