‘Guns… a lot of guns.’
Keanu Reeve’s connection to the neo-western genre now goes beyond the prefix. In the latest Wickian outing, director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad put a spectacular bounty on the boogeyman’s head, switching out the Wild West for neon-scorched cityscapes and adding a breathless amount of kung/gun/dog-fu.
A single droplet of blood cues the cheesy opening credits. We’re back in the world of John Wick (Reeves); immediately following the events of Chapter 2, Continental hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) allows the hitman one hour to escape before a $14 million contract for his life is lit.
Every single killer in New York City wants a slice of that bounty; but it’ll be no easy catch. This is “John fucking Wick”, “the last thing many men see before they die”, therefore, “the odds are about even”. As the rain pours like a Vietnam monsoon, John is hunted like a dog – though we all know that action equals a deadly consequence in this franchise.
Old faces return: Lance Reddick’s low-toned, refined Charon; Laurence Fishburne on amazingly loose form as Bowery King (he belongs in Westeros with lines like “I am the throne, baby!”). But, as the lore of this canine-avenging series expands and vastly deepens, many more emerge from the shadows: Asia Kate Dillon as The Adjudicator, representing the High Table’s reticles focused on Winston after his friendly allowance to John after breaking sacred rules; Halle Berry as Sofia, a former partner of John’s with a toe-curling knack for letting her pair of gorgeous dogs ravage her enemies genitals (it happens a lot). Not to mention the actual Anjelica Houston and Mark Dacascos as a delightfully twisted baddie.
Coins, markers, High Tables; Stahelski and Kolstad have rapidly moved from their emotive beginnings to expansive, hammy lore, constantly revealing new areas of the assassin-sphere. Your allegiances can be deciphered on the primitive question; which film did you prefer? The answer will likely indicate how you take Chapter 3, by far the most outrageous, exaggerated entry of the trilogy.
This time round though, the leaps and bounds the whacky mythos takes doesn’t always equal an exciting story. The runtime, a reasonable 131 minutes, can sag in bullet-less intervals, often woven with opaque dialogue about bonds, worths and penance. But, when the action comes back, the film kicks into a much higher gear.
The choreography here is close to The Raid 2-levels of blood-soaked quality; inventive, grim but rarely gratuitous. There’s horses, kitanas, uber-shotguns; all and more used in the act of killing, and it’s glorious. From a fight with the franchise equivalent of Jaws (Bond villain, not the shark), to a jaw-dropping move with a book, to the most impressive use of dogs in any motion picture that’s ever existed; this is premium action cinema. Stahelski is a genius in this arena, but all due credit to Dan Laustsen, the cinematographer that evokes blinding electricity from acutely framed, cross-discipline chaos.
“Art is pain” one character quips; I bet Reeves agrees. The people’s action star is known for loving the stunt-work, but this performance is one of immense physical aptitude. Stahelski said in an interview that when John looks to be struggling in the movie, panting and grunting, that’s because Reeves is. You believe it, you’re there for every punch, stab and shot he faces, every body-slam he dishes out; but with that reliable charisma he’s perfected in his renaissance, he’s also an immensely likeable hero.
There are other quibbles; Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s score is a bit uninspiring; it has momentum, but not the raw acceleration of say, Junkie XL’s work on Mad Max: Fury Road. There’s also the fact that these assassins kill people in broad daylight a lot, even in train stations, and nobody seems to notice. But, with such a remarkable plethora of sequences some directors could only dream of producing, this is an exhilarating, ooh-inducing watch (shout-out to all the good dogs again).
First he avenged a dog, now he fights alongside them. John Wick’s third chapter is an over-the-top feast of brutal, giddy, masterful violence.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm
Bewildering, penetrative sci-fi.
Endless blackness, an infinite stretch of both everything and nothing, mesmerizing but (literally) suffocating in its incomprehensible scale; the existential terror of High Life’s surrounding twinkly cosmos looms like an unconquerable inevitability. But famed arthouse director Claire Denis, making her English-language movie debut, imbues her unlikely sci-fi effort with more than fear of the unknown.
