Steven Spielberg: Top 5

Written by Chris Winterbottom

It’s going to be an interesting year for Steven Spielberg, as his upcoming adaptation of ‘The BFG’ is due to be released to UK audiences on the 22nd July 2016, and I for one am very much looking forward to it. As a child, this Roald Dahl novel about nasty and nice giants was one of my favourites, so it will be interesting to see how Spielberg’s vision fairs. The novel is obviously aimed at younger audiences, yet it also holds a real sinister edge, which I absolutely love.

Spielberg is often criticised for being overly sentimental in his films (War Horse being a near-unbearable example of this), so I do hope Spielberg finds a perfect balance between the dark edge and family-friendly tone of the novel. With this and the recent announcement that Spielberg and Harrison Ford would be re-teaming to create a fifth instalment in the ‘Indiana Jones’ saga, I thought now would be a good to go through my favourite Spielberg films. Here’s my top 5.


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5. Saving Private Ryan

Criticism of this film is levelled at its sentimentality, and its inability to improve on what is one of the most groundbreaking opening sequences in cinema history. The D-Day landings which open the film is as brutal, powerful and moving now as it was upon release in 1998. I agree that the rest of the film does not reach the dizzy heights of the opening, but for me, it remains one of Spielberg’s most accomplished technical achievements. I also agree that its sentimentality becomes a little cloying by the end, but there is no doubting the technical brilliance and moving story at the heart of this film. Also the acting is superb, particularly from Tom Hanks, who delivers one of the most interesting performances of his career. Hollywood’s treatment of battle sequences changed forever after this film and it’s clear that the technical achievements have inspired other filmmakers (Paul Greengrass for example). ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is undoubtedly one of the finest war films ever made.


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4. Minority Report

This film really is an underrated gem. To tell the truth, my first viewing of ‘Minority Report’ left me uninspired; I thought it was just another middle of the road sci-fi movie. But one Christmas, I remember watching it on TV while flicking through the channels. Within seconds I was hooked and I saw a completely different movie than I did the first time around. I think this is one of Tom Cruise’s finest performances; he is so captivating and charismatic in this role it’s hard to think of another film where he is so watchable. Not to mention the beautiful cinematography which adds so much atmosphere. Where the special effects create a unique vision of the future, it is the oppressive light in the background that creates a heady mixture of noir and science fiction. The atmosphere is creepy, claustrophobic and strangely chilling. This overexposed light technique is something Spielberg has used quite often in his modern movies; he even used the technique in the recent ‘Bridge of Spies’ and it is clearly a device he will continue to use. The storytelling is also executed brilliantly and the set pieces are exhilarating.


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3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

A moving and expertly-crafted family story where, once again, Spielberg’s unquenchable thematic exploration of an absent father is at the film’s heart. Of course, it ends on a syrupy-sweet note but there is no doubting the films power and you would be hard pushed not to be swept up in the film’s majesty. This is a film that is as timeless as any, and E.T. himself is one of the most recognisable movie characters in history. A spellbinding performance from Henry Thomas who plays Elliot, Spielberg really did get the best from an incredibly young cast. One of the key quotes from E.T. is “I’ll be right here” and I’m sure he will be for many a year.


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2. Jurassic Park

I personally think this is one of the finest films ever made. It is a rollercoaster ride that has all the thrills and spills you expect, as well as plenty of spectacle. But there are deep philosophical mutterings underneath the still gleaming surface, such as the fear of fatherhood and the morals of genetic engineering. This was a film long in the making for Spielberg; it is ‘Jaws’ on land and has some of the most iconic action sequences in recent cinema; the bloke on the toilet?! Wow. With strong performances throughout and Jeff Goldblum showing why he was one of the coolest actors of the ’90’s, this is one of Spielberg’s finest films and a movie that rewards repeat viewings.


