2003CC: Steven Spielberg

  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (77): *****
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (81): *****
  • E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (82): *****
  • Schindler's List (93): *****
  • Saving Private Ryan (98): *****
  • Jaws (75): *****

  • The Color Purple (85): **** 1/2
  • Jurassic Park (93): **** 1/2
  • Duel (71): **** 1/2

  • The Sugarland Express (74): ****
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (89): ****

  • Night Gallery (69): *** 1/2
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (84): *** 1/2
  • Empire of the Sun (87): *** 1/2

  • Amistad (97): ***
  • Columbo: Murder by the Book (71): ***
  • Always (89): ***

  • 1941 (79): ** 1/2
  • The Twilight Zone: The Movie (83): ** 1/2
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park (97): ** 1/2
  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence (01): ** 1/2

  • Hook (91): **
Author Comments: 

This is a new entry in an up-dated series I'm calling the New Critical Consensus. Several people have requested updates of the older series, and since critical opinions shift, I am revamping the entire system. I am averaging the opinions of several excellent film critics to produce a list of each director's movies. Rather than using a number system, which was perhaps a bit clunky, I will now be using a five-star system. The films will be listed in a recommended viewing order, so new fans will have an idea of where the best place to start watching a director's work is.
These are not my opinions, although, since I have chosen the critics used (and I'm using many), my taste will perhaps seep through a bit.

Terribly nerdy, I know, but maybe this will help people only now beginning to dabble into certain artists' bodies of work.


***** - Masterpiece
**** 1/2 - Classic
**** - Great
*** 1/2 - Good
*** - Above Average
** 1/2 - Average
** - Below Average
* 1/2 - Bad
* - Terrible
1/2 - One of the worst films ever75

I've always thought that critical reaction to Spielberg's films is rather odd. Here in America, the critical consensus is that 6 of his films are worth 5 stars each. But I don't think he is well-liked in other countries. Take Godard's recent film "In Praise of Love", where love may be praised, but Spielberg was ripped apart. Or take the Sight and Sound poll of the top 10 films of the past 25 years, which contained no Spielberg films, not even "Schindler's List" (which was deemed the 9th greatest film of all-time by the American Film Institute).

Why is there this discrepancy between Americans and foreigners over Steven Spielberg? What is it about Spielberg that many foreign critics don't like? Can anyone tell me this?

Mmm, it may be the fact that he represents everything American Pie, hunky dory, good ol' boy about America. I've heard several people say that he is overly sentimental, and that all of his films are very uneven.
I'm a fan of Jaws and E.T., but I wouldn't call most of his stuff masterful...unfortunately.

Well, for starters, the Sight and Sound poll was only ten films long, very international in tone (where AFI only does American films), and chosen by film specialists. Remember Sight and Sound is made up of critics and directors. The AFI poll was short-listed by experts, but then voted on by everyday janes and joes who often had no claim to special insights into films. One really shouldn't take the AFI polls very seriously, IMHO.

I follow European critics closely, and to these eyes, they simply tend to be turned off of Steve's more sentimental and blatantly emotional moments. If my reading is correct, they do tend to enjoy early Steven, such as Close Encounters, Jaws, Duel (which scored a theatrical release in Europe but only a television one here), and the flat-out entertaining Raiders (most of which are darker than Spielberg's modern reputation would imply). They balked a bit at Schindler's (Americans praised it for avoiding the sentimental, while the Europeans wondered if they were blind), and the goofy speeches and flag-waving in Saving simply didn't win them over quite like it did the Americans.

I think they like Steven, but when writing about masters, they're more likely to evoke Hitchcock or Welles than Spielberg. On the whole (I'll probably get in trouble for this!), the Europeans critics I know of seem to have a better sense of history than most American critics.

Godard is Godard, and he has little patience for, er, "non artsy" film. Or am I wrong here?

Well, that's the best I can do. Am I making any sense?

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I was just using the AFI list as an example of Americans' praise of "Schindler's List." It was certainly very well-praised by sophisticated American critics as well. Just check out www.rottentomatoes.com, where the film has 100% approval, even from the "Cream of the Crop."