Floating far, far away from Earth, a crew of Death Row inmates is sent on a near-suicide mission to extract energy from a whopping black hole. But the ship’s doctor, Dibs (Juliette Binoche), has other ideas; battling her own demons, she wants to harvest the men’s semen and impregnate the women. But Monte (Robert Pattinson) isn’t game to make a deposit to the wank-bank.
Although, the film opens, presumably, after this gestation operation, with Monte looking after an adorable little baby; screaming for her dad as he works on the outside of the craft (the physics of Denis’ void are unique; bodies float over opening titles but a spanner drops like a pebble). The first half-hour is entrancing; dazzling cinematography from Yorick Le Saux and Tomasz Naumiuk evokes the lucid neon of HAL’s brain and the lingering malevolence of the Overlook Hotel’s haunted corridors (smoke pervades hallways like blood from the elevator).
There are shades of other wonderful features here: a glorious green garden is reminiscent of the environmental isolation of Silent Running; the team’s objective is similar to Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, although tonally disparate. But as the narrative opens up to the other inmates, Denis’ opaque trip turns extraordinarily carnal.
“It’s called a taboo,” Monte says at one point – High Life certainly falls into that challenging category. Taking us back to others onboard (a terrific ensemble, including Mia Goth and André Benjamin), we’re transferred into a sensually charged prison, where bloodlust is normal and the risk of rape (both male and female) is prevalent. While its mood is similar to that of Under the Skin and thematically in the same ballpark as Children of Men, it’s a mind-bending, unique experience – quite possibly the horniest space expedition to hit cinemas.
The composition of every frame is impeccable (the way Denis commands dread from a gaze is chilling), and the pace is calculated; stretches of ominous inactivity are punctuated with violent vignettes. For the cast, it’s not exactly breezy fare, but they manage to shine; Pattinson puts in an engrossingly fractured performance, navigating his way through with a natural gravity (particularly as the film heads towards its conclusion). Binoche makes the bigger impression though, terrifying throughout and stopping the show with a barnstorming, intensely visceral, almost-occult solo sex scene inside the facility’s “fuck box” (with a heart-thumping score from Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples), akin spiritually to 2018’s Suspiria – indeed, “it’s a whole other rabbit hole”.
But like Guadagnino’s remake, High Life can be an easier film to admire than enjoy. The script allows itself to lean on exposition instead of letting mystique take the wheel; but at the other end of the spectrum, its frequent ambiguity doesn’t always inspire cohesion. Worst of all, towards the end there’s an abhorrent scene with dogs that is so overtly horrific, so difficult to stomach, it made me upset to the point of being physically ill.
But in a complex tapestry of ideas, Denis’ direction is quite remarkable. The content is troubling, and by the time the credits roll, you’ll likely be craving a cold shower. The filmmaker purposely tests your patience, drags you through the depths of morality; but it’s undoubtedly indelible. Plus, there’s a triumphant snippet of ‘Flower of Scotland’ that granted me merciful elation before the nausea took control.
Human nature and Mother Nature come to blows with uncomfortable consequences in this disturbing, mystifying sci-fi odyssey.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm
If each month of every year had a gravestone, April 2019 would have “Part of the journey is the end” etched on it. The final season of Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame – the two biggest events of all time in their respective mediums. Hype can be both friend and foe in the tumultuous build-up (particularly when spawns of Satan leak footage), but the directing Russo brothers have proved themselves to be dab hands in this particular pop culture arena. And, with this masterful, galvanizing conclusion to more than 10 years of movies, they’ve provided fans with the rarest thing of all; a true end.
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) sets the scene: “Thanos did exactly what he said he was gonna do, he wiped out 50% of all living creatures.” The film picks up after the catastrophic events of its finger-snapping predecessor, and survivors’ guilt is rife. Team members have turned to self-help groups, others to exacting vengeful violence on those who made it out alive who perhaps don’t deserve to be, and a few are trying to push on through the grief and preserve that oh-so-cherished “suit of armour around the world”. The fact is, they now know what it’s like to lose, to feel so desperately that they’re right, but to fail nonetheless.
