Thursday, June 17, 2010

#22: Stanley Kubrick

- "If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed."

In terms of greatness this place - as was John Ford's on Tuesday - is far too low. The Kubrick legacy is one that has aged very well as his status as one of the finest directors to ever work in the medium remains as strong as ever. Ranking him here is no disrespect at all, but simply a matter of personal tastes. When you scroll the bottom of this entry and look at how I rank my favorite Kubrick films, you will notice that my ordering is certainly unique. Normally, devoted Kubrick followers place A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey at, or at least near, the top. My taste runs contrary to the traditional viewpoint though, which I think says a lot about the overall body of work Kubrick produced over his forty-plus years in cinema. The fact that I can come up with such a different ordering of his films, placing his two most critically-acclaimed movies outside of the top half of the rankings, shows how strong his filmography is. Depending on your taste or preferences, there is something in his work for everyone. I am a sucker for crime dramas and historical epics – thus I gravitate toward classics like The Killing, Paths of Glory, and Barry Lyndon. Others might prefer the more experimental or science fiction, which means that Clockwork and 2001 would justifiably be pushed toward the top. Of course, this doesn’t exactly explain something like Dr. Strangelove, but that movie is beyond classification…

I would point out that this is probably the first time that I have finally decided to boost Dr. Strangelove to the top of a Kubrick list. Ever since I watched The Killing, it has been firmly planted as my personal favorite. Dr. Stranglove I enjoyed from the get-go, but it is a movie that has grown even better for me over time and repeat viewings. My sense of humor is dry and dark anyway, and since Strangelove is as black as a newly-laid driveway, it was likely inevitable that it would come to be my favorite Kubrick.

What has struck me most in my recent Kubrick viewings is (no surprise) the unmatched visual sense that he possessed. A fact that I knew, but never really gave much thought to until I was reminded of it once again by John Greco at Twenty Four Frames, is that Kubrick began work as a semi-professional photographer while still a teenager. A famous photo that he sold to Look Magazine while only 16 can be easily found at various spots on the ‘net. This still photographer’s eye can be seen in the impeccable taste he shows in framing shots. Every movie he ever filmed displays incredible images, regardless of the director of photography or other principals behind the camera. This tells me that Kubrick remained the guiding force and reason for this continued visual excellence.

1. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
2. The Killing (1956)
3. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
4. Paths of Glory (1957)
5. The Shining (1980)
6. Barry Lyndon (1975)
7. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
9. Lolita (1962)
10. Spartacus (1960)
11. Killer’s Kiss (1955)
12. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Next in the series is the the underrated noir and thriller specialist Robert Siodmak.


  1. Dave, Kubrick is the first of my personal top ten directors to show up in your countdown. The placement doesn't bother me at all because you're doing favorites, not bests, and subjectivity prevails. I'm just glad to see him show up, and I'm hoping more of my guys join him, as I'm sure some will. I dig Kubrick for probably the exact reason why many people dislike him: that "coldness," i.e. his analytic, satiric omniscience that prevails even when characters from the film narrate the story. Critics have every right not to like Kubrick's sensibility, but not to deem him an inferior filmmaker just because he doesn't give them the emotional epiphanies they crave.

    So here's my Kubrick list for today.

    1. Dr. Strangelove
    2. Barry Lyndon
    3. 2001:A Space Odyssey
    4. Paths of Glory
    5. The Shining
    6. Full Metal Jacket
    7. The Killing
    8. Spartacus
    9. Killer's Kiss
    11.A Clockwork Orange
    12.Eyes Wide Shut -- probably overdue for a second look by now.

  2. Well Dave, like every other reader of your blog, I too am mortally saddened by this deplorably low finish of the versatile Stanley Kubrick :)

    Anyway, here's my top 6 from his filmography:

    1. Dr. Strangelove - for me the cinematic equivalent of the book Catch-22.
    2. 2001: A Space Odyssey - the spaceship interiors might very well have been the inspiration for Ridley Scott's Alien.
    3. The Killing - though inspired from Asphalt Jungle, a wonderful heist film nonetheless.
    4. A Clockwork Orange
    5. Full Metal Jacket - the 1st half was sheer brilliance.
    6. The Shining - yet another brilliant turn by Jack Nicholson.

    Spartacus, in my opinion, is a lesser Kubrick as it could have been made by anyone else. However, it still managed to be the inspiration behind Gladiator, a movie I'm not very fond of either.

