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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Five Best: Steven Spielberg

scene from "War Horse" courtesy
With the slightly bland critical reception of War Horse, Steven Spielberg's latest film, I was discussing with other bloggers some of his failures and, more importantly, the films that show this visionary filmmaker at his best. More recently, he's been a little hit and miss, but when you look at the entire body of work, it's astounding what he can do with the right material. So, let's take a look back at the career (so far) of the great Steven Spielberg and reminisce about a time when he didn't pander to audiences so much. Here they are, in chronological order.

Jaws (1975)

The birth of the summer blockbuster came from what may still be Spielberg's best film. A movie can't really build suspense much better than Jaws - you don't even see the shark until late in the film (because it didn't work); all you get are three men (brilliantly played by Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, and Roy Scheider), how they relate to one another, and how they plan to deal with this beast on the open water. It's still regarded as one of the scariest films of all time and holds up to this day.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Spielberg's first major trip into the science-fiction realm he became so skilled in, this look at one man's obsession is so detailed and fascinating, thanks in part to the phenomenal leading turn from Richard Dreyfuss. After an encounter with a UFO, Dreyfuss begins having visions of this ship and the same five note scale, slowly being drawn to Devil's Tower in Wyoming for an event that will change the world. It's a fantastic tale of hope in the face of skepticism, while fighting a creeping paranoia.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The fun begins with Harrison Ford as the titular hero, off to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. A genre-bending film that helped define the idea of an action-comedy, Raiders not only gave birth to one of the most successful film series of all time, but helped to prove Spielberg can direct all sorts of types of films. Co-written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan, this adventure had lots of laughs, plenty of action, and some of the most memorable scenes ever put on film. And yes, this was long before Crystal Skull tried to ruin it all.
E.T. (1982)

The first (and certainly not the last) of Spielberg's films to truly go for the emotional jugular is the story of Elliott (Henry Thomas) and his proverbial connection with an extra-terrestrial being. A film that dives deep into pre-adolescent loneliness and feeling like you don't belong, it still remains one of the touchstones of Spielberg's career, thanks to a deeply sentimental story that doesn't lay it on too thick, but still manages to squeeze some tears out of even the toughest skinned people.
Schindler's List (1993)

The darkest topic Spielberg had covered up to that point, this is the based-on-a-true-story tale of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who turns his factory into a refuge for Jews during World War II. A story of a humanitarian in the face of extreme prejudice has incredible impact, thanks to Liam Neeson's work as Schindler, the face of good, and Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth, the face of absolute evil. The best picture winner of 1993, it's still recognized - along with the others above - as one of the greatest films ever made.

Fell free to argue with me, but you're wrong. There....I said it.

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