Appropriately, the first act of Endgame is indeed a somber affair, right from the ultra-downbeat, perfectly pitched opening scene; a painting of post-trauma life for our very human heroes, with hurt dripping off the canvas as they strive and struggle to do something with the world that’s left. It’s no spoiler to say that Tony (Robert Downey Jr) and Nebula (Karen Gillan, who’s “only a tiny bit sadistic”) are stranded in space from the off, following their final boss stint on Titan. But, as Steve Rogers says: “Some people move on, but not us.” Through an absolute fluke, there’s a small chance to do something; and that’s when the madness really begins.
It’s a long film, 181 minutes to be exact. But it feels much, much shorter; similarly to Infinity War (but entirely different in tone), there’s a brilliant momentum through the acutely paced vignettes of the story, allowing for deep-cutting character work and 10 years of plot threads to finally tie together (Tony and Steve’s precarious relationship is a highlight). If the first third burns, the second dazzles. Like a victory lap of the MCU’s triumphs, the directors and writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, orchestrate angst, wonder and poignancy in all the right moments, their love for these icons shining through every reunion and callback. Only a few moments stumble; a certain character’s alcoholic arc loses its charm, the comedy is occasionally clunky, one moment of intended welly is hampered by a scrappy structure and a shot reminiscent of Black Widow, Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Scarlet Witch’s (Elizabeth Olsen) team-up in Infinity War is cool but contrived.
Thanos was the twisted protagonist of the last outing, but here he peeps in and out, delivering signature grandiose, purring dialogue in calculated doses with lingering dread (“I am inevitable,” he says, smugly). It’s the best showcase of the cast’s acting talents so far. Some members, naturally, aren’t afforded as much of the spotlight but still do well with what they have (Gillan’s underrated Nebula, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, Don Cheadle’s Rhodey and Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel). The stars are undoubtedly Evans and Downey Jr: the former offering a broken, transformative performance that changes the character forever; the latter at his most touching and contemplative. Sarcastic and snarly but earnest, recalibrated like a fresh Iron Man suit.
It’s not all agony – the third act of this movie is a pure-hearted, unbelievable, fist-pumping extravaganza of stupendously geeky delights. The Russo’s weaponise nostalgia and fan-service and wield it like Thanos does his Infinity Gauntlet, delivering a feast of cathartic pay-offs you are absolutely not prepared for. The effects work here is vastly impressive, building upon coherent choreography and cinematography (brilliantly versatile work by Trent Opaloch, from awesomely giddy shots to honed-in intimacy) as Return of the King syndrome looms. Fights have a barnstorming, nervous energy, like the ruthless pressure of every encounter in 2014’s Winter Soldier. This is peak blockbuster: extraordinary entertainment that is as concerned with dropping your jaw as breaking your heart. With Alan Silvestri’s melancholic, rousing score in the mix to stir the anguish and pump the blood, by the time those credits roll, you’ll be booking your tickets for round two, three, four and so on. Is it the best MCU movie? Perhaps. The most ambitious? Certainly. A deserving champion to knock a certain trip to Pandora off its podium.
A spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime epic. Avengers, dismissed.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm
A lousy, grotesque reboot.
Not too long ago, The Kid Who Would Be King hit cinemas; a rollicking throwback to the Amblin adventures of old, full of whimsy and juvenile charm. If that Arthurian tale was Jekyll, Hellboy is its Hyde; a nasty, volatile reboot with an ugly penchant for f-bombs, violence and complete nonsense.
We open with a frenzied voice-over, painting a vivid but rapid history of the film’s villain; Nimue, the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) – try not to yawn – who wants to kickstart armageddon to give birth to “a new Eden”. While she assembles a dismembered plan with the help of a crass hog-fairy (Stephen Graham), watching the odd episode of Love Island in the process (I’m not kidding), Hellboy (David Harbour) is placed on a collision course with the foe while discovering his lineage, with the assistance of psychic-of-sorts Alice (Sasha Lane), scar-faced soldier Ben (Daniel Dae Kim) and boss man/father Trevor (Ian McShane).
