It’s common when you do a top 10 for the bottom tier to not always be the best of the best. When I did my music project, there were years even the top 5 was hard to fill. Top 10 lists are hard.
We are not on one of those lists.
Steven Spielberg is the best of the best of directors in my book. Nobody comes close. And it’s not just that he’s great in one area. He’s a legend at almost everything he’s touched. Sure broad comedy isn’t apparently his still but even 1941 has fans. So with the release of The Fabelmans, let me go through my 10 favorite films by the man. And I stress my 10. Yes you’ll see titles missing. My list.
10 Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kicking it off with the best 10 movie I will ever have on a list. Raiders of the Lost Ark tops many Spielberg lists. That it’s here speaks to the fact that I do think the structure is weak. Indiana Jones is useless. The plot lacks momentum. Who cares. This is all execution. Not many movies have enough great action scenes for top 5 lists. It looks amazing. That theme kills. But it’s really the acting. Not a bad performance in a film of nothing but great. A deserved classic.
9 Munich. I’m going to point out that I have this as the best film of 2005 and yet it ranks lower than another 2005 film. Best and favorite aren’t the same. Except with Spielberg. This is a hard film to love. It’s brutal and bleak. There’s no joy here. Just rage. It’s a violent young man’s film from a director already a grand master. This would have been revelatory from Paul Greengrass. It’s art from Spielberg.
8 Catch Me if You Can. This movie is bullshit and I don’t care. Not only is it nothing but lies but the closest it comes to truth was an insult to real people. Yet so? This is a fantasy about a man who lived a wild life and it works because it’s an old school movie star romp. Leonardo DiCaprio’s only attempt at Titanic style charm again works against Tom Hanks killing as an FBI agent. The lightest film on Spielberg’s CV for my money but it’s a dance.
7 Minority Report. Let’s back up a few months for his other 2002 film. Minority Report rules. Definitely a film made to shore his career up after AI, Minority Report is a lacerating satire posing as a mystery. This is his best cast yet. From movie stars Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell to Tim Blake Nelson and Peter Stormare, this is a blast to watch. A film about the death of privacy aging great. And it looks so good.
6 Duel. Why is his TV movie debut here when Schindler’s List, Close Encounters and Saving Private Ryan aren’t? Have you seen Duel? That’s why. Duel is a called shot. It’s what he will do forever. The technique is perfect day one. It’s a scary film. Jaws but a truck. And it’s just great. It only lacks a Williams score. But it’s him from day one.
5 War of the Worlds. I kinda think this is darker than Munich. Seriously. This is about how random life is. The aliens are unexplained and random. The survivors are random. The end is random. And the terror is enduring it. A film about the futility of man. Overlooked as an empty spectacle, this is a beast.
4 Jurassic Park. Leave it at this and move on? No. This is a meditation on hubris. It’s important that Hammond is a good man who is wildly out of his league. He’s only a failure because under no circumstances can he succeed. But he’s so nice. The film is a technical marvel but that script sings. So many great lines. And the dinosaurs are everything.
3 Jaws. Spielberg sure makes a lot of anti business movies. He’s seen as a corporate guy but his films are brutal, even Ready Player One which is likely his worst but has things I like. Jaws is the peak. It’s a searing look at how a town denies the truth of a problem and how the people out to fix it can’t. It’s chilling. The acting is iconic for a reason. And Spielberg solos.
2 AI: Artificial Intelligence. The hardest film to write about. AI is bleak and cold. It’s a film about a disaster future. It’s dark. It’s anti-Spielberg, a project begun by Stanley Kubrick and, yet his most his film aside from another. Beneath the cold is a pained loving soul that wants to connect. It’s a lovely film aching with grief. It’s also the most physically beautiful film in the Spielberg canon. There are so many masterful shots here. A close runner up. But a film I saw this year has to be 1.
1 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Does Spielberg consider this his masterpiece? He must. It is. When I saw it at the IMAX I was devastated. This is as perfect as films get. The technique in every shot is art. There’s so many great small choices from the way the story is told to shots. E.T. stands alone as a rare, pure experience that gets to what all 10 films do. There’s no distance from Spielberg. He makes you feel. He’s personal and proud of it. And he never got it more perfect than here.