It’s kind of telling that we’re in the midst of the summer movie season, and instead of thinking about the current crop of blockbusters, I’m thinking back to Steven Spielberg. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a producer on two current films (Super 8 and Transformers: Really? Again?), and that the trailer for his newest film, War Horse, just hit the net. We also just recently passed the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and we’re coming up on the Fourth of July, to which Spielberg’s Jaws will be forever linked in my mind. Finally, the Beard turns 65 this year, a rather auspicious age, and one that seems appropriate for reflection.
Spielberg’s rise coincided with the burgeoning geekdom of my youth. I have vague memories of seeing a good 40% of Jaws (the other 60% obscured by my fingers), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the first film I remember having a strong emotional reaction to. I didn’t fully understand all the feelings it was conjuring, but I sure felt them. And then came those glorious summers in the early 80s where anything Spielberg touched turned to gold, whether as director or producer: Raiders and E.T. and Poltergeist and Gremlins and Temple of Doom and Back to the Future. To a kid just entering his teens, it was like Spielberg had somehow tapped into my fears and dreams and brought them spectacularly to life, and while there are periods in film history I know have more significance, that time will always be a sort of golden age for me.
Spielberg could have called it quits in 1985 and had his legacy cemented forever. Yet here we are thirty years later and he’s still going strong, and although he hasn’t had a run quite like that stretch from ’81 to ’85, a film with his name over the title is still an event. He’s the aging home run hitter who might swing and miss a little more often, but we still turn out to watch because he could knock it out of the park at any time.
And my play on “The Immortal Bard” isn’t just the chance for a cheap pun. People tend to forget that Shakespeare’s plays, in their time, weren’t the province of English majors and PBS, but were popular entertainment, beloved by the masses as much as the upper class. And while his films may not have inspired the same amount of intellectual or academic scrutiny, Spielberg in his medium is undoubtedly the equal of Shakespeare in his when it comes to popular appeal.
All of that is a rather long-winded way of introducing what’s to follow: my ranking of the 25 theatrical features of Steven Spielberg the director, from The Sugarland Express in 1974 to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008. I’ll start with #25, then every day count down to what I consider his #1 film.
And I can guarantee that the top 5 will probably change daily until I finally reach that range and have to make a commitment.
Tomorrow: You’ll believe a bad idea can fly.