The film has a startling immediacy; in that, you feel Guillermo del Toro’s absence from the get-go. Once a gothic fairytale hybrid (fuelled by a love affair of monsters), now unsophisticated guff, the real horror in Neil Marshall’s hard-edged, maladroit effort is how off-putting it all is. The violence is extreme to the point of tedium; intestines are spilled, faces are ripped straight off skulls, bodies are ripped apart Bone Tomahawk-style. It’s almost comically disgusting, sparking bemusement rather than white knuckles (from a modest $50 million, less expensive films are definitely laughing).
Then there’s Andrew Cosby’s screenplay. Glimpses of potential are present (a horrific trip to another dimension stands out in its own twisted grimness) but brief amidst the stream of misplaced bad language and unforgivable logical inconsistencies. (We’re supposed to believe, for example, that Nimue’s body parts haven’t decomposed after multiple centuries.) There’s shoe-horned commentary on society and rudimentary attempts at humour that range from barely laughable to entirely ineffective (“Some dads get their kids lego’s” Hellboy says after being gifted a gun), all woven into an insipid, overly familiar story.
Harbour had big shoes to fill; a shame, really, that the film is such a disaster. He has the makings of a fit Big Red – the figure, attitude, scowl and odd bit of badassery. But not only is he not a match for the effortless transformation of Perlman, Harbour’s performance feels more formed by the layers of make-up, rather than aided by it. Other cast members don’t fare well either; McShane is picking up a pay cheque, and Thomas Haden Church shows up in a flashback as a bizarre, hilariously wooden Nazi assassin – he even says “Guten Tag” with a customary gunshot upon arrival.
It doesn’t add up. There’s solid talent involved; on music you have Benjamin Wallfisch, but his composition barely chirps through, and when it does, it’s often in aid of a gigantic tonal shift. Lorenzo Senatore’s cinematography is suffocated by an overwhelming use of CGI and red-fisted editing. And at the centre, Marshall’s directorial voice, felt in The Descent and the criminally underrated Dog Soldiers, does not come through the pungent smell of shit. The Kid Who Would Be King was tailor-made for 11-year-olds – Hellboy, in all its excessive blood and expletives, will probably be enjoyed by the same crowd for the wrong reasons.
There’s a parallel universe where Del Toro made Hellboy 3 – you can find me there.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm
Humans have an intrinsic fascination for ranking their favourite things. The sense of order and comprehension it brings to our opinions, and the fun of compiling a list, has resulted in a constant stream of top 10s online. Rank You For The Movies is a new feature (inspired by Empire’s fan-favourite The Ranking) which brings together the views of myself, Ross Miller (@rosstmiller), Madeleine Lloyd-Jones (@madelexne) and Lucy Buglass (@LGTHBlog). We essentially discuss a film-related topic and produce a top 10 list at the end – and you can see our conversation unfolding below.
Cameron: I’m just going to put it out there – Temple of Doom is the best Indiana Jones movie.
Ross: Straight in there with the big guns! I have to stick with Raiders of the Lost Ark myself. They’re all great, though. All three of them.
Cameron: *laughs* Yes, all three of them. I love Raiders so much, Temple of Doom edges it for me though. So completely bonkers, extremely violent considering it’s a PG and legitimately, pretty scary! The bugs, the sacrifices… yikes.
Ross: I do love Temple of Doom, though. As you say, bonkers for what is supposed to be a family friendly adventure flick.
Lucy: I prefer Raiders too!
Cameron: The whole sequence where they eat weird and wonderful things, brains and whatnot, has stuck with me since childhood.
Ross: It’s scarring!
Lucy: It’s intense for a PG, that’s for sure.
Ross: But it’s hard to beat that opening sequence of Raiders for me; the statue, the whip, the boulder. So iconic and still thrilling.
Lucy: Even if you haven’t seen the film, you know that theme. Just so good.
Ross: Let’s jump ahead to more recent Spielberg stuff; I absolutely love Catch Me If You Can.
Cameron: Yes, yes, yes! Catch Me If You Can is genuinely sublime; the star power in that movie is off the chain. DiCaprio, Hanks, Walken; unreal.
Ross: I might actually say that’s it’s my favourite of all his work. Not best, per se, but it’s the one I enjoy most just to throw on and still enjoy the heck out of it compared to something like Saving Private Ryan or Munich which, while great, are pretty harrowing to watch on the regular.
Lucy: Oh man, yes! Perfect combination, Hanks especially can do no wrong in my eyes.
Ross: It’s one of Leo’s best performances; the way he manages to convince you he’s older than he is, right before your eyes, even though you know he’s just a kid is an extraordinary feat.
Cameron: An underrated John Williams theme also, and the quirky animation too. It’s really not a conventional Spielberg movie at all, even in terms of the editing – much more zippy.
Ross: The opening titles are exquisite; Saul Bass eat your heart out.
Cameron: Spielberg is a gold dust merchant. Even his missteps have upsides. 1941 is easily his worst movie but there’s still an element of spectacle.
Ross: What’s another of his films you’re a big fan of?
Cameron: Okay so if we’re still talking modern Spielberg, I unashamedly adore The Terminal.
Ross: I like The Terminal! Gets looked down on but it’s really charming.
Lucy: A.I. Artificial Intelligence is probably my all time favourite, I love it more every time I watch. Best film of 2001 for me, probably.
Ross: A.I. is sublime. And it’s only gotten better with age.
Lucy: Haley Joel Osment is amazing, probably one of my favourite child performances. I’ve always loved the concept of A.I. and robots anyway, so that story really stood out to me. Just feels so well done and genuinely tugs at my heartstrings.
Ross: He’s so good in that role. I love the scene where she “activates” him, the change in his eyes. It’s got that unmistakable Spielberg sentiment that really gets to me; did you know it was originally supposed to be a Kubrick project and, after he died, Spielberg worked from his notes and sketches? Although I imagine Kubrick’s version would be much less sentimental.
Lucy: That’s one project I’m glad Kubrick didn’t touch!
Cameron: A Spielberg classic that I actually don’t really like: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I think the craft behind it is staggering, special effects are absolutely unreal especially for the time, and that closing sequence is cinematic magic in a bottle. But everything before it? I find it to be a bit of a slog.
Ross: It definitely does that a slower pace than a lot of his other stuff.
*At this point, Madeleine entered the conversation.*
Madeleine: Hi, sorry I’m here! Close Encounters is stunning. Even though visually it maybe looks outdated, it doesn’t feel outdated? Does that make sense?
Ross: Yeah I get what you mean, Maddy. By the very nature of VFX, there’s always going to be a level of outdatedness.
Cameron: Right Maddy, favourite Indy film; go!
Madeleine: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Madeleine: I joke! It’s Raiders for me.
Cameron: God dammit, I’m alone in my Temple of Doom.
Ross: What do we feel about his other two early-mid 2000s sci-fi: Minority Report and War of the Worlds?
Cameron: Minority Report is great but nowhere near top 10. War of the Worlds on the other hand is a modern masterpiece; it has set-pieces scarier than most horror movies. The whole post-9/11 angle of it makes the terror so much more effective (until that damn ending).
Madeleine: I haven’t actually seen Minority Report! It’s like the one film I’ve missed. I think I agree there about War of the Worlds.
Cameron: And like March of the Penguins, any film which Morgan Freeman narrates is automatically fantastic.
Madeleine: Morgan Freeman could narrate the terms and conditions of something and I’d be in heaven.
Ross: I’m the opposite, Cameron! I like but don’t love War of the Worlds. With the exception of the first attack scene and the basement bit with the roaming spy alien. Whereas Minority Report I adore.
Cameron: But it has so much Tom Cruise running! Isn’t that why we all go to the cinema?
Ross: No, we go to the cinema for a tasty debrief, obviously.
Madeleine: Fun fact: Ben Stiller based his Night at the Museum run on Tom Cruise.