  3. My personal favorite director ever. My Kubrick rankings would probably change every day in terms of order. What is indisputable is that I consider the first 8 on my list to be absolute masterpieces that I will never tire of. 2001 is the one I most recently watched so it has benefited the most since the list I posted in the noir countdown.

    1. Dr. Strangelove
    2. 2001:A Space Odyssey
    3. The Killing
    4. Paths Of Glory
    5. The Shining
    6. Full Metal Jacket
    7. Eyes Wide Shut
    8. A Clockwork Orange
    9. Lolita
    10. Barry Lyndon
    11. Killers Kiss
    12. Spartacus (this just does not seem like a true Stanley picture)

    Lolita is a grand failure that would of probably been better served if it was made 10-20 years later. Barry Lyndon is a startlingly beautiful film that meanders in its second half for me. The first 90 minutes or so are breathtaking and perfect but I feel that the movie goes into a slow decline thereafter. I know many who consider it his best so perhaps I'm missing something that will reveal itself to me in future viewings. I love Kubrick's boldness and ambition to tackle grand themes. The glacial measured pace of most of his middle to later films remind me of a cinematic equivalent to Brian Eno or Avro Part. The unhurried beauty of image and content to the total command of his art is spellbinding. Along with Welles, Malick, Dreyer and Bunuel he rounds up my own personal top 5......M.Roca

  4. I think this is perfectly fine placement, Dave. I suspect Kubrick would show up around this spot for me too, were I to embark on a project like this. There's no doubt that he's a master of the craft, and managed to forge one cerebral, visually stunning masterwork after another throughout his career. He would fall short of being in my top 10-15 favorite directors for the reasons that have already been noted, the emotional distancing and cold qualities etc., that have kept me from truly embracing him as a top personal favorite. But the man was a genius, and the film I ranked #1 is an all time favorite.

    1) Eyes Wide Shut
    2) Barry Lyndon
    3) Dr. Strangelove
    4) 2001
    5) The Killing
    6) The Shining
    7) Full Metal Jacket
    8) A Clockwork Orange
    9) Lolita

    still need to see Spartacus, Paths of Glory, and Killer's Kiss

  5. Kubrick divides them right down the middle, doesn't he?

    He is one of my all time favorite directors (may be even in the top 3). I can't think of anyone who has been as rigorous, thorough and meticulous as him. He has made films that would be studied and felt for decades to come. A true Movie God.

    01. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - AN ALL TIME FAVORITE
    02. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
    03. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
    04. Paths of Glory (1957)
    05. Barry Lyndon (1975)
    06. The Killing (1956)
    07. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
    08. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
    09. Lolita (1962)
    10. Day of the Fight (1951)
    11. Spartacus (1960)
    12. The Shining (1980)
    13. Killer's Kiss (1955)
    14. Flying Padre: An RKO-Pathe Screenliner (1951)
    15. Fear and Desire (1953)
    16. The Seafarers (1953)

    I haven't seen a single film by Siodmak!

  6. Dave, I really enjoy your count down. A minor comment... I think it would be even more exciting if you did not announce prematurely the next director in the count down. Just my 2 cents.

  7. Dave:

    Alas, to some of your compatriots I must seem an infidel as Kubrik is far down on my favorites list. Given that I have been on this earth for a very long time I at least have the benefit of having seen almost everything. My attendance at film school began in a movie house in the Bronx in 1939 and continues to this day.

    I love The Killing and I very much care for Barry Lyndon. I think that Spartacus, Paths of Glory and The Shining are very good films. I was bored by Eyes Wide Shut and I have not seen A Clockwork Orange since it first opened, but I am not interested in experiencing that again. I had just been out of the military when Dr. Strangelove appeared, so I look at that differently than those with different backgrounds.

    I prefer your emphasis on “favorite” rather than “great”. The credentials one needs to compile a favorites list are quite obvious. But what are the credentials for deciding what is great? (I know the stock book answers and the accepted group.) But as I read your postings and particularly the comments it seems there is quite a bit of subjectivity in applying each of the adjectives.

    I concur with Henke about keeping the readers in suspense until the next posting. Thank you.


  8. Love Kubrick and pretty much of all his films of which I find my appreciation and understanding of deepen over the years and the more times I watch 'em. My ranking:

    1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
    2. Dr. Strangelove
    3. Full Metal Jacket
    4. Eyes Wide Shut
    5. The Killing
    6. A Clockwork Orange
    7. The Shining
    8. Paths of Glory
    9. Lolita
    10. Killer's Kiss
    11. Barry Lyndon
    13. Spartacus

  9. Great list, Dave. Kubrick's one of my favorites too, and like Samuel says, I actually appreciate Kubrick for his coldness, his distance, his chilly aestheticism, exactly the things that so many detractors rail against. I wouldn't want every director to be like him, but I'm glad there was one of him. And, of course, he could tap into some surprisingly emotional wells, too, as Eyes Wide Shut demonstrates.

