Steven Spielberg seems to have a tap straight into the American imagination: Indiana Jones running from a boulder, a boy and an alien soaring through the air on a bicycle, a nightmarish shark emerging from the water. There’s just something magical about Spielberg’s boyish zeal. Whether larks of the imagination or hard-boiled historical accounts, the director’s movies are rarely forgettable. Here are the best movies from Spielberg’s dream factory.
1. Jaws (1975)
Spielberg made a country of enthusiastic beach goers think twice with this supremely thrilling flick about a very hungry Great White shark. The original summer-event movie, Jaws remains Spielberg’s best work — a crowd-pleaser that is also conceptually daring. The shark isn’t shown till nearly halfway through the movie, remember? The tension is ratcheted up and up and up for a finale that is truly unforgettable.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1988)
Spielberg channeled his fondness for adventure serials into creating the greatest adventurer — and maybe the greatest adventure movie — of all time. In the hands of Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford, cliffhanger cliches turn into some of the most classic moments in movie history: Villains with speech impediments, breathless chase sequences, quivering snake pits, and a lovably shaggy hero with a quick whip and wit.
3. Schindler’s List (1993)
Here Spielberg shows he has a delicate touch, as well as a sense of magic, whimsy and adventure. How do you depict an event whose reality is so horrible that it seems to defy any attempt to comment on it artistically? Shot in stark black and white, the film offers an unflinching portrait of mass brutality that nevertheless retains its human pulse. The sequence with the little girl in the red dress, weaving through a massacre, remains a heartbreaking depiction of a single life caught in the gears of human history.
4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Nearly three decades later, E.T. retains its dreamlike charms. Yet, for a children’s movie, Spielberg’s flick is rougher around the edges than most of today’s sand-blasted family fare. The sequence with government troopers invading Elliott’s house is pretty frightening stuff — not to mention E.T.’s slowly withering body as his days on Earth deplete him. E.T. is in many ways a fairy tail. There’s darkness and tragedy, but also inspiring magic like flying bikes and phoning home.
5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The opening sequence of the Normandy landing was designed to give the audience shell shock, and it worked. Spielberg is the master of making audiences feel, and this war movie puts viewers through the visceral experience of combat. The rescue mission of the title, then, takes on a whole different type of atmosphere given the bloodshed that preceded it. Unlike a lot of World War II movies, there’s not a lot of easy heroism in Saving Private Ryan — there are mostly just nerve-rattling sacrifices.
1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): At the time, people thought Spielberg would do for aliens what he did for sharks. Far more nuance exists in Close Encounters, but that same sense of tension and wonder permeates every moment.
2. Jurassic Park (1993): With this sci-fi flick, the director brought a bit of the theme park into the movie theater — showing you didn’t need DNA to bring dinosaurs back to life, just CGI.
3. Amistad (1997): Entrenched in a phase of heart-bitten historical dramas, Amistad manages to look at the story of escaped would-be slaves and those who try to free them, without wallowing in sentimentality.
4. Catch Me If You Can (2002): The screwball-comic-chase movie about an identity-swapping Leonardo DiCaprio is a throwback with an old-time feel. But it’s also a stylistic leap forward for the director, combining the innocence of his early movies with the darker, more adult sensibility of his later work.
5. The Sugarland Express (1974): The Spielberg touch is all there, even in his first film — an enormously entertaining criminals-on-the-lam movie with a very young Goldie Hawn.
Check out Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park on AMC, Sun., May 15 at 7PM | 6C.