The Threeway: Top 3 Spielberg Movies

Woops! Looks like the long weekend took more of my attention than I expected.

Don’t worry, dear readers, I thought of you fondly while I was lounging in the pool, being pummeled by my progeny, wondering if they would drown me.

Yet, I survived! And long enough to see Janie completely explode Adam’s head. Oh, what a glorious day.

Let’s see if I can’t add some fuel to the fire, get those embers flying, work Adam up into a firestorm that can only be doused by Richard Dreyfus’ ghost. Because, y’see, while I agree that Spielberg has been a prolific and entertaining movie-maker; I found myself hard pressed to find three movies to fill this list. “E.T.” is schmaltzy treacle. The Raiders series ground on far too long. “Jurassic Park” is nothing but “JAWS” with a T-Rex and less subtlety. Still. There are a few films where Spielberg manages to transcend and overcome his penchant for heavy-handedness.

3) “Saving Private Ryan” – This affected me deeply the first time I saw it; to the point where I wasn’t sure if I could watch the entire thing. It was gut wrenching and visceral and totally unlike the popcorn flicks that I associated with Spielberg. That said, I have watched it twice, and twice only, and I likely won’t watch it again. I’m OK with that – It’s one of the rawest portrayals of World War II that I have seen. When you strip the Hollywood out of war, it shouldn’t be something you casually queue up on a Sunday afternoon.

2) “Raiders of the Lost Ark” -By far one of the most iconic adventure movies of all time. It’s reverberated throughout pop culture to the point where cartoons like “My Little Pony” are riffing on it (I know you’ve been just waiting for me to name-drop the show, Adam. There you are). Harrison Ford is brilliant as the world-weary adventurer and brings to Indy more than just the swashbuckling tomb raider of the early pulp fiction cliffhangers. Ford and Spielberg infuse Indiana Jones with a modern cynicism that makes him resonate with the audience. While later movies stumbled (to the point where it was reported that Spielberg had made Indy 3 to apologize for “Temple of Doom”), “Raiders” simply owns the audience from the opening scenes and doesn’t let go until the opening of the Ark at the end.

1) “JAWS” – I absolutely love “JAWS.” I first saw it when I was about twelve and to say it affected me deeply is an understatement. I still hum “Farewell and Adieu” whenever I get on a boat. I still think twice about getting in the water after dark. “JAWS” didn’t just scare me. It terrified me. But it was so much more than the shark. Here were grown men, men like my father, confident and cocksure that they could outsmart a fish. Except they couldn’t. The happy ending was the very definition of a pyrrhic victory, to the point where I was certain Brody would never make it to shore.

And revisiting “JAWS” years later, I could see that the terror of the shark was more allegorical than anything else. This was a town on the brink of economic collapse. There wasn’t just fear of the water, there was fear that their livelihoods would be destroyed. That the shark’s impact would reverberate far onshore and take not just the lives of a few horny teenagers; but of an entire town. The hiring of Quint isn’t just the foolhardy bravado of men who believe that there is no creature they can’t overpower; it’s a desperate Hail Mary pass upon which every character’s fate rests. “JAWS” is inarguably Spielberg at his best.

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The Threeway – Top 3 Spielberg Movies (Janie’s Take)

Okay, so here’s the weird thing.  I didn’t love doing this as much as I thought I would. Vinnie said, “Let’s do the Threeway on our favorite Spielberg movies.” And I was like: “Hells yeah, that would be awesome!”

But then I started going through all the Spielberg-directed movies (we only did directed otherwise the list was truly mind-boggling in its length) and I realized… God, I hate to say this but I really can’t find any way around it… I am not a huge Spielberg fan.

[That thump sound you just heard was Adam’s dead body hitting the floor. RIP Vinnie. I’m sorry I caused your demise.]

But yeah, that’s right, when I look at the list of Spielberg’s “greats” (Adam listed them in his response), none of them make me want to pull out the DVD and watch them right away.  As a matter of fact, I couldn’t  watch any of the DVDs immediately even if I wanted to because I don’t own a single Spielberg-directed movie.  Why? Well… at the risk of repeating myself… because evidently I’m not a huge Spielberg fan.

