Auteur of the Week: Steven Spielberg (4 of 4)

My four-week look at the complete directorial filmography of New Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg is finally coming to a close. You can look at part one here, part two here and part three here. While the last decade may not be my favorite decade of Spielberg’s work, at least three of his films from the 2000s are among my favorite of his films, as well as of all-time.

Really, for the last decade of Spielberg’s career his films from 2001 and 2002 are my favorites. Although he received a lot of acclaim, and another Best Director nomination, for 2005’s Munich, it’s not a film I’ve felt compelled to return to again and again. That’s not to say his other films last decade were not good films; they are. It’s just his first three films from the decade are among his best ever.

Spielberg’s first film of the decade was 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Originally the film was a project of Stanley Kubrick, who began development on an adaptation of  the short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long in the early 1970s. In 1985, Kubrick brought Spielberg on board to produce the film. It was at this point that the film sat in developement hell for many years. In 1995 Kubrick asked Spielberg to take over directing, but Spielberg declined due to other projects he was working on. After Kubrick’s death in 1999 Spielberg was convinced by fellow producer Jan Harlan to take over directing the film. Many critics and viewers have voiced their belief that Spielberg over-sentimentalized the film. However, Spielberg has said that the beginning of the film, as well as the last twenty minutes – arguable the most sentimental parts of the film, were all part of Kubrick’s original vision. The film was generally well received by critics and currently holds a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In 2009 film critic A. O. Scott listed the film as the 2nd best film of the decade and called it Spielberg’s “unsung masterpiece.”  A. I. was made on a $100 mil budget and grossed over $235 mil. The film was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards: Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actor Jude Law, as well as two Academy Awards: Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score.

I’m ashamed to say I just saw this film for the first time yesterday. Ashamed because I agree with A. O. Scott; it is a masterpiece. I haven’t been as affected by a film, as destroyed emotionally in a very long time. I’m not even sure what emotions this film tapped into, but I do know as I was watching it I could tell that my subconscious was absorbing more than my conscious self was. I could probably write about this film once a day every day for months and not say everything there is to say about it. I definitely know I need to rewatch it. It’s so incredibly layered, I feel like you’d get more from it every time you watch it. Part of what is so great about it is the film’s star, Haley Joel Osment. This film needed a really great actor to carry it through its 2 and a half hours and asking that of a child is a bit of a gamble. But Osment, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in 1999’s The Sixth Sense, has a maturity and strength to him that you rarely see in a child actor. Jude Law also gives one of the best performances of his career as an android prostitute, who is both airy and grave. His very last line have haunted me for almost a day now. This film really touches on so many different subjects and sort of looks at both extremes of human nature – love and hate. Like I said, I don’t have the time right now to write everything that I’d like to about this magnificent film, so instead I’m just going to address the ending real quick. I was told multiple times that this film contained one of the most “Spielbergian” endings of any of his films and that many a person would have liked it better without the last 25 minutes. I respectfully disagree with that summation. I don’t think it was in any way a “Spielbergian” ending. It wasn’t a happy ending by any means. It was tragic and bittersweet and if it had been “Spielbergian” the opposite of how it ended would have happened. Also, the last 25 minutes of the film are essential. Maybe it would have pleased more people if it had ended at the two-hour mark. But it wouldn’t have been a complete film if he’d done that. Without the last 25 minutes of the film David’s journey is meaningless and his odyssey incomplete.

Spielberg’s next film was 2002’s Minority Report, a sci-fi neo noir loosely based on the short story The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick. The film was made on a $102 mil budget and grossed over $358 mil worldwide. The film currently holds a 91% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and in 2009 film critic Michael Phillips called it the 10th greatest film of the decade. The film was nominated for Best Sound Editing at the Academy Awards.

I really love this film and have since I first saw it in theaters. I’m a big fan of adaptations of Philip K. Dick stories and I think this film and Blade Runner are two of the best. Tom Cruise gives one of his best performances in this film. It also contains wonderful performances from its supporting cast, including Samantha Morton, Max Von Sydow, Colin Farrell and Peter Stormare. I definitely Samantha Morton should have gotten herself an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Agatha. She is just too good. I also will always thank Spielberg for introducing me to Colin Farrell via this film (I love him so much). Much like A.I. this film is set in the not-too-distant future and poses a lot of moral questions. The film got some flack for not answering the questions it arises, but I think both films do that on purpose. I think the point is to raise the questions and let the audience decide for themselves how they are to be answered.

About six months later Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can was released. It was made on a $52 mil budget and made over $352 mil worldwide. In fact, it was the 11th highest grossing film of the year; Minority Report the 10th. The film currently holds a 96% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for multiple awards. Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for Best Actor in a Drama at the Golden Globes, while Christopher Walken won awards for Best Supporting Actor at the BAFTAs, the SAGs and the National Board of Review, as well as being nominated at the Academy Awards. The film was also nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Original Score.