Ross: I am a big Philip K. Dick fan anyway and I really thought Spielberg nailed the concept. I love time travel stories, too, and the way it plays around with that idea of the morality of “is someone guilty if they technically haven’t committed the crime yet?”.
Cameron: It’s interesting cause they basically use the same idea in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but tailor it Hydra.
Lucy: I haven’t seen Minority Report either… I am terrible.
Ross: We won’t say anymore, don’t wanna spoil it for you two.
Cameron: Right, E.T. – what’s the craic?
Ross: Just will say that I think it’s one of his most visually stunning films.
Lucy: I adore E.T. so much!
Madeleine: On the first week of secondary school they made us watch E.T. in English – I think to get rid of our attitudes when we all knew we’d seen each other cry?
Ross: But, but, but. It wouldn’t crack my top 10 of his if I’m being honest. It’s heartwarming and fun but has a big dollop of nostalgia covering it, I just think he’s made more interesting films on a number of levels.
Cameron: I listen to the E.T. score literally every day while walking my dog and let’s just say, I have some pretty emotional walks.
Ross: Do we think the film has maybe the most iconic shot in cinema history, with the bike and the moon?
Lucy: Yes definitely Ross!
Cameron: Guys… what about Jurassic Park?
Madeleine: Yes! Dinosaur time!
Cameron: Not in my top 3… it’s close, I won’t lie.
Madeleine: I don’t get you Cameron.
Lucy: I mean, there are so many Spielbergs to choose from so I’ll let you off.
Ross: I still remember when I first saw that moment when we first see those dinos. There was absolutely nothing in the world like it. It’s like Spielberg created a feeling that didn’t exist before in that moment.
Madeleine: Spielberg is pretty excellent at adapting books I recently read Jurassic Park and it was so good. Spielberg translated it perfectly to the screen. I’ve just started reading Ready Player One too.
Cameron: Oh… the book of Ready Player One is so much better. I liked the movie, but the book is so in-depth and as a result, more engaging than the who’s who of the movie.
Madeleine: I think the thing with Spielberg is that he created so many totally new things on the big screen that now we’ve seen it, and in that sense maybe he’s lost that awe-inspiring-ness with more recent films?
Ross: I think the closest he’s gotten recently was with RPO and The Shining sequence. Pure brilliance.
Cameron: Was anyone big on The Post? I remember seeing it being showered with praise and being completely dumbfounded – like it’s good, but “one of the best films of all time”? Not a chance.
Lucy: Nah not really, it was fine but didn’t blow me away.
Cameron: There’s three biggies we haven’t really talked about. First up: Schindler’s List.
Ross: It is a truly magnificent piece of filmmaking. Wonderfully staged, gorgeously cinematography and music and exquisitely acted.
Madeleine: Magnificent is really the word for it. Magnificent if harrowing.
Ross: The moment that really gets to me, conveying the absolute inhuman, callous cruelty is Ralph Fiennes’ character getting up from bed, going out on the balcony and just casually snipers that poor woman before stretching and going back into his room.
Cameron: It hit me really hard, the level of respect but purity in showcasing the horrors of the holocaust while still managing to retain a sense of triumph is a testament to Spielberg’s storytelling talents.
Madeleine: It walks the line of truthfulness and respect so well.
Lucy: I think I’ve only watched it once, because it disturbed me so much. Not easy at all.
Cameron: Swiftly on… Jaws.
Cameron: Suspense has a sound, and it goes “duh rum”.
Ross: I mean, how many films can you say scared an entire generation from going into water?
Madeleine: And generations to come – I remember the first summer after seeing it I could see a suspicious shaped rock in the water and refused to go in. I was scared out of the water after watching that. Like, I was scared Jaws was going to get me in my bed.
Cameron: It’s hard to say any film is perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. It’s the OG summer blockbuster.
Lucy: Jaws is genuine horror, like, that suspense is magnificent. Still scares me now.
Cameron: I suppose, there’s only one we still need to speak about… just a little film called Saving Private Ryan.
Ross: It doesn’t get much better than that opening sequence.
