Or, please God, make it end.
Well, this has been quite the (action) adventure. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this, but I know I didn’t think it would drag on for so long. However, the sad reality is that Spielberg’s films are long: most clock in over two hours, and seven of them are over two and a half hours.
In and of itself, this wouldn’t be a problem. Some of my favorite films are long, and some many people might call them boring: Les Enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise) and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp come to mind. But I think many of Spielberg’s films are unnecessarily long. Maybe this is because he wants to make big, epic pictures like his hero David Lean, but I don’t think he has a knack for them.
And it seems I’m not the only one who thinks so. Internationally, Spielberg’s reputation is mixed. While he claims five of the spots on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 list (the most of any director), only one of these films, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, appears in the Sight & Sound Top 250 greatest films of all time (and it’s way down the list at #183). Even more surprising, Schindler’s List, which is #8 on the AFI list, is the only film in the Top 25 to not appear anywhere on the complete Sight & Sound list, which includes 1000 films. Saving Private Ryan, which comes in at #71 on the AFI list, is also nowhere to be found in the Sight & Sound poll.
As a point of comparison, fifteen of the Top 25 AFI films appear in the Sight & Sound Top 100, and five more are in the Top 250.* [Yes, of course I made a spreadsheet, why do you ask?] Of the three directors—Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Wilder—who come closest to Spielberg in the AFI list, with four films each, only Wilder has a film that didn’t make the Top 250, and that’s Double Indemnity at #283. So, despite any issues I might have with some of Spielberg’s films, I do feel he is woefully underrepresented in the Sight & Sound poll, especially when someone like Bresson has a whopping seven films (I mean, really, shoot me now). And Spielberg’s one film is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial? Really? But more on that later.
To the awards!
Best Film: Jaws. Not only is Jaws a great story that holds up after repeated viewings, but it also produced some of the finest performances seen in a Spielberg film as well as being one of his most “cinematic” efforts.
Favorite Film (Readers’ Choice): Raiders of the Lost Ark was the clear winner here. Readers chose it three to one over the next leading contenders, including E.T., Jaws, Jurassic Park, and The Last Crusade. Thanks to everyone who voted!
Desert Island Film: This remains Raiders of the Lost Ark, although depending on the day I might pick The Adventures of Tintin. Good, (mostly) clean fun.
Most Underrated Film: A.I. Artificial Intelligence. I’m sure this comes as no surprise after my science fiction post. This film broke me in the best way possible, all while containing a multitude of gorgeous shots and angles.
Most Overrated Film: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. That’s right, I went there. It may be a good movie, but it’s not a great film. While it might squeak into my top ten Spielbergs, it would not be nearly as high as most seem to put it. Feel free to register your displeasure in the comments.
The Spielberg Film You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should: Duel. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this, get your hands on a copy.
Best Opening: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I think this tops Raiders of the Lost Ark by just a smidge.
Best Ending: Raiders of the Lost Ark. How can I not go with the film whose last line is about getting a drink and whose last shot launched not-quite-a-thousand episodes of The X-Files? I can’t. And it’s not just because Chris Carter and I share the same birthday.
Worst Ending: Munich. I think the sex may have been worse the second time. And that’s just wrong on so many levels.
Most Wasted Potential: 1941. This could have been so funny; instead, it was a sad mess.
Worst Film: Hook. I admit that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, War of the Worlds, and Always put in good showings, but Hook is just abysmal from beginning to end.
I think most of my “technical” awards remain what they were out the outset. I’ll just say that, regardless of my issues with the length of Spielberg’s films, he does work with incredible collaborators and the production values of his films are invariably high.
Best Ensemble: Saving Private Ryan. The secondary characters make this movie.
Best Actor/Actress: Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln.
Best Actor/Actress, junior division (tie): Christian Bale as Jamie Graham in Empire of the Sun and Haley Joel Osment as David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Worst Actor/Actress: Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell in Hook. I’m no Julia hater, but she is cringe-inducing here.
Best Stunt Casting: Sean Connery as Professor Henry Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Considering Spielberg originally had a James Bond type of character in mind for this series, this bit of casting is sort of brilliant.
Best Stunt Casting, runner-up: Robert Stack parodying himself as Major General Joseph Stilwell in 1941.
Favorite Character: Robert Shaw as Quint in Jaws. For the USS Indianapolis speech and so much more. Quint just gets under your skin.
Favorite Character, runner-up: Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. I love this character and he elevates a rather lackluster cast.
—God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.
—Dinosaurs eat man … woman inherits the earth.
—Ian Malcolm to Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park
Best Use of Trains: Duel set the standard for the train obsession to come.
Best Use of a National Park: Arches National Park in the opening of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Prettiest Sunset Shot: The shots at the end of War Horse were so glorious they seemed fake.
Most Ominous Sunset Shot: The men in helmets coming up the hill to Elliott’s house in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Most Impressive Crowd Scenes: Empire of the Sun. These scenes were apparently choreographed to the inch as no digital effects were used.
Best Silent Film Imitation: The Japanese “descendents of Ninja assassins” disguised as Christmas trees in 1941.
Best Inside Joke: E.T. dressed as a ghost on Halloween, looking at “Yoda” walking by.
Best Callback to a Previous Spielberg Film: The falling ferris wheel in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, calling back to 1941.
Biggest Musical Rip-Off: Jurassic Park. The only Spielberg score that was not composed by John Williams was The Color Purple, which was by Quincy Jones. However, I think Williams must have liked it because the main theme was disconcertingly similar to the one found years later in Jurassic Park.
Favorite Musical Moment: Sallah singing Pinafore in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Favorite Surprise Moment: When Jamie runs over the hill to get his plane and sees the Japanese soldiers in Empire of the Sun.
Tenderest Moment: Lincoln picking up his sleeping son in front of the fireplace in Lincoln.
Eeriest Moment: Approaching the Twin Towers and a few other tall buildings sticking out of a drowned, and then frozen, Manhattan in A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The Twin Towers appear prominently in the closing shot of Munich as well.
All in all, I’m very glad that I undertook this project. It definitely helped me understand Spielberg’s work and, for better or worse, changed my existing opinion on a number of his films. Those that rose the most in my esteem were The Adventures of Tintin, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Lincoln, and Saving Private Ryan. Those that fell furthest were E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, neither of which I would have expected when setting out on this journey.
For posts in the Spielberg series, click below:
Steven Spielberg: Introduction
Spielberg I: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Spielberg II: To Boldly Go… Captains, Creatures, and Crusaders
Spielberg III: Father Figures and Freedom Fighters
Spielberg IV: Science Fiction Triple Feature
To see the complete Spielberg filmography, click here.
*The Top 25 AFI films that are also in the Sight & Sound Top 100 are Casablanca, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, City Lights, The General, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, Psycho, Raging Bull, The Searchers, Singin’ in the Rain, Some Like It Hot, Sunset Blvd., 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Vertigo. Those in the Sight & Sound Top 250 include E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Gone with the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz.