close encounters

To celebrate the release of War Horse we present the top ten greatest moments of the Steven Spielberg’s career. Enjoy.

10. Munich

Munich is a film with many great moments that also ponders the nature of terrorism and asks: is vengeance justified or is it, in fact, terrorism in a different guise? The answer is ultimately never found, yet, in the film’s final scene, where Eric Bana and Geoffrey Rush discuss the morality of their actions, the camera lingers on the skyline of 1970’s New York, complete with the World Trade Centre. In one shot, Spielberg reiterates the immediacy of the film’s questions and how relevant they are today.

9. A.I: Artificial Intelligence

One of Spielberg’s films that divided audiences, A.I. is at least an interesting film. Having spent much of the movie looking at all things futuristic, with bright neon cityscapes and Jude Law as a robo-love-machine, our heroes leave the comforts of the city and head to New York, which, in total contrast, has been flooded due to the effects of global warming. Both awe-inspiring and frightening, it’s a stunning and stark view of a potential future.

8. War of the Worlds

Pushing the boundaries of the 12 certificate to its bare limits, War of the Worlds is littered with harrowing moments of destruction and misery, yet it’s the initial rising of the tripods is perhaps the film’s most distressing scene. Caught totally unaware, Tom Cruise and his hapless neighbours are mercilessly vaporised by the extra-terrestrial nasties after watching with awe as the alien craft rises from deep underground. Swift, sharp and unforgiving, no one is safe, and it’s only through blind luck that Cruise makes it out at all, albeit covered in the dusty remains of his companions.

7. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Unlike War of the Worlds, the main antagonist in this sci-fi classic is the American government. The aliens themselves remain largely faceless until the rousing climax, where the close encounters move to first contact. It’s hard not to smile with childish excitement as man and alien communicate through light and sound. – a thrilling and emotionally gratifying ending that lifts the spirit of the crowd. Spielberg, untouchable upon the film’s release, wouldn’t have had it any other way.

6. E.T

Aliens again, as Spielberg makes his audience blub like a bunch of sissies. Whilst E.T’s death pulls the appropriate heartstrings, it’s his eventual farewell to Elliot and co that brings the tears. As their peculiar looking midget space-man goes to leave, he lovingly raises his glowing finger to Elliot’s forehead before saying: ‘I’ll be right here…’ As he then picks up his flowers and waddles onto the waiting spacecraft, the crowd erupts with joyous emotion. A fond childhood memory for many film lovers.

5. Jurassic Park

Whilst the effects work looks dated now, back in 1993 dinosaurs had literally come to life. However, after being wowed by the Brachiosaurus intro, things get complicated as all systems in the park go down. Enter Mr T-Rex and a ten-minute attack that had audiences collectively shitting bricks whilst staring in dumbstruck awe. There were many who derided Jurassic Park upon its release as Jaws with Dinosaurs. If the T-Rex attack is anything to go by, it’s just as frightening as its fishy counterpart.

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Whilst it’s extremely gratifying to see Nazis melting into oblivion (in a PG rated film no less. The mind boggles), Spielberg washes away the nasty taste left by 1941 and sets up his throwback to Saturday morning serials with aplomb. Whilst the idea of an adventurer fighting his way through a booby-trapped temple for forbidden treasure is hokey as hell, Spielberg, and his audience no less, have a blast. If you’re not sold by the time Indy is chased by a giant 10ft boulder, then you’re not human.

3. Jaws

Jaws is officially the closest Spielberg has come to making a full-blown horror film. A monster movie at its heart, it’s a non-stop thrill ride that not only made the public afraid to go swimming for decades but also birthed the trend of the Summer Blockbuster. Much like Raiders, he starts things with a bang when a hapless young lady is quickly munched on by an unseen underwater menace. It’s still incredible how effective not seeing the shark is. Thank the constant failings of the animatronic fish: a thorn in the productions’ back-side made for some terrifying creativity on Spielberg’s part, and in the case of the opening, what is unseen is far more frightening than a big reveal.

2. Saving Private Ryan

Despite its threadbare plot, Saving Private Ryan is a near perfect example of a simple story told very, very well and, whilst its gritty hand-held aesthetic has been abused to the point of tedious since its release, there’s no denying the harrowing docu-drama immediacy in the film’s battle scenes. The opening battle on Omaha Beach will forever be remembered as one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history and, whilst the final twenty minutes are equally visceral, it’s the sheer shock of the realities of war convincingly conveyed on screen that jolt the audience into a state of adrenaline fuelled awe. It’s blunt, nasty, and really quite brilliant.

1. Schindler’s List

Spielberg’s Magnum Opus and one of the greatest films ever made, Schindler’s List marks a major turning point in the director’s career. Being released the same year as Jurassic Park, the film’s up-front and frank depiction of the holocaust couldn’t be any more removed from the dino-stomping blockbuster. It is a film that instils sadness, shock, vulnerability and anger, yet is never exploitative, and whilst its detractors have attacked its sentimentality, they completely ignore how Spielberg, through the medium of cinema, was able to address the horrors of the holocaust to a mass audience without patronising or manipulating his viewers.

Yet, for all the misery the film bestows, it’s the girl in the red coat that everyone remembers. Whilst the film was predominantly shot in black and white, during the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto, amongst all the horrors, Schindler (Liam Neeson) spots a young girl in a red coat wondering through the streets. Make what you will of its meaning (the loss of innocence in a time of such horror? The blood on the hands of the Nazis? The fact that the allied forces knew of such atrocities and did nothing?), the image is one that remains a talking point to this day. The fact that we see the same girl later in the film as a corpse amongst slaughtered Jews waiting to be burned adds credence that no one, not even a child, was safe from the Nazis.

With the single use of colour, Spielberg ensures we will never forget the holocaust. Only a filmmaker as gifted as he can create such weight out of so small a thing.

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