I believe Spielberg is pretty great at what he does best: create movies that delight his inner 15-year-old boy.  But seeing as I am not a 15-year-old or a boy, I have never been enthralled with any of his movies. (Also, romance is my thing, and Spielberg pretty much totally sucks at romance. Utterly.)  He also has a gift for picking out important adult stories (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich) and telling them well, although they’re still not my favorite movies.

I’ve said my peace. Now on to the ranking.

#3 Minority Report –I’m a sucker for a noir. This future-noir is rich and thought-provoking –weird and a little scary all at the same time. And maybe what I said before about not wanting to watch a Spielberg DVD isn’t totally true – talking about Minority Report makes me want watch it again. That’s a good sign.

#2 Jaws. Giving credit where credit is due. Jaws was pretty much single-handedly responsible for ushering in the new age of blockbusters. It was a cultural phenomenon. It is the reason we still have huge summer movie releases to this day. It undeniably works as a thriller (although without John Williams’ score could we still say the same??). It is perhaps, although not my favorite, Spielberg’s masterpiece.

#1 Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love all the Indy movies, even the bad one. But truly, it’s less about Spielberg’s direction (although I will be the first to admit that the opening scene in Raiders is the best first 10-minutes of any movie ever), and more about Harrison Ford.  Seriously.  I mean, even the most iconic scene in the movie – Indy shooting the crazy sword-wielding baddie – was Harrison Ford’s idea (because he was suffering from dysentery and too weak to perform the rehearsed fight scene).  Regardless, the Indy Jones movies are the closest I come to loving Spielberg’s films – and I credit that to the fabulous team he put together more than his actual directing.

The Threeway: Top 3 Spielberg Movies (Adam’s Take)

I’ve said it before – I’m a card carrying member of the Church of Spielberg. I can wash away his big misfires as things he didn’t really direct. Seriously, you think he was really on set for “Lost World: Jurassic Park 2”? Hell no. Maybe that one scene where the van falls into the tree (with the spiderweb/cracking windshield) but that’s about it. Same with “Crystal Skull.” The scene with Indy and Mutt on the motorcycle through campus – yes. Anything else? No.

Even the movies I wouldn’t put on this list are amazing:

  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Color Purple
  • Schindler’s List
  • Duel
  • Jurassic Park
  • War of the Worlds
  • Adventures of Tintin
  • War Horse
  • Saving Private Ryan

Any other filmmaker would love to have those on his resume. For Spielberg, those are in the “also ran” pile. Hell, that doesn’t even get into films like:

  • Munich
  • Empire of the Sun
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Catch Me If You Can

The fact is – he is the man. Enough of my man crush on his cinematic excellence. Onto the official Top 3:

3) “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – If Adventure Had a Name… It Must Be Indiana Jones! Sure, that’s a tag line from one of the other ones, but I don’t care. Raiders is pure awesome. The movie is carefully constructed. One scene gets your heart racing, the next allows you to catch your breath. The next scene kicks in adrenaline, the next settles back down. Only, the “coming down” scenes get shorter and the “blood pumping” scenes get more complex, until we hit the face-melting final.

Best Scene: The opening or the The Opening of the Ark. I’m not sure which. Both are iconic and incredible.

2) “E.T.” – If I created this list a few years ago this movie would have sat at #1. I love “E.T.” It captures a childhood sense of wonder that few movies ever have. Spielberg films the movie from a child’s perspective (ground up camera work – you don’t even see the “bad guy’s” face until 3/4 of the way through the movie) and it is lit with awe. The lightning style (lots of search lights coming from behind objects) will become a Spielberg trademark, but it was never done better than right here.

Best Scene: Towards the end as the kids are trying to get E.T. back into the forest. The “Man” is after them. What’s a group of punk kids harboring an Alien supposed to do? FLY! As E.T. lifts their bikes up over the police blockade… I still cheer.

1) “JAWS” – This movie has shot up my list of all time favorites in recent years. I don’t know why, but it took me awhile to fully understand its brilliance. We all know the story on how they didn’t show the shark much because the mechanical shark didn’t work well. Whether the decision was conscious or just dumb luck doesn’t matter. What does matter is the result.