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1. Jaws

Of course Spielberg’s finest film has to be ‘Jaws’. Films like ‘Jurassic Park’ would not have existed if it was not for this work of genius. With the now infamous production problems with the animatronic shark, the film is an example of how financial restrictions often spark the most interesting creativity. With recent big-budget superhero films being released – films which I believe fundamentally lack imagination and creativity – ‘Jaws’ is a lesson in how to stretch a budget and invent filmmaking techniques to achieve your cinematic goal. Not seeing the shark ultimately proved to be the greatest strength of this film, because it somehow amplified the scare-factor and cranked up the claustrophobia. It was also the first film to smash the box-office; word of mouth and large publicity meant this film was sold out for weeks. Now every big-budget blockbuster tries to emulate this feat and to be honest, it works – just look at ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. Thanks to a carefully moulded marketing campaign, no amount of bad reviews can stop a juggernaut of this scale. It is, by far, Spielberg’s greatest achievement both technically and on a commercial level. The film has inspired so many of his colleagues and even himself in recent years and will continue to do so for many more. 

Oscars 2016: Best Picture Predictions

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

The approach of the winter months doesn’t just mean it’s time to go shopping for a new coat, because with the cold weather and shorter days comes a growing desire for people to discuss The Oscars. It may be more than four months until the 88th Academy Awards, but that doesn’t stop anyone speculating as to who the winners and losers will be on the big night. To be honest, I’ve been guessing since this year’s ceremony ended, and whilst guesses are all we have for now, The Academy certainly have a distinct pattern to their choices, hence the term “Oscar bait”. Here are the films that are likely to make the cut and be nominated in the Best Picture category.

And the nominees are…

Sicario
Arguably, this intense thriller from Denis Villeneuve (who directed the fantastic Prisoners) is the film which started the ball rolling with all this Oscars buzz. As one of the few films in this list that has actually been released in cinemas, I can offer my personal opinion of ‘Sicario’, and if it was up to me, this would be the winner. Whilst myself, and many others, love this gritty crime flick though, it’s unlikely that ‘Sicario’ will go further than a nomination.

Steve Jobs
Nothing gets The Academy’s attention like a biopic, and with the late founder of Apple taking centre stage in this Danny Boyle production, ‘Steve Jobs’ is about as relevant as they come. A fantastic cast, led by the very talented Michael Fassbender, and Academy favourite Kate Winslet in support, ‘Steve Jobs’ has been garnering praise from early viewings and could be the frontrunner for the Best Picture award.

Suffragette
If there’s anything The Academy loves more than a biopic, it’s controversy. A cast boasting some of the best actresses around – including Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter – should boost ‘Suffragette’ and allow the feminist movement to be represented next February. It also helps that various stars, including Meryl Streep herself, voiced their concerns over the lack of opportunities and equality for women at this year’s ceremony.

Bridge Of Spies
The man responsible for classics such as ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Jaws’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Steven Spielberg, is back, and has teamed up with legendary actor, Tom Hanks, for this cold war drama. Both of these men are probably sick of the sight of these trophies, but it is very likely that this winning recipe will earn them a few more nominations to add to their resumé.

The Revenant
One man who certainly wouldn’t mind getting hold of a golden statuette is Leonardo DiCaprio, and whilst we’re sure Tom Hanks could just lend him one for the weekend, we don’t think that would quite be the same. By hooking up with Tom Hardy, and last year’s big winner Alejandro González Iñárritu (director of Birdman), Leo may well have given  himself his best chance yet at grabbing a personal award and leading his film to glory. Could Iñárritu win back-to-back Best Picture awards?

Joy
Another winning team come together once again, to bring us ‘Joy’ this Christmas. Director David O Russell, who has received nominations for his last three films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle), joins forces with Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, and familiar faces Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, in what could be a perfectly crafted, Oscar-bait picture. Whilst unlikely to win the top gong, it would be a surprise to see this one snubbed.

The Lobster
The film festival circuit isn’t just a fun way to spend your summer, it’s actually a breeding ground for hot productions hoping to catch the eye of The Academy. Pretty much every year there will be one or two films that thrive in the quirky world of film festivals and make it to the big stage for The Oscars. With an interesting plot, big name stars in Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell, and plenty of hype from critics, ‘The Lobster’ could well crawl its way into the Best Picture category.

Carol
The big success story from the film festival circuit however, is undoubtedly ‘Carol’. This film, which sees Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara embark on a complicated lesbian relationship, has been lauded by critics all summer and will continue to be praised all the way through winter as it arrives in mainstream cinema theatres. It’s an outside shot, but this low-key, artistic offering could well beat the big names and steal the top prize next February.

So, with ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ unlikely to get the nod from The Academy, in favour of something more stylistically brilliant (they don’t know what they’re missing), my money is on ‘Carol’ and ‘Steve Jobs’ to fight this one out.