Saturday, 19 May 2012

Listorama! My Top Ten Kubrick Movies

Well, it's time for another list; this time I'm going to be doing a run down of ten of the best from one of my favourite directors, Stanley Kubrick. Throughout his career, Kubrick covered a diverse range of genres, from historical epics to comedies, war movies to science fiction, but just about every film he made was a success.

There are two Kubrick films which are ineligible for this list (because I haven't seen them): his first film, Fear and Desire (1953) and his final film Eyes Wide Shut (1999). It's tricky to get hold of the first of those films, but I really don't have much of an excuse for not watching the second one - other than a strong desire not to see Tom Cruise running around in his pants. Despite that reservation, it is now on my LOVEFiLM list, and if I like it, I may have to make room for it on this list at some point in the future.

That leaves eleven Kubrick movies to rank, so one of them couldn't make the cut. That film is Barry Lyndon, which I've previously reviewed here. I found it to be a little over long and rather ponderously paced, but it's certainly not a bad film.

Anyway, here's the remainder of Mr Kubrick's movies, ranked from worst (10) to best (1):

10. Killer's Kiss (1955)

An early, minor work from Kubrick, this '50s film noir tells the story of a punchdrunk boxer (Jamie Smith) who resolves to save the life of a dancer (played by Irene Kane) from the murderous attentions of her evil employer (Frank Silvera). This is a film made very early on in Kubrick's career, was shot on a shoestring budget, and barely qualifies at feature length (it clocks in at 67 minutes). Nevertheless, it's an entertaining story, economically told and showing early signs of brilliance.

 9. Spartacus (1960)

This sprawling historical epic featured a cast full of heavyweight thespians of the era, including the likes of Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton. We follow the heroic Spartacus, as he leads a slaves' revolt against ancient Rome. While it's a fine film, it was made by Kubrick as a 'gun for hire', and lacks the personal touch of some of his later masterpieces.

8. Lolita (1962)

(Previously reviewed here). Given the censor's restrictions which he was under at the time, it seems remarkable that Kubrick was able to create any kind of film out of the controversial novel. That he was able to do so successfully is a mark of the fine filmmaker he is. Less focus is placed on the relationship between seedy academic Humbert Humbert and Dolores Haze, the object of his affections; instead, the film hinges on the rivalry between Humbert and his even more odious counterpart, Clare Quilty. Peter Sellers steals the show as the villainous Quilty, a master of disguise with absolutely no moral compass.

7. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

If anything, this movie was even more controversial than Lolita, and was withdrawn from distribution in the UK (at the director's request) between 1972 and 1999.  Now widely available, it's a very good adaptation of Anthony Burgess' book, in which a sociopathic thug (or 'droog') undergoes a radical treatment to 'cure him' of his violent impulses. If the film does have a flaw, it's that feels rather dated at times - the future world created in this film seems to be very much a product of the '70s. Despite that, it's a highly inventive, disturbing film, anchored by a career best performance by Malcolm McDowell as head droog Alex.

6. Paths of Glory (1957)

(Previously reviewed here). An incredibly effective anti-war movie set during the First World War, this one has Kirk Douglas portraying a heroic Colonel in the French army, who is determined to save the lives of a number of his men who have wrongly been accused of insubordination. Few movies have been as savage about the madness of war, or as cutting about the disdain which certain high ranking members of the military hold for the lives of those in the lower orders.

5. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Another fantastic anti-war film, this time following the progress of a platoon of recruits from basic training until they see action in the Vietnam War. The first hour of this one is hard to beat - we see the way in which the grunts are transformed from raw, fresh faced boys into dead eyed killing machines by a sadistic drill sergeant (played brilliantly by R. Lee Ermey). While the second half of the film isn't quite as effective, Kubrick is still able to effectively portray the insanity of the conflict in Vietnam (despite shooting the entire movie in England).

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

An incredibly ambitious sci-fi epic, 2001 documents our relationship with technology: from our ape-like ancestors using crude tools through to their descendants entering the space age. The film is divided into three distinct segments; the first, set during prehistoric times, is a little slow paced for my tastes. The second, showing a troubled space expedition and the conflict between the crew of a spacecraft and its computer, is wonderfully tense. Then we have final segment, which almost defies description, a mesmerising trip through time and space that has to be seen to be believed.  I'm not normally a huge fan of science fiction, but this is one film from that genre that I couldn't help but be impressed with.

3. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Kubrick may well be the only filmmaker who can make a film involving an all too plausible nuclear armageddon scenario into something which is laugh out loud funny. As in Lolita, the brilliant Peter Sellers once again steals the show, portraying three different (and hilarious) characters: bumbling RAF Captain Lionel Mandrake, ineffectual President Merkin Muffley and the creepy, sinister nuclear scientist Dr Strangelove. A film which is hilarious and troubling in equal measure.

2. The Killing (1956)

It may raise a few eyebrows to see The Killing beating out the likes of A Clockwork Orange, 2001 and Dr Strangelove to reach second place on my list, but for me, this is just about the perfect heist movie. With this story of a plot to rob a racetrack, Kubrick assembles a motley crew of robbers, who believe they have hatched the perfect plan - though of course, when it comes to putting the plan into practice, not everything runs so smoothly... It's a tautly plotted and scripted film which proves Stanley Kubrick was making wonderful films right from the start of his career.

1. The Shining (1980)

It came out top of my horror films list and has once again emerged victorious - The Shining is my absolute favourite Stanley Kubrick movie. It works as both as a terrifying horror film and as a character study of an isolated man coming apart at the seams. Apparently, Kubrick drove his cast to the brink of madness with his demands to do hundreds and hundreds of takes of certain scenes. In my view, it was worth it - his perfectionism led to the memorably unhinged performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall.  It's an unnerving movie with many secrets, lurking just below the surface, a film I can watch again and again.

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