Top 10: Stanley Kubrick Films
List by Aaron Haughton
The thing that always drew me to Kubrick was that he never seemed to tell the same story twice. While he left his fingerprints all over whatever story caught his eye in a visual sense, narratively speaking, he wasn't a particular fan of walking any beaten path. Even in the case of Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket, he chose to focus on entirely different aspects of what could be considered an anti-war film; injustice and dehumanization. The crazy thing about Kubrick is that he not only touched on every genre in some way, but also managed to perfect it, always bringing originality to his art.
He took the time to make every project something special, never jumping into anything without meticulously researching, working and reworking the biggest detail and minutiae until the story seemed right. Then again, another Kubrickian quality was he never stuck too closely to the script and allowed himself the time to explore new possibilities within scenes, which he never even considered or knew possible until that particular day of shooting.
This month, we're paying homage to Kubrick, and thought we'd get the ball rolling by ranking his body of work. We realize that picking Stanley Kubrick's greatest film is like trying to choose between a series of perfectly formed diamonds, so remember: this is just our opinion. That being said, we'd love to hear yours in the comments!
- 10: Lolita (1962)
Lolita never really springs to mind when discussing great Kubrick films, but it is at least a wholly undeniable Kubrick film, unlike Spartacus. Provocative in tone and subject matter, Lolita is a fine film with a handful of memorable scenes, but virtually everything it does well is done better or explored more thoroughly in later Kubrick effort. Though it doesn't quite live up to Nabokov's novel, Kubrick should be commended for even attempting to adapt it. If anything, this film put him in contact with Peter Sellers, and the two of them would strike comedy gold with a later work.
- 9: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
More mood than substance, Kubrick takes us on an oddly dazzling odyssey with his final film, Eyes Wide Shut. The film has all the technical and visual hallmarks of a Kubrick film, but just doesn't manage to overpower many of his previous efforts whenever held in close comparison. Regardless, it's successful in creating an ominously haunting atmosphere that sticks with you. Equally as tantalizing as it is fascinating, its a sturdy exploration of the fragility of the male ego that continues to fuel conversations and debates today.
- 8: The Killing (1956)
As far as heist noirs go, The Killing ranks up there with the best of them. Kubrick was only 27 at the time of production, and with his third effort, he manages to create an engrossing and enjoyable experience. Though rough with age, its undeniably Kubrick in mechanistic coldness and its concept of human endeavor overthrown by greed and deception. A tight 83 minutes of suspense and adventure, The Killing is thick with atmosphere and wry dialogue. It also has one helluva pitch-perfect ending.
- 7: Full Metal Jacket (1987)
A film broken into two sections, Full Metal Jacket gets us inside the head of a soldier and crystallizes the experience of the Vietnam War. While the first portion tends to dwarf the latter, Kubrick's machine gun spatter hits in a fairly tight grouping here. As powerful as it is cynical, it shows us the dehumanizing side of war and transformation of the US soldier in the midst of the Vietnam War, complete with dark humor, sharp dialogue and R. Lee Ermey's terrifyingly commanding performance.
- 6: Barry Lyndon (1975)
Labeled by Roger Ebert as "one of the most beautiful films ever made", Kubrick manages to make each frame feel like an oil painting, going so far as to create a custom camera to pickup images in low light. Narratively, it never fully grips me like some of other Kubrick's films, but its lush visuals often spring to mind. Watching Barry Lyndon is like taking a trip to an art museum from the comforts of your couch; each frame being an individual piece of art that manages to transport us to another time altogether. The film wasn't a great success, and it's not the greatest form of entertainment, but it is a perfect example of Kubrick's directorial vision.
- 5: Paths of Glory (1957)
Whenever I think of Paths of Glory, I think of the long dolly moves through the trenches. It's something that makes this film feel real; it puts us there with the soldiers and allows us to feel the noisy, tense and terrifying confusion of war. Much of the film still packs a punch, especially the ending. It shows us that a life lost is much more than just a number and how generals fail to truly understand the men under their command. In typical Kubrick fashion, it is complex, heavy, and radical.
- 4: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Kubrick's hilarious political satire, Dr. Strangelove, may quite possibly be one of the funniest films ever made. Even after 50 years, its comedic prowess remains largely undiminished, and it has undoubtably influenced every single political satire that followed. What makes the film even more pointed is that underneath all the absurdity lies a premise that, exaggerated as it may be, is all too real. Who knew that taking one of the Western World's biggest fears could be this downright hilarious? Stanley Kubrick, that's who.
- 3: A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Touching on heavy subject matter through a darkly comic, absurdist lens, A Clockwork Orange finds Kubrick at his most unabashedly theatrical. The film is bursting at the seams with colors, shapes and personality, offering a blend of imagery and allegory that mesmerizes just as much as it provokes contemplation. Despite containing several scenes that are not easy to stomach, it's one of those Kubrick films I turn to time and time again as an endless source of entertainment. It's a powerful film because it manages to make us feel contradictory emotions and to think about the darker side to human nature; it leaves you feeling a bit dirty and exhilarated.
- 2: The Shining (1980)
The Shining is Kubrick's sprawling horror epic about madness and evil, and it has forever changed the way we look at an empty hallway and has taken the creepiness of twins to its apex. Regardless of how many times I watch this film, it never loses its sense of mystery or overwhelming dread. I'm always transfixed by the hypnotic quality Kubrick manifests with all of the smooth tracking and dolly shots, beguiled by the endless changing interior of the Overlook, and absolutely gripped by Jack Nicholson's performance. It's one of only a few films that I find so arresting, so much so that if I catch a scene on TV or even a few frames, I watch the remainder till the credits scroll.
- 1: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001 may not be Kubrick's most easily digestible film, but it is perhaps his biggest cinematic achievement. More often than not, a sci-fi film is concerned with thrilling us through action sequences; however, Kubrick doesn't bother with a clear narrative or easy entertainment cues, but seeks to thrill through inspiration and pure awe. 2001 is a not just a film, but a philosophical statement on man's place in the universe. It's Kubrick's most ambitious, transcendent, and ambiguous piece of work, and it is heralded by many filmmakers and critics alike as not just a source of inspiration or high-water mark, but as their favorite Kubrick film. Roger Ebert said it best " says to us: We became men when we learned to think. Our minds have given us the tools to understand where we live and who we are. Now it is time to move on to the next step, to know that we live not on a planet but among the stars, and that we are not flesh but intelligence."
What'd you think? What's your favorite Kubrick film? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!