Ok, I am not the biggest Spielberg supporter. I can count on one hand the movies of his I enjoy. Being the most successful American director, doesn’t make him the greatest American director. And goddamn he doesn’t know what to do with female characters (yeah, I know Dee Wallace Stone was nominated, but her high pitched anxiety made me wish for one of the Howling werewolves to jump out and bite her head off). Take a gander at all his leading ladies and see how many actually went on to decent careers (don’t count the few that had careers before being in his movies). I’ll list the ones I think are great, and then mention a couple that I think have good things in them.
The Sugarland Express – Only saw this once, but remember it being pretty good.
Jaws – Pretty darn awesome and the beginning of the end; Hollywood wanted more blockbusters after this. I know people who poo poo all Spielberg films, but I like the characters in this one and I like how the story unfolds. It was probably all an accident, but it paid off.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Spielberg later said that he could never make an ending like this movie had today. He would never have a father leave his family, because he could never leave his. Well Steve, Roy left his family because they were not worth sticking around for. And sometimes there are things greater than us. Francois Truffaut is in this one, and is a scene stealer.
Raiders of the Lost Ark – Wow. You know what I was watching while my brothers saw this in the theater? Clash of the Titans. I made the wrong choice (though I have a little nostalgia for Clash). I never liked any of the sequels to Raiders, and pretend they don’t exist.
Schindler’s List – Could’ve been great but he got in his own way and couldn’t help screwing it up with over sentimentalism. The scene near the end when Schinlder is about to leave the camp and the Jews give him a ring; Spielberg blew it by trying to squeeze extra tears out of the audience by having Schindler break down and start crying. That was not the character of Schindler, that was Spielberg. It rang untrue from the first time I saw it and made me angry. He had made his first real grown up movie up to that point (there were a couple other flourishes here and there of weakness, but for the most part he did good). It was as bad as Elliot’s fake crying over E.T. when they were trying to escape their house. Some of the kids are a little too cute, but a lot of the unknown actors were pretty good. I really liked Embeth Davidtz, whose prior claim to fame was Army of Darkness. I thought Ralph Fiennes’ nasal delivery was a riff on Peter Seller’s Dr. Strangelove, but that’s actually Ralph’s voice. Steven Zaillian’s screenplay of Thomas Keneally’s non-fiction Schindler’s Ark, is pretty good. The scene of the little girl in red, is in the book. But that damn ending with the ring, really pisses me off.
Catch Me If You Can – A pretty fun, light movie. If Gore Verbinski had done it as originally intended, it probably would’ve been an hour longer, with a buttload of pointless redundancies.
Munich – I don’t have as many problems as other people have with this one. Although interjecting his own morality in a fight he clearly doesn’t understand is a detriment. The movie does follow the book pretty closely (if the book is an honest account that is). I mostly like it for the set pieces, which is what Spielberg does best. Acting and storytelling aren’t his strong suits. The scene when Chopper is having sex with Ayelet Zurer (check her out in her native Israeli films, like Nina’s Tragedies) and we see muzzle flashes from weapons fire going off around him, is silly. For a better film related to this subject, check out Kevin MacDonald’s Oscar winning documentary One Day in September. Note to Janusz Kaminski: Stop with the pools of hot light, that’s Bob Richardson’s thing. Get your own schtick.