    1. Eyes Wide Shut
    2. Lolita
    3. Dr. Strangelove
    4. 2001
    5. Full Metal Jacket
    6. Barry Lyndon
    7. The Killing
    8. A Clockwork Orange
    9. Paths of Glory
    10. Spartacus

  10. Dr. Strangelove is arguably the best film reflecting the insanity of war. It is a better film than M.A.S.H and Catch-22 (we are talking films and not novels). Visually Kubrick's films are stunning. I always felt his cold frame of mind was part of his fascination.

    1- Dr. Strangelove
    2- The Killing
    3 -Paths of Glory
    4 -The Shining
    5- A Clockwork Orange
    6 - Full Metal Jacket
    8 -Eyes Wide Shut
    7 -Spartacus
    9 -Lolita
    10 - 2001: A Space Odyssey
    11 - Killer's Kiss

  11. While I must say your placement of Kubrick seems far too low (as sentiment you expected, naturally), this is a very good entry on Kubrick and an interesting ranking of his filmography.

    As far as my favorite directors go, Kubrick effortlessly fits in the top 5. If I was to ever compile a list of "objectively" greatest directors, Kubrick would easily make the number one spot. I think a good description of his filmography is that Kubrick was as much of a philosopher as he was a filmmaker; his films each represent a certain viewpoint that is worthy of analysis and serious thought. At Kubrick's best, his films have a certain sophistication to them that cannot be matched by ANY other director with whose work I am familiar.

    On that aesthetic and visual level, Kubrick's work is equally marvelous. As you've noticed, his visual skills is superb, and to a certain extent makes some of his movies; after all, who can forget the cinematography of Barry Lyndon, the set design of a Clockwork Orange, the innovative effects of 2001, and even the surrealistic dream-like colors and lighting that are employed in Eyes Wide Shut?

    I'm glad you ranked Eyes Wide Shut so high. The vast majority of people I know didn't like it, but I found it to be an absolute masterpiece.

    Anyway, my 5 favorite Kubrick films:

    1. A Clockwork Orange
    2. Eyes Wide Shut
    3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
    4. Barry Lyndon
    5. Full Metal Jacket

  12. He's the father of cool detachment, and a meticulous negotiator of artistry, crafted by a ceaseless desire for perfection. In the tradition of Bresson and Malick, his output is disproportiate to the number of years he was active, and his sudden death at age 70 was one of the cinema's most pronounced tragedies. He emplyed some of the form's greatest cinematographers, and he explored a wide diversity of genres, ranging from war to science fiction to psychological drama to horror to period/costume drama and to crime/film noir, demonstrating equal expertise and amazing control over a film's individual components. Yeah, he's too low here for me too, but it is no easy task in a massive project like this to achive exactness, and I admire Dave for never hedging his bets. In any case, when you are talking all these names, it all comes down to personal taste with the caveat that it's just for that one day the list is being compiled. It's commonplace to have a different position (as Samuel Wilson rightly asserts) the very next day after compilation!

    I have stood behind A CLOCKWORK ORANGE as his supreme masterpiece for a number of years now (I won't ever forget seeing in in Manhattan at age 17 upon its release with some friends and talking about it for many months afterwards), but I know it divides audiences, at least to the level of passion. Dave of course, has made no bones about his disdain, but that's fair enough. As always, the lead-in here is exceedingly superlative in every sense. It's interesting that Kubrick practically disowned SPARTACUS, a film that I do think has survived the test of time.

    1 A Clockwork Orange
    2 2001: A Space Odyssey
    3 Dr. Strangelove
    4 Barry Lyndon
    5 The Shining
    6 Paths of Glory
    7 The Killing
    8 Lolita
    9 Spartacus
    10 Full Metal Jacket (especially for Chapter 1)
    11 Eyes Wide Shut
    12 Killer's Kiss

    My colleage Allan Fish, recently annointed THE SHINING as Kubrick's greatest film, and whether one agrees with him or not, he did provide a terrifically persuasively case for it.

  13. I don't have time to reply to each comment at the moment, so I will be doing that when I get home this evening. Just wanted to say that I have no problem going with the traditional "blind countdown" format, as has been brought up a few times here. When we discussed it before everything started, it was decided to try revealing the next director ahead of time so that everyone could take any time they needed to compile their own lists. It seems to have worked pretty well, but I have no problem at all not revealing.

