Arguably he is the best-known filmmaker in the history of the medium, and empirically he is the most successful. We know this. We know he made his bones in the New Hollywood era, and that his films were instrumental in transitioning an industry out of that era, and into the more blockbuster-centric movie economy we know today. We know that he is sometimes resented for this, by audiences and critics and even some vocal filmmakers. We know he’s survived that change better than most, and that as soon as he seems to enter a creative lull, one film can easily kick him back into form. We know he is a great director of children, and a great maker of children’s films. We also know that there exists this accepted dichotomy separating the typical Spielberg film from the “Adult” Spielberg film. We know he is a sentimentalist, a director who cannot help but indulge the ingratiating happy ending, who trades on emotional manipulation and allegedly distrusts ambiguity. We know the critics at once take him too seriously, and not seriously enough. We know he’s made masterpieces, and we know he’s made schlock. All these things I’ve said, others have also said and will say until the day he is forgotten. We know that particular day will never come.
But here’s what I can say about Steven Spielberg that no other can: He is the most important artist of my life.
Perhaps there are other authors, painters, filmmakers and musicians who have done more to challenge my perceptions of their respective medium. Perhaps there exist movies or artistic works I prefer to any movie on Spielberg’s forty-year filmography. Perhaps, at this very point in time, there are film directors churning more electrifying work than Spielberg’s ever going to create again.
But none of that changes the fact of Spielberg’s role in endearing me to the movies at the earliest possible age. None of that can dilute the potency of the fact that as I have come of age, and as I have refined my own view of the world, Spielberg has refined his own world-view with his art. And yes, while he has made untold fortunes at the service of that art – namely, by blurring that already-faint line between art and commerce – he has never lost his sense of craft or curiosity about the world. He is a sentimentalist, yes, but he is also grown into his own kind of humanism. His films have grown as I have grown. I cannot escape his influence. Choosing Steven Spielberg as my “favorite” director is a dicey choice; an unhip one, and potentially myopic if I consider the many, many other great directors . Yet how, honestly, could I choose anybody else?
With Bridge of Spies Spielberg has made his 30th film. That’s 30 films if you count movies credited explicitly to his name (sorry, Poltergeist conspiracy theorists, but hurrah for Twilight Zone fanboys), and if you count movies that were released theatrically (which qualified Duel…eventually). I took up the insane task of watching each of Spielberg’s thirty films – a few of which I’d never even seen – in chronological order, before ranking them from favorite to least. Obviously, that means there are a lot of movies to discuss, so I tried to break down this Movie List to read as digestible as humanly possible.
In addition to writing a rationale for each movie, I also chose my favorite moment from each movie, as well as my favorite shot.
I was a surprised by how neatly my choices align with the common consensus; the top five and the bottom five will surprise few, I think. But the joy of Spielberg is that even his most reviled movies have defenders, just as his most beloved movies have detractors. As my mid-ranked picks will suggest, when stacked against your personal rankings, you’ll see we all love Steven Spielberg in our most unique way, provided we love him at all. And truly, I love him more than most.
To review my picks for my preferred Steven Spielberg films, follow the links below. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!