Cameron: Tied with Inglorious Basterds for the best opening sequence of all time.
Madeleine: It is pretty fucking spectacular.
Ross: It’s about as close as most of us will get to actually being in warfare.
Cameron: Similarly to Schindler’s List, the way Spielberg (really gruesomely) captures the horror of Omaha Beach walks a very fine line between visceral, necessary gore and gratuitousness. But it’s spot on, not a single shot out of place. Arms, legs, intestines all over the place. War is hell after all.
Madeleine: The scene in Hacksaw Ridge where they first go over the top really reminded me of that.
Ross: You really feel like you’re one of those soldiers. He makes the brilliant decision of not showing you the German soldiers, just shots of the gun turrets firing down indiscriminately on the US soldiers.
Cameron: Shall we vote?
10. War of the Worlds
Cameron: A criminally underrated entry in the director’s filmography, War of the Worlds not only packs a terrifying, exhilarating punch, but it has some of the very best scenes of Tom Cruise running. The klaxon of those tripods thrums like a death sentence.
9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Madeleine: This film should not have worked – it’s years ahead of successful alien films and the effects that came with them, but it does work. The focus on the humans’ fixation on it is enough to tie you to the basic practical, albeit effective effects – and that MUSIC.
8. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Lucy: I’ve always regarded A.I. Artificial Intelligence as my favourite Spielberg film (so far anyway!). Haley Joel Osment is fantastic in the lead role, embodying the frustrations of A.I. trying to comprehend human emotions. It tackles some serious issues and asks big moral questions about how we should use modern technology. Although the effects look pretty dated today, it’s a great piece of escapism that I can revisit again and again.
7. Schindler’s List
Ross: It’s the film that made the industry take Spielberg the populist Hollywood director seriously as he took on a subject close to his heart and Jewish heritage. The result was something truly harrowing and disturbing, epic yet intimate, deeply respectful yet forthright as it depicted the atrocities of the Holocaust. Something about the starkly beautiful black and white cinematography both sends us back in time and makes the horrors of the time and place feel all the more real; it makes you feel like you’ve seen the face of evil. Never an easy watch, of course, but a vital and unforgettably powerful one.
6. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Lucy: Who could forget the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, and our first look at Indiana Jones? Arguably Harrison Ford’s finest performance, it’s got everything you need in a family action film. Not to mention, there’s the iconic boulder scene that has been parodied many times, yet somehow never gets old. Highly recommended!
5. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
Madeleine: This is a film that appeals to everyone: all ages, backgrounds and generations. It’s simultaneously nostalgic yet timeless, from the opening forest scene to that simple “ouch” at the end which is almost guaranteed to destroy you. It has destroyed me many times.
4. Catch Me If You Can
Ross: In my eyes this is Spielberg’s most breezily enjoyable film. The caper takes us on a whirlwind journey through the life of real life con man Frank William Abagnale Jr., punching above his weight and beyond his years. Telling the “true story of a real fake” going back and forth in timelines, Spielberg manages a perfectly tightrope tonal walk between the light-hearted fun and genuine pathos, with a terrific central performance by Leonardo DiCaprio who manages transformations to convince even us as the audience that he is who he claims to be.
3. Saving Private Ryan
Cameron: As the bullets torpedo the water, dust the sand and rupture god-knows how many organs, Spielberg places you in the unescapable hell of warfare in the opening minutes. When you finally let your senses recalibrate, there’s a brilliant masterpiece to enjoy.
2. Jurassic Park
Madeleine: Watching this film today is still just as effective as watching it in it’s 1993 release. The special effects are brilliant, and the use of practical models is still (I think) second to none. It’s just iconic performances, scenes and music. With DINOSAURS.
Ross: Scaring an entire generation (or two!) from wanting to even go near the water, everything about this film earns its lofty status; the famous two-note driven score by John Williams, the well-drawn characters, the performances by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw and the overall sense of fear and tension born out of the happy accident approach of not showing us the shark for most of the movie. An iconic classic for all those reasons and many more that, for our money, sits it atop the Spielberg tree.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next Rank You For The Movies!