Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ranking the Stanley Kubrick films

2001 is one of my favourite films (best of luck, everyone), and I'd enjoyed a couple of the others too, but it was watching Jon Ronson's Stanley Kubrick's Boxes that made me want to know more about this passionate obsessive. It's a shame there's so little.

Here are my personal The Top 16 Kubrick Films. Three of them aren't films.


Sole writer & director

Co-writer & director
Short documentaries

14-16. Day of the Fight / Flying Padre / The Seafarers (1951-53)

I should be grateful for even the measliest morsels, but while Kubrick himself makes a fascinating documentary subject, his own public information and sponsored shorts are less riveting, despite the ominous tone of their voiceovers teasing impending didactic calamities that never arise.

13. Fear and Desire (1953)

It's no Eraserhead, but Kubrick's low-budget debut fits in just fine with his intermittent anti-war theme, and it's more watchable than he gave it credit for. The DIY aesthetic is charming, the only really awkward thing about it being the philosophy student narration. But I enjoyed it as an inappropriately violent Twilight Zone episode that doesn't outstay its welcome.

12. Killer's Kiss (1955)

A collaboration between a professional photographer and amateur screenwriter who are both the same person, Kubrick's first totalitarian writer-producer-director-editor statement isn't as rewarding or insightful as you might hope. There are lots of nicely-composed shots, it's just all the banal stuff going on in-between that lets it down. I mainly enjoyed the rare and satisfying continuity of reproducing shots from his debut documentary with actors from his previous feature, drawing a neat line under the rookie years.

11. Spartacus (1960)

I don't normally watch bloated historical epics, and this hasn't changed my mind. Kubrick's least characteristic film lets the budget do the talking and doesn't concern itself with being artistic or lasting. Its timely McCarthyism and civil rights parallels should be credited to Howard Fast's novel.

10. Lolita (1962)

I don't normally watch the inevitably lesser film adaptations of books I've already read, especially when it's a book that relies so much on untranslatable first-person absorption. And, you know, is kind of unpleasant. But cast your real-world distaste aside, like you're able to do with films about serial killers no problem, and this necessarily sanitised film treatment of inappropriate obsession is almost a classic, sadly spoiled by Peter Sellers as Jar Jar Binks.

9. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

The crushing comedown from 2001, I've always struggled to reconcile this hideous, exploitative film with its euphoric predecessor, and its completely unconvincing reality with Kubrick's customary attention to detail, even when he's taking the piss. It's no Brazil.

The second half goes some way towards justifying the first, but I wonder how many fans make it that far on repeat viewings and how many call time after all the "fun" ultraviolence and infrarape's over. I'd probably have enjoyed the book, but it's not like I could shake the images now.

8. The Killing (1956)

I don't normally watch heist films, so I don't know how this compares, but it was fun. Not suspenseful exactly, since there's no chance that a plan this meticulously detailed will be allowed to end happily for the conspirators even before you account for the Production Code, but it's the bumpy, non-linear journey that's entertaining, the final furlong particularly. Shame we never got a director's cut replacing the bored narration with timestamps though.

7. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

I don't normally watch war films, apart from the three times I just have, because even when they're disapproving and funny in places, they're still fucking depressing. As with Clockwork Orange, the first 40 minutes can be enjoyed by psychopath and pacifist alike in their own ways, before it gets all judgemental and insists on focusing on the negativity rather than the glory, so that part of the audience can make their enraged exit.

6. Barry Lyndon (1975)

I don't normally watch three-hour-long period costume dramas, but this seemingly bizarre digression was a grower. Kubrick's earliest films often felt like watching transitions between artistic photos, and this one feels like browsing a stately gallery, at least until the last 30 minutes or so when the story finally overtakes the visuals. It's scenic and relaxing, but you'd get that from watching a whole series of Detectorists in less time, and that's funny too.

5. Paths of Glory (1957)

I don't normally watch war films, so would have missed out on this one if I was allowed to choose what I watch. It's another variation on lions led by donkeys, because that's infuriating history worth commemorating, made memorable by a bunch of fantastic characters and performances. Kubrick's so variable that I couldn't identify his style in a blind test, but with its ambitious tracking takes through trenches and retake-honed line readings, it's clearly directed by some kind of perfectionist.

4. The Shining (1980)

I read the book before I saw the film, and didn't find it especially interesting, so I can give the credit to Kubrick for making his intense adaptation so memorable, even if I prefer my supernatural activity more subtly sinister like The Haunting.

Uniquely for a Kubrick film, I think it could have been longer, to wallow in the eerie middle. Barry could have donated half an hour. I watched Room 237 and found it more amusing than insightful.

3. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Kubrick opened a can of conspiratorial worms in his final film, securing his mysterious legacy. Nicole Kidman's great and Tom Cruise's extratextual obliviousness is fascinating. I would have loved to have seen more in this vein, but his preoccupation with the child robot film suggests it was just another flight of fancy. The Illuminati needn't have even bothered taking him out, but you can't be too careful, I guess.

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

We're back to uncompromising auteur territory with a more sensible budget, actors pulling triple duty and torturously long shots of really inefficient phone conversations to shake off the casuals who don't belong here. The silly sibling to Paths of Glory, with its generals at various points along the insanity spectrum and instantly memorable ensemble, this manages to be even more tense by being set today, even if that today's been going on for a while now.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I mean, it's no Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but it's still a pretty good film.

0. The Moon land

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