Top 10: The Best of Spielberg

Steven Spielberg has had one of the most storied careers in the history of Hollywood, one filled with numerous awards and large numbers at the box office. He is rightfully considered a master director and is one of the most influential figures in filmmaking.  While everything he does isn’t always fantastic (including his most recent effort, Lincoln), there’s no denying that he has helmed some of the best movies of all time, from Jaws to Schindler’s List, E.T., and more. While it was a difficult task, I’ve combed through his long and varied career to pick out the ten best Spielberg films:

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10) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones is easily one of the most famous characters in all of movie history. His iconic bullwhip and fedora are known throughout the world and each of his movies has made tidal waves at the box office. While the films have varied in degrees of quality, there is no denying the amazing filmmaking possibilities surrounding a character like Indy. There are so many different religious artifacts that Indy could seek out, but The Last Crusade lends itself a sense of urgency and significance due to the fact that Indy is searching for the religious artifact, the Holy Grail. It also doesn’t hurt that Sean Connery plays Indy’s father, Dr. Henry Jones Sr. Harrison Ford and Connery have great chemistry and really sell the father-son dynamic. The Last Crusade also benefits from the reinstatement of Nazis as the villains. Indiana Jones, as a series, is always best when Indy is fighting Nazis due to their conniving and malevolent nature. While it isn’t my favorite of the series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is commendable for being a fantastic sequel, and recapturing the sense of fun that was missing in The Temple of Doom.

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9) Munich

Spielberg is typically at his best when dealing with dark events in our history. While it may not reach the heights of his other historical films, Munich in itself is a great examination of vengeance and the never-ending cycle of violence and death. Easily one of Spielberg’s darkest and most violent films, Munich follows the group of Mossad agents who are tasked with avenging the Jews tragically slain at the 1972 Olympics at Munich. At first glance, many may write off Munich as nothing more than a politically charged action flick, but in reality it is a very intellectual study of the way violence always leads to more violence. Its heavy material, but it’s executed brilliantly thanks to fine performances from Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, Spielberg’s ability to stage action, and Tony Kushner’s intelligent script.

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8) Jurassic Park

Adapted from Michael Crichton’s classic book, Jurassic Park was a landmark film in terms of special effects and storytelling. If there is one thing that this film proves, it’s the fact that special effects can naturally enhance a film without being too flashy or distracting. Up until 1993, computer generated imagery (CGI) was very rarely used and when it was utilized it was for small touch ups. However, this all changed with Jurassic Park, as the film ushered in the age of CGI thanks to its combination of prosthetics and CGI to create the extremely realistic dinosaurs. On this merit alone, Jurassic Park deserves a spot on this list, but thankfully the film is fantastic even without the special effects. The concept alone is brilliant, but Spielberg manages to fill the film with likeable and relatable characters, and throws them into the insane theme park filled with dinosaurs. Thanks to John Williams’ score and Spielberg’s direction, there is a sense of awe and wonderment every time the dinosaurs are on screen.

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7) Catch Me If You Can

Easily one of Spielberg’s most fun and entertaining films, Catch Me If You Can is based on the true-life story of Frank W. Abignale Jr., a young con artist who manages to avoid the FBI for a significant stretch of time. While Spielberg is best known for his full-blown epics, we get a nice change of pace from him here as he tones down the action for a more explorative character piece. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Abignale to perfection, completely nailing the boyish charm of the suave con artist. It’s easy to watch him and believe that he is capable of lying and deceiving his way through any obstacle that gets in his way.  Equally as fantastic is Tom Hanks as the FBI agent who is relentlessly pursuing Abignale. While it’s a supporting role, Hanks manages to perfectly capture the unwavering determination of Agent Hanratty. The only thing missing from the film is any sort of exploration of the moral ambiguity at the center of the film.

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6) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

While Spielberg is known best for his more dramatic and serious work, there is no denying that the man knows how to make a fantastic children’s movie, as evident in his classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. E.T. is one of Spielberg’s more personal films as it follows an alienated boy whose parents are recently divorced, a similar situation to Spielberg’s own childhood. As a result, you can feel the passion and adoration Spielberg has for this story of childhood and interconnection in almost every shot.  t’s an extremely emotional movie that manages to resonate with both children and adults, something that many children’s movies have trouble with these days. While it may not reach some of the dramatic heights of some of his other films, E.T. needs to be commended for its ability to reignite the childhood wonder that still rests within every one of us.

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5) Minority Report

Spielberg is one of the rare directors that isn’t tied down to a specific genre, and instead, he is capable of jumping in and out of a wide variety of different stories. While Spielberg is no stranger to science fiction, it’s far from his dominant genre, and he’s never tackled the genre quite like he did in Minority Report. Most of his sci-fi movies are modern day stories with one or two fantastical elements (see E.T), but in Minority Report he transports the audience to the not far off future of 2054 where the police stop murders before they even happen. It’s a crazy concept, but one that Spielberg executes perfectly.  First off, the design of the world is amazing and surprisingly plausible. The idea of personalized ads that follow us around have already become a reality to some extent.  While I’m typically not a fan of Tom Cruise, he give one of the best performances of his career as the grieving father at the center of the story. The only thing holding the movie from placing higher is the fact that the story can be a little muddled and convoluted in order to heighten the pacing.

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4) Jaws

Jaws is the original summer blockbuster and is one of the most influential movies of the past 50 years. It’s thanks to Jaws that Steven Spielberg became a household name, and rightfully so. Jaws is the perfect example of how to build tension throughout an entire film. From the first scene, where the shark attacks a skinny-dipping teenager, to the climactic battle on Quint’s boat (We’re going to need a bigger boat!), Spielberg successfully builds an inherent fear for the shark, which is only amplified by the fact that we rarely see the thing. Instead of giving us full glimpses, Spielberg chooses to use shots from the point of view of the shark, while John William’s classic two-note theme plays in order to create the presence of the shark. Jaws was an especially hard film to place on this list, because for all intents and purpose, a case can be made for why it’s Spielberg’s best movie. Part of it comes down to personal preference, but also because the subject matter isn’t as refined and emotional as some of the films higher up.

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3) Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan is the quintessential war movie. No other war movie manages to transport you onto the battlefield quite like this film while simultaneously portraying the horrors and heroism of war. The opening “Landing on the Beaches of Normandy” alone is one of the most brutal and realistic depictions of war ever captured on film, showing how chaotic and terrifying battle truly is. The film is filled with gorgeous scenery, brilliantly captured by cinematographer and long time Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski, who manages to fantastically capture the horrific beauty of a bombed-out French landscape.  While the film may not reach the emotional highs of Schindler’s List and other Spielberg movies, it is placed so high up on this list thanks to its ability to make you feel like you’re a part of the company depicted and a part of our greatest war.

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2) Schindler’s List

While Spielberg would again explore World War II in Saving Private Ryan, his first foray into the event is a much more personal portrait of one man’s struggle to do the right thing. Schindler’s List follows Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a wealthy German businessman, who uses his factory to save thousands of Jews’ lives during the height of the Third Reich. The Holocaust was easily the most horrendous period of time in our world’s history, and Spielberg successfully manages to capture the horror and terror of that appalling event thanks to amazing performances and his fantastic direction. While the film is dark and disturbing, at its core is an uplifting message about the power that one man’s actions can have and the value of human life. It’s a film about a period of time that many people want to forget about, but shouldn’t. Spielberg has created a portrait of our darkest days that will serve as a constant reminder of the depravity humans are capable of, but will hopefully ensure that we never reach those depths again.

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1) Raiders of the Lost Ark

What is left to say about Raiders of the Lost Ark that hasn’t already been said before?  Not only is it Steven Spielberg’s best movie, but it is also the greatest adventure movie ever made. It’s the epitome of entertainment and has a sense of fun that is missing today in mostly all movies. In one brilliant stroke, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford create one of the preeminent characters in movie history and drop him into a rollicking rollercoaster ride through Nazi infested Egypt. While Spielberg may have weightier and more dramatic films in his resume (see Schindler’s List and Munich), nothing manages to transcend genre quite like Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s simultaneously an edge of your seat action movie, a swooning romance, and a dramatic exploration of religion, all interwoven and paced to perfection. It’s impossible to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark without being swept up in the adventure and it keeps you on the edge of your seat for its entire run-time. This film has already survived the test of time and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. All in all, it will always serve as a constant example of filmmaking at its best.

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Do you guys agree? How would a Steven Spielberg Top 10 differ if you were in control? Excited for his latest, Lincoln? Sound off in the discussion board below

Article by James Hausman

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