Spielberg.  I have Spielberg’s filmography point totals higher than his #28 ranking here which would suggest, correctly I believe, that his oeuvre is stronger than he is as a director. I love Spielberg’s films. I have always cherished them and always will. I’d guess “movie” fans will think #28 is far too poor a ranking and “cinema” elitist will think he’s given far too much credit on my list…

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phenomenal shot from Schindler’s List

Best film:  Jaws. To a true cinema lover I truly think now (after watching it maybe 6-8 times) that the first half of the film is actually better than the brilliant shark-chase entertaining second half of the film. There’s a great triple shot sequence clean wipe edit and the camera and Spielberg creep closer to Scheider every time between edits- I think I had noticed it subconsciously before but it wasn’t readily apparent to me until this most recent viewing. It’s dazzling and effective. Of course there’s the Hitchcock Vertigo zoom-in track-out shot of Scheider at the beach—gorgeous. There’s a Hitchcockian transference of guilt in the film is well done as is the frame staging on the beach and on the boat with Scheider in the foreground and other characters or the shark in the shot just before the “we’re gonna need a bigger boat line”. Powerful slow tracking shot intro to Robert Shaw’s character. The film works as an intelligent 4 person character study- all 4 of them are brilliant characters and well performed by Dreyfuss, Scheider, Shaw and Murray Hamilton. Eerie dialogue-less horror opening is very well done. Roughly 80 minutes before seeing the shark- but just like The Birds (another Hitchcock mention) it’s a wonderful preamble- I almost enjoy it more which is another reason why the technology that delivers the birds or shark doesn’t really matter. The USS Indianapolis soliloquy by Shaw is perfect writing and acting.

The zoom-in, track-out shot from Vertigo here used so brilliantly by Spielberg in Jaws

total archiveable films:  20

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a mastery of lighting here clearly to get this silhouette shot just right in Saving Private Ryan

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 7 (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, A.I. Artificial Intelligence)

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iconic imagery whether it be with large set pieces or mise-en-scene or both

top 100 films of the decade: 8 (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)

most overrated:  According to the TSPDT consensus Close Encounters of the Third Kind is #203 of all-time and I think that’s pretty far off. It’s not a top 500 film. I love the shot that Spielberg pulled from Tarkovsky’s Mirror in the door and some other elements of the film (Dreyfuss is great) but still.

most underrated:  Raiders of the Lost Ark is Spielberg’s most underrated work on TSPDT. They have it down at #220 and I’m nearly 100 slots higher at #127. It works almost alone without dialogue just focusing on the spectacular set pieces, the editing (Oscar win), John Williams score, and the set design (Oscar win)—silent cinema. This is a spectacle—plays with and borrows from James Bond (heavy iconography) and Gunga Din—like Bond this starts in medias res—and since it borrows from Bond it also borrows from North by Northwest and certainly it has that sort of narrative momentum and set piece focus. The narrative absolutely steam rolls- there’s nothing here I’d take out and everything has a purpose to propel it forward- even when we show Karen Allen in the drinking contest early in the film it’s used again in her contest and attempt to escape Paul Freeman’s character. Welles’ Citizen Kane warehouse that goes on forever ending—phenomenal. Ford is a revelation in the lead- it’s his best work and he’s been very good before (star wars, empire) and after (witness, the fugitive, blade runner: 2049)

a stunner from Raiders of the Lost Ark

gem I want to spotlight:  A.I. It’s a bit of an anomaly in Spielberg’s filmography. It’s a film that is visually superior (Spielberg actually doesn’t have many of these) and the narrative is vexingly opaque to Spielberg fans.  It gets better with each viewing.

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A.I. has a boatload of these – undeniably one of Spielberg’s 2-3 most purely beautiful films

stylistic innovations/traits:  He’s a pop artist and a great manipulator of audiences like Griffith and Hitchock and I mean that as a compliment (if it isn’t already obvious by who I’m comparing to here). He’s a fantastic storyteller and crafter of poignant scenes. I don’t think he’s as good behind the camera or with his mise-en-scene work as those ahead of him on this list, which is why I have him here. I will defend him against his many detractors though (many of whom think A.I.  is his one good movie) who think he is maudlin and somewhat flat in true film style. Spielberg’s work will be forever intertwined with the genius of John Williams and those immaculate film scores. Spielberg has a penchant for the in medias res openings. The narratives and subjects most often center around children, aliens, divorce, and an absent father. In the second half of his career he’s become a great historical dramatist and chronicler as well.

strong narratives, great imagery and John Williams– an incredible combination

top 10

  1. Jaws
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  3. Schindler’s List
  4. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
  5. Saving Private Ryan
  6. Jurassic Park
  7. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
  8. Close Encounters of the third Kind
  9. Minority Report
  10. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
coloring of black and white films has been done back to Griffith, von Stroheim and others– (including FF Coppola’s Rumble Fish) – but it’s an aesthetic choice that pays off here in Schindler’s List

By year and grades

1971- Duel R
1975- Jaws MP
1977- Close Encounters of the Third Kind HR/MS
1981- Raiders of the Lost Ark MP
1982- E.T. MS/MP
1984- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom HR
1985- The Color Purple R
1987- Empire of the Sun R
1989- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade R
1993- Jurassic Park MS
1993- Schindler’s List MP
1997- Amisted R
1998- Saving Private Ryan MS/MP
2001- A.I. Artificial Intelligence MS
2002- Catch Me if you Can R
2002- Minority Report HR
2005- Munich R
2012- Lincoln R/HR
2015- Bridge of Spies R
2017- The Post R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives