Now that I’ve gotten screwball comedies out of my system, I can get back to my original post-Oscar plan of reviewing the work of Steven Spielberg. Why have I chosen Spielberg? Well, after I saw Lincoln as part of my Oscar Blitz, it seemed I had a very different opinion of the film than most people I talked to. Frankly, I found it rather boring, as well as typical, sentimental Spielberg.
I realized that it had been a long time since I had been excited about a Spielberg movie, although I have fond memories of much of his early work. So I thought it might be interesting to look back at his entire filmography to see how it has held up for me over the years and whether I might reassess something like Lincoln in light of Spielberg’s overall trajectory.
In another sense, Spielberg is a perfect follow-up to my Hitchcock series. Not only was Hitchcock a direct influence on Spielberg, but they are among the handful of filmmakers who successfully straddle the art/industry divide, being both highly respected craftsmen and popular “brand name” directors.
Regular readers will not be surprised to learn I would prefer to watch these films chronologically (logical is right there in the word, people!), but I think I want to group them by theme for discussion, so I’m not sure what my schedule will be for individual posts. However, I am planning to begin posting by the end of April and wrap up the entire series by the end of May. Luckily, since I’m not being distracted by either Mad Men or Games of Thrones, this should be entirely possible.
As a starting point for this series, below are some assessments I would make today based on what I remember of the films I have seen. I will revisit these categories (and more) at the end of the series to see how these picks and assessments hold up under a condensed viewing schedule.
Note: Apart from Jaws, which I have seen repeatedly due to its filming location on Martha’s Vineyard, and some of the early adventure films, I have generally seen these films only once, usually when they were out in theaters. Therefore, there are a few I don’t remember very well at all, including Empire of the Sun, Always, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Amistad, and Minority Report, and a couple where I’m not even sure if I’ve seen the entire film, namely, 1941 and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The ones I’m sure I haven’t seen are The Sugarland Express, The Color Purple, Hook, The Terminal, War of the Worlds, The Adventures of Tintin, and War Horse.
Desert Island Film: Raiders of the Lost Ark. I might have been tempted by Jaws, but I doubt that would be very good fare when one is stuck on an island.
Most Anticipated Rewatch: Catch Me If You Can. I remember being pleasantly surprised by this one and would love to see if it holds up. Munich was a close second here, but its length prevented it from taking the top spot.
Least Anticipated Rewatch: Always. I saw this in the theater and remember it as a total tearjerker—Steven Spielberg at his sentimental worst.
Most Anticipated New-to-Me Film: The Adventures of Tintin. I loved Tintin and Milou growing up, which is why I didn’t see this film when it came out as I thought it looked awful. The words “bastardization of my childhood” may have been uttered. However, I have since heard good things and am intrigued.
Least Anticipated New-to-Me Film: Hook. I am dreading this one. I had no desire to see it when it came out, and the Watching the Directors podcast tore it to shreds when they covered Spielberg.
Best Lead Actor/Actress: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln. This is one that may change upon reviewing everything. It’s a great performance, but a lot of it for me was that he looked like Lincoln, so I’m not sure it will hold up to other heavyweight performances that aren’t complete Oscar bait.
Worst Lead Actor/Actress: Kate Capshaw, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I’m pretty sure this one will hold up, although someone in Hook may give her a run for the money.
Best Stunt Casting: While most people would probably say Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, for me it has to be François Truffaut in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I still can’t believe he agreed to do the role, but he’s perfect.
Favorite Character: Quint in Jaws. The speech (you know the one) still gives me chills every time. Yes, I’m also a fan of Moby-Dick, why do you ask?
Best Line: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” There may be better lines I’m not remembering, but you can never go wrong with a classic.
Best Opening: Raiders of the Lost Ark. I remember absolutely adoring this when I first saw it and still love watching it every time I revisit this movie—I think it’s my love of puzzles and capers.
Worst Ending: Munich. This was a tough call since Spielberg has a big problem with endings as a rule. As I said during my Oscar blitz, Lincoln would have been infinitely improved by chopping off the last 20 minutes or so, but I went with Munich here since I really would love to forget I ever saw that sex scene.
Best Cinematography: Schindler’s List. I can’t imagine anything will dethrone this one, even if the girl in the red coat is completely unoriginal.
Best Editing: Duel. I can’t remember when I first saw it, but I have a vivid recollection of being amazed at the suspense of this film, given that it is about a battle between a truck and a car.
Best Score: Raiders of the Lost Ark. This was a tough one. Obviously, the musical motifs for both Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind resonate strongly in the mind, and then there is the beautiful violin theme from Schindler’s List, but I think the overall score for Raiders is probably better.
Best Special Effects: Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs! What more needs to be said?
Best Script: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. This is another one that’s a tough call. I don’t have the fondness for E.T. that many people have, but I do remember a pretty tight structure and good dialogue.
Most Underrated Film: Empire of the Sun. I’m not even sure this was on my radar as a Spielberg film when I saw it, or that many people think of it when they think of Spielberg, but I suspect I may conclude it is one of his best “serious” efforts.
Most Overrated Film: Saving Private Ryan. Beyond the incredible opening, I don’t get the love for this film. While no fan of Shakespeare in Love, I have no problem with its “shocking” win at the Oscars that year.
Worst Film: 1941. I know I’ve seen bits of this one, but I suspect I may have turned it off without watching the whole thing. I just remember it being not at all what I expected.
What about you? Are you a fan of Spielberg? Which film is your favorite? Which do you feel misses the mark?
For the complete Spielberg filmography and links to other posts in this series, click here.