Have you seen this list: www.geocities.com/theyshootpictures? It analyzes so many critical opinions of movies throughout the years, especially the responses to Sight and Sound polls. The opinions of esteemed critics and directors from all over the world are taken into account. Based on these opinions, they created a list of 1000 movies, and from the 1000, they made a list of the top 100 most-internationally-critically-acclaimed movies. This top 100 list contains not one Spielberg film. OK, I'm not saying he's the most brilliant genius director of all time, but I think he deserves to have one of his early films on this list. I'm not saying that he is on the same level as Hitchcock or Welles, but I think he deserves more respect than he gets in other countries.

By your comment about European critics knowing more about history, do you specifically mean that contemporary European critics are more familiar with classic film than contemporary American critics are? Or are you talking about history in a larger sense (i.e., that the European critics would know more about the background of the movie "Saving Private Ryan" than American critics would, and therefore European critics would be able to place the movie in its proper context better than Americans)?

I consent to Godard. He's not only against non-artsy films, but also anti-American. It just irks me that he would devote so much of his film to bashing Spielberg and "Schindler's List" (I must admit, however, that I have not seen "In Praise of Love", and do not plan to).

By history, I meant cinema history. You'd be amazed how many contemporary American critics I've spoken with who've hardly seen a single silent film. You'd be even more shocked to learn how many of them have yet to see a Truffaut, Bergman, or Tarkovsky film, not to mention Eastern directors.

This is, naturally, a gross generalization, but I believe to sadly more true than I'd like to believe.

I haven't seen that site yet. I'll check it out right now. Thanks!

As for Spielberg, I tend to think he's just cycling right now. Any time someone is that commercially sucessful, they are nearly bond to go through a brief period of disapproval. If the European critics are not quite ranking him at the top, I do still think they value his work. I know of a number of Italian critics who claim Raiders of the Lost Ark as a top 50 film.

I am surprised that the top 100 list you mentioned doesn't have a single Steven film. Perhaps he has so many celebrated films that they tend to split votes? .

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Adding perhaps a little support to my last question / theory / blind stab above, he did land number 52 on that site's top 100 directors list, and he has 6 films in their top 1000, slightly more than most of the directors in top 100, and quite a bit more if one doesn't figure in the top ten.

Time is another consideration. Only (I believe) one director in the top ten is still alive, and only about 12 in front of Steven on the list are still breathing, and of those, few are still active.

Just a few observations...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Great site, by the way!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I really think you're on to something about Spielberg's films splitting votes. I just did a quick search on Listology. You and I think that "Close Encounters" is Spielberg's best film; jblack prefers "Schindler's List"; AAA can't seem to decide between "Jaws" or "E.T."; oUwilmo likes "Saving Private Ryan" best; and jim and jgandcag prefer "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Meanwhile, you think that "Schindler's List" is overrated, and jgandcag thinks that "E.T." is overrated, etc.

I think this may also be the problem with some other directors. I was saddened that no John Huston films made the top 100 list, but perhaps votes were split between "Maltese Falcon", "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", and "The Asphalt Jungle." There's also no Woody Allen, but he's made a ton of great films too. I think "Annie Hall" is amazing and "Manhattan" is overrated, you think "Manhattan" is amazing and "Annie Hall" is overrated. And there's only one Howard Hawks film on the list ("Rio Bravo"), but again, perhaps votes were split over "Bringing Up Baby", "Scarface", "The Big Sleep", "To Have and Have Not", "His Girl Friday", or "Red River."

However, when it comes to other people on the top 100 directors list, like Jean Vigo, Yasujiro Ozu, Sergei Eisenstein, Carol Reed, etc., there's no question as to what their masterpieces are.

(Hint: L'Atalante, Tokyo Story, Battleship Potemkin, The Third Man)

The age issue probably complicates that. The longer time passes, the more the critics tend to gravitate toward one or two films. At least that might explain Allen and Steve, not to mention the four directors with obvious masterworks you mentioned below.

Hawks and Huston were so incredibly versatile and made such a variety of films that it is hard to compare them to each other. That apples and oranges syndrome.

Just a guess.

On Steve Spielberg, some days (probably most days) I think Close Encounters is his best, some days Raiders. They are almost certainly my top two for him. I do think Schindler's is over-rated, but Saving Private Ryan is even more so. (*duck*)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs