EX­AM­IN­ING SPIEL­BERG’S WORK

From his best to his worst, a to­tally sub­jec­tive rank­ing of the work of the first mod­ern di­rec­tor

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - MARC BERNARDIN

AL­FRED HITCH­COCK, af­ter see­ing “Jaws,” said that young Steven Spiel­berg “is the first one of us who doesn’t see the prosce­nium arch.” By which to say that free of the the­atri­cal con­ven­tions that in­formed ev­ery other film­maker be­fore him, Spiel­berg was the first truly mod­ern di­rec­tor. Since then, he has emerged as a Hol­ly­wood force un­like any other, one of the first film­mak­ers since Hitch­cock whose name has be­come a brand, and whose films have made $9.1 bil­lion world­wide.

As the 69-year-old re­leases the 29th fea­ture film he has di­rected, “The BFG,” we look back on his work to see which of those movies rise to the top.

1. “Jaws” (1975)

It is ac­tu­ally dis­con­cert­ing that Spiel­berg was this good this fast. All the el­e­ments that would make him a sin­gu­lar Hol­ly­wood tal­ent were al­ready in place: his love of fam­ily dy­nam­ics, his pa­tience with char­ac­ter, his com­mand of tone and his un­quench­able de­sire to en­ter­tain at all costs. It’s just a fish story — but also the best fish story ever made.

2. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

Leg­end has it that Spiel­berg al­ways wanted to make a James Bond pic­ture, but couldn’t — on ac­count of him not be­ing Bri­tish and they’re stick­lers about such things in Bondville. So he and Ge­orge Lu­cas (who wanted to in­dulge his love for old movie se­ri­als) hatched this, the most per­fect dis­til­la­tion of cine­matic pulp and crack­er­jack thrills yet com­mit­ted to film.

3. “Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan” (1998)

Per­haps the most vis­ceral evo­ca­tion of the chaos of war in movies to date. Even the shmaltzy book­ends — in which the Pvt. Ryan of the ti­tle looks back on the mis­sion that saved him — can’t de­tract from its power.

4. “E.T. the Extra-Ter­res­trial” (1982)

Di­vorce. Chil­dren. Loss. Fear. Hope. Candy. G-men. Bikes. Tears. Home.

5. “Schindler’s List” (1993)

Se­ri­ous Spiel­berg wres­tles with sen­ti­men­tal Spiel­berg here and emerges vic­to­ri­ous, for the most part. And yet, there are in­deli­ble se­quences in here, all adding up to a film of rare and ghastly power.

6. “Close En­coun­ters of the Third Kind” (1977)

Spiel­berg’s mother was a con­cert pi­anist and his fa­ther was an en­gi­neer and com­puter sci­en­tist. So it’s fit­ting that for the first film Spiel­berg wrote by him­self, hu­man­ity com­mu­ni­cates with aliens through music pro­cessed by com­put­ers.

7. “Juras­sic Park” (1993)

The first two acts of this gen­er­a­tionally defin­ing pop con­fec­tion are so taut, so el­e­men­tal in their mon­sterific glee that you al­most don’t mind that the third act abruptly wraps up thanks to an in­cred­i­bly con­ve­nient deus ex T. rex.

8. “War of the Worlds” (2005)

Few movies made in the im­me­di­ate wake of 9/11 were able to cap­ture the kind of ground-level dread that per­me­ates this take on H.G. Wells’ 1897 alien-in­va­sion yarn.

9. “Lin­coln” (2012)

A tow­er­ing look at a tow­er­ing man, Spiel­berg’s som­bre, re­strained por­trait of the 16th pres­i­dent of the U.S. doesn’t have the emo­tional heft of, say, “Schindler’s List,” but it re­veals a film­maker con­fi­dent in his unique gifts.

10. “In­di­ana Jones and the Last Cru­sade” (1989)

Best not to think about the fact that Sean Con­nery and Har­ri­son Ford are only 12 years apart and are play­ing fa­ther and son, and just en­joy the last good In­di­ana Jones movie.

11. “Catch Me If You Can” (2002)

Few things are as fun as watch­ing Spiel­berg have fun, and this romp — fea­tur­ing Leonardo DiCaprio at his least in­suf­fer­able play­ing real-life con man Frank Abag­nale Jr. — is a hoot.

12. “Mi­nor­ity Re­port” (2002)

De­spite his rep­u­ta­tion as a genre film­maker, Spiel­berg spends far more of his screen time look­ing back rather than for­ward. So when he did con­jure a vi­sion of the fu­ture — for this Tom Cruise-star­ring adap­ta­tion of a Philip K. Dick thriller — it was tac­tile and vi­brant.