Hitchcock once said “Their is no terror in the BANG, only the anticipation of it.” I think Hitch would have loved “JAWS” (it’s possible to say that “JAWS” was an extension of “The Birds” in terms of nature turning against man). There is terror in a shark. There is pure terror in the anticipation of the shark.

Best Scene – to prove that… there’s a scene where there are two people trying to catch the shark. It’s night and they are standing on a pier. They throw a pot roast into the water (on a hook) and tie the chain to the dock. The shark comes. Eats the roast and takes off – pulling the pier apart! One fisherman is in the water. As he starts to swim back we see the dock turn around. His friend starts yelling “SWIM! FASTER! DON’T TURN AROUND JUST SWIM!” His friend knows the dock turning means the shark has turned and is now after his friend.

The glorious thing is that throughout the entire scene… we never see the Shark. Not one dorsal fin. It’s exhilarating.

What do you think? Your top 3 Spielberg films?

Everyone Thinks “Citizen Kane” Stinks

There’s a general rule of cinema: “Citizen Kane” is the greatest film ever. Every critic list, every film professor will shout this from on high. But, much like when “November Rain” finally ousted “Thriller” as the greatest video of all time, someone has done the bold deed. They knocked “Kane” off his perch.

Every 10 years Sight & Sound magazine, a respected industry rag out of Britain, polls a bunch of critics, academics and the like and creates a Top 50 list. And, every decade for 50 years “Citizen Kane” sat atop the list with the heft of Orson Wells and a burned up sled. No more.

What did they pick? It’s hardly important (although, they chose the excellent “Vertigo”). Best Film Ever?What’s important is the willingness to change. To pick something new(er). To challenge the status quo.

So, I’ll challenge it here as well. What’s really interesting about the Top 10 is how much I dislike so many of the films on it. I love “Vertigo” but, after that… I’m not a big “Citizen Kane” fan. I detest “8 1/2” (I wrote a paper about my dislike for it and my film professor gave me and F and wrote “either you failed to grasp it, or I failed to teach you. Either way, this is an F. Change your opinion”). I have little love for either “2001” or “The Searchers.”

So, out of the new Top 10, I’ve seen five and liked one. And I like arty films and classics. Seriously, “Bicycle Thieves” isn’t in the Top 10 (it was 33)? What the hell? “Godfather” doesn’t crack the Top 20 (21)? I want to respect this list for the sole reason that it doesn’t lead off with “Kane” but then it completely screws up the rest of the list.

So, I’m taking a page from Anthony’s book and putting up a poll. What’s the BEST FILM EVER? I’ve put down seven that I think should be in consideration (either from my viewpoint or as “standards”). What say you, dear reader?

Cult of Spielberg: Emancipating “Lincoln”

Let’s get something out of the way early here – I am a complete Spielberg fanatic. Movies like “E.T.,” “Jaws,” “Close Encounters” and “Raiders” are all on my list of “perfect movies” ever made. I honestly feel cheated every year that goes by without a film directed by him. The drought between “Munich” and last Winter’s one-two punch of “Adventure’s of Tintin” and “War Horse” was painful for me. (Editor’s note: I don’t think Spielberg actually directed “Crystal Skull.” I also don’t think he directed “Lost World” either, if you care.)

Shoe-in for an Oscar Nomination – Daniel Day Lewis IS Lincoln.

As such, news of new Spielberg movies touch me in a special place. Disney announced that new Spielberg Oscar-bait “Lincoln” will hit theaters on November 16 (November 9th if you are a fancy-pants in NY or LA). These are interesting dates because:

  1. Spielberg has stated that he didn’t want this movie to be fodder during the upcoming Presidential election. Last I looked, Lincoln wasn’t up for re-election, but whatever.
  2. The Nov 9 date puts it in Bond’s cross hairs as “Skyfall” opens the same day.
  3. Worse (box office-ly speaking) is that Nov 16 opens it against “Twilight.” That means I will live in a world where the opening of a new Spielberg movie will LOSE the opening weekend Box Office crown to glittery vampires.

Now… if there were only a movie where Lincoln dispatched vampires. Dare to dream…