    What I was thinking I would do the whole time is what M.Roca had suggested - using the format we're doing now until the Top 10, at which point I would stop revealing them ahead of time.

    Any thoughts anyone has on this, post them, otherwise I won't change anything from the original plan.

  14. Dave, that's an excellent plan there from M. Roca. When you get to the Top Ten, play hard to get indeed to heighten the suspense.

  15. Dr. Strangelove is in my top 5 of all movies ever. 2001 is in my bottom 5 movies all time ever. Of course it might help if I could ever make it past the apes. I really like The Killing, and have seen Spartacus. I watched as much of The Shining as I could before I got freaked out. I thought it was about a man going mad, I had no idea about the little kids visions.

  16. I just left comments to every response in this thread and Blogger said it couldn't post them... so I am too frustrated to go through the time that took. This is the second time this has happened in the last week, but the last time they did eventually show up. Hopefully that will happen this time as well... because at this moment, I am too annoyed to do it again.

    I assure you, though, they were good comments to everyone's usual outstanding responses!

  17. Thanks, Dave. Am enjoying this series immensely and learning about a lot of films that might not have otherwise shown up on my radar. Your writing just motivated me to order three Kubricks I haven't seen: The Killing, Paths of Glory, and Killer’s Kiss.

  18. Mark - Responses like this make me feel great about doing these lists and countdowns. I know that I'm far from being any kind of expert on films/cinema, but giving someone a nudge toward some of my favorite movies is great. The Killing and Paths of Glory are two great ones - The Killing is a classic top-tier noir and Paths is one of the best anti-war films ever made. And while Killer's Kiss is far from a great film it has some black and white photography that is wonderful to view. Enjoy

  19. Heir Kubrick is tops for me all time (I love him long time) -- I could watch the top four in my ranking over and over and over and never tire of them -- and on some days, depending on my mood -- 2001 is the greatest film ever made.

    With his meticulous craftsmanship, and his traversing of genres, he created for latter-day filmmakers what I call "template" films -- cold, austere, epitomes of the genre by which all future films in the genre are judged.

    1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (sci-fi)
    2. The Shining (horror)
    3. Dr. Stranglelove (satire)
    4. Barry Lyndon (historical epic)

    5. Paths of Glory (one could argue this is a template anti-war film)
    6. Full Metal Jacket
    7. A Clockwork Orange (brutal satire again)
    8. Spartacus
    9. Lolita
    10. Eyes Wide Shut

    I tried watching The Killing once and just couldn't get into it, and thus have avoided Killer's Kiss as well.

  20. Richard Schickel has a quote in a Kubrick doc about critics objecting to the director's films because of what they WEREN'T, whereas fellow filmmakers always tended to revere him because they focused on what WAS in the frame. Overly simplistic perhaps, and certainly plenty of critics lavished praise on Stanley (though it's remarkable how many pans he got, on film after film) while some fellow filmmakers, notably Godard, dismissed him. But there's something to this idea I think. Myself I find when I look at him analytically, from a critical perspective, I have doubts and can express some skepticism about aspects of his work. But when I focus on how he executed his material, I want to kneel down on the ground and genuflect while chanting his name with increasing fervor like the volume increases in Thus Spake Zarathustra. He's that good.

  21. 1. 2001
    2. Dr. Strangelove
    3. Shining
    4. Spartacus
    5. Clockwork Orange

  22. Man, I must have been busy with other things when you listed Stanley, because I certainly have a list. I don't know if he's my favorite filmmaker anymore -- I think the more personal exuberance of Scorsese won out eventually -- but for a time Kubrick and Kurosawa were the ones to initiate me into cinema and not just movies. Sure, he may have been removed, and I may prefer, say, Straw Dogs to A Clockwork Orange precisely because Peckinpah really gets down and dirty to illustrate a point where Kubrick occasionally lectures, but his holistic view of humanity, cynical as it was, still affects me emotionally at times. Plus, he's so subtle that I watched 2001 five times and called it my favorite film before I even understood it to be satire.

    1. 2001
    2. Dr. Strangelove
    3. Barry Lyndon
    4. Paths of Glory
    5. Eyes Wide Shut
    6. Full Metal Jacket
    7. The Killing
    8. The Shining
    9. A Clockwork Orange
    10. Spartacus
    11. Lolita
    12. Killer's Kiss

  23. Stanley Kubrick is the most incredible director I've ever seen in my whole life!