13. “Bridge of Spies” (2015)

It’s like a maker of fine watches made a fine watch: “Bridge” is an ex­pertly ma­chined piece of Cold War sto­ry­telling with an Os­car­win­ning per­for­mance from Mark Ry­lance at its core. No more, no less.

14. “The Lost World: Juras­sic Park” (1997)

Spiel­berg has said that he re­gret­ted never mak­ing the “Jaws” se­quels, which is why he re­turned for this “Juras­sic” fol­lowup. De­spite a cou­ple of re­mark­able se­quences (like the rap­tor at­tack in the tall grasses; the RV-over-a-cliff gam­bit), how­ever, it’s a se­quel in search of a rea­son to ex­ist.

15. “The Su­gar­land Ex­press” (1974)

Like so many de­but fea­ture films, Spiel­berg’s was a road movie — fol­low­ing par­ents (Goldie Hawn and Wil­liam Ather­ton), who in the process of sav­ing their son from a fos­ter-home fate start an in­ter­state crime spree.

16. “A.I. Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence” (2001)

Pick­ing up where the late Stan­ley Kubrick left off, Spiel­berg tried to graft his in­nate sense of warmth and hu­man­ity to Kubrick’s re­mote chill­i­ness for this story of a boy ro­bot left to fend for him­self in a me­chan­i­cal un­der­world. And the two ethoses never quite har­mo­nize.

17. “The Ad­ven­tures of Tintin” (2011)

The first an­i­mated film Spiel­berg di­rected is a mi­nor, if di­vert­ing, globe-trot­ting tri­fle.

18. “In­di­ana Jones and the Tem­ple of Doom” (1984)

There’s a streak of cru­elty shot through­out this film — which pits In­di­ana Jones against an In­dian cult leader who im­pris­ons an army of child labour­ers and is fond of cut­ting hearts out — that chafes.

19. “Em­pire of the Sun” (1987)

Most no­table for in­tro­duc­ing us to Chris­tian Bale — who was just 12 when he played a young Bri­tish lad lost in Shang­hai dur­ing the Japanese in­va­sion of China dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

20. “Mu­nich” (2005)

It’s an amaz­ing mo­ment in his­tory when, in the wake of the 1972 mas­sacre of Is­raeli Olympians, Is­rael tasked a team of as­sas­sins to ex­act vengeance. It’s a stately, well-ex­e­cuted film — which got five Os­car nom­i­na­tions — but for a movie about re­venge, there isn’t enough blood go­ing to it.

21. “The Color Pur­ple” (1985)

Spiel­berg got quite a bit of flak for mak­ing a movie so quintessen­tially about the black ex­pe­ri­ence, and there are stretches of his adap­ta­tion of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-win­ning novel that bear the ham-fist­ed­ness of, per­haps, a film­maker try­ing to over­com­pen­sate — but it also gave us Whoopi Gold­berg’s as­ton­ish­ing film de­but.

22. “War Horse” (2011)

An am­bi­tious, if to­tally in­con­se­quen­tial, First World War drama about, you know, a horse.

23. “Hook” (1991)

You want a movie about Peter Pan to soar — this one, star­ring Robin Wil­liams as a grown-up Pan re­turn­ing to Nev­er­land to res­cue his own chil­dren, is as land­locked as Cap­tain Hook’s Jolly Roger.

24. “The Ter­mi­nal” (2004)

Some­times, you wanna make a movie in your prover­bial back­yard, rather than de­camp to some for­eign coun­try. Some­times, you just wanna make an Os­car win­ner do a funny ac­cent, as a man trapped in an air­port for decades. That’s all cool. But not, it turns out, that in­ter­est­ing to watch.

25. “Al­ways” (1989)

Holly Hunter, Richard Drey­fuss, John Good­man, Au­drey Hep­burn: Rarely has such a cast been as­sem­bled for less.

26. “Amis­tad” (1997)

Be­cause, if you are go­ing to at­tempt to tell a story about slav­ery in Amer­ica, about the Mid­dle Pas­sage, it shouldn’t be about the white guy.

27. “1941” (1979)

Just just be­cause a di­rec­tor makes movies with a sense of hu­mour doesn’t mean they should make come­dies.

28. “In­di­ana Jones and the King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull” (2008)

Yeah, no.

Tom Hanks, left, as Cap­tain Miller, Matt Da­mon as Pri­vate Ryan and Ed­ward Burns as Pri­vate Reiben in “Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan,” a vis­ceral evo­ca­tion of the chaos of war.

“Jaws:” it is the best fish story ever made.

Har­ri­son Ford in 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark:” the best of thrills and cine­matic pulp.

1982’s “E.T. The Extra-Ter­res­trial” re­minded us to phone home and launched a very young Drew Bar­ry­more.

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