I wanted to post screencaps of the opening credits instead of a shot from the film because the credits are one of my all-time favorites ever. They set the fun, energetic tone of the film that remains throughout its 2-hour running time. I like to think of this as the film, along with Scorsese’s Gangs of New York which also came out in 2002, as the beginning of the second phase of DiCaprio’s career. It was with these two films that he was able to shed his Leo-mania status and begin to be taken seriously as the great actor he really is. Christopher Walken is also quite amazing in this film and I was really hoping he’d win the Academy Award for it. Tom Hanks gives one of my favorite of his performances, so dry and yet utterly hilarious. Lastly, this film offers an early look at Amy Adams, whose role is small but vital, and who already demonstrates an immense talent.

2004’s The Terminal was made on a $60 mil budget and grossed over $219 mil worldwide. It currently holds a 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. wrote that the movie is “the worst-directed film Spielberg has ever made.”

While I don’t agree with – the worst for me is 1979’s 1941 – I was pretty underwhelmed by this film. I liked Tom Hanks in it, his performance being perhaps that best thing about the film. Or, rather, the only good thing about the film. I didn’t really like any of the characters and there was just something off about the whole film. I wouldn’t say it was a “bad” film, but kind of mediocre, which is I think is a worse fate.

2005 saw another double release year from Spielberg, the first being an adaptation of the H. G. Welles classic War of the Worlds. The film was made on a $132 mil budget and grossed over $591 mil worldwide. The film currently holds a 73% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma ranked the film as 8th place in its list of best films of the 2000s. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects, losing all three awards to Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

I actually only saw this film as recently as this summer. I thought it was interesting and most definitely visually stunning. I was sort of shocked by how tense the whole film was and how dark. Some of the imagery I thought was a little too disturbing for a PG-13 film. I think both this film and A.I. are cases wherein there’s not enough violence or overt sexuality and therefore can pass the test for a PG-13 rating, but are inherently dark, disturbing films and PG-13 just isn’t the right rating for them. R, however, would be a little too restricting. Therein lies the problem. Funny, too, considering Spielberg is one of the reasons the MPAA initiated the PG-13 rating.

Later that year Spielberg’s historical fiction film about the Israeli government’s secret retaliation attacks after the massacre of Israeli athletes by Black September militant group during the 1972 Summer Olympics, Munich was released. The film was made on a $70 mil budget and grossed over $130 mil worldwide. It currently holds a 78% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was nominated for two Golden Globes: Best Director and Best screenplay, and five Academy Awards: Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director (his 6th nomination in the category) and Best Picture.

I remember leaving the theater after seeing this film completely depressed. In fact, I was so depressed I immediately went to a movie I thought would cheer me up – Neil Jordan’s Breakfast On Pluto. Surprisingly, the two films made for a pretty great double feature. What I liked about this film were the varied performances from the cast. Eric Bana gives a particularly heartbreaking and layered performance as Avner, the leader of the team. This is one of the few films wherein I didn’t dislike Daniel Craig or Ciarán Hinds. The film also contains two of my favorite French actors – Mathieu Kassovitz and Mathieu Amalric. I don’t think I’ve seen this film since I saw it in theaters, so I think it’s due for a revisit sometime soon.

Three years later Spielberg reunited with Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The film was made on a 185 mil budget and grossed over $786 mil worldwide, the 25th highest-grossing film of all time domestically, and 29th highest-grossing worldwide. The film currently holds a 76% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I will admit I saw this film the day it opened. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with it, in that I enjoyed it to a point but I also know that it is nowhere near as good as the original trilogy. I do love that they brought back Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood (I still love her so much) and Cate Blanchett made a great villain, this time as Soviet rather than the staple Nazi of the previous films. Apparently, there’s going to be a fifth film in the franchise some time in the near future. If it does happen, rumor has it that Shia LaBoeuf, ultimately revealed to be the son of Indiana and Marion, will take over as the lead, with Ford returning as more of a cameo. I don’t even know how I feel about this, but I know myself and I know that I’ll more than likely see it if it does happen. And then hate myself for doing so.

Spielberg has two films in the works, both set to be released in December of 2011: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn  and War Horse.

If you’re interested in buying any of Spielberg’s films, you can do so here.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on November 17, 2010, in Auteur of the Week and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The day that Shia LaBoeuf can no longer find work as an actor will be a good day indeed. The new Keanu Reeves, only more pompous and maybe even less talented? Perhaps.

  2. Good job on this series. Over the weeks I read it, I realized that Spielburg is the director of my entire adult life. I was in college when Sugarland Express came out. The Indiana Jones series is of course special to me and my DH because we are archaeologists LOL. It’s always a disappointment to kids when we have to tell them we don’t have those kind of adventures, Indiana Jones is a pot hunter.

    I think my favorite is Jurassic Park with Jaws a close second. But how could I not be moved by Schindler’s List? What a wonderful filmography for this, man a director from my own generation. And I am inspired to see some of the movies I missed thanks to reading your article.

  1. Pingback: World Spinner

  2. Pingback: 517 Films, 365 Days and a Year Filled with Cinema « the diary of a film awards fanatic

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