Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher. These are the names of some of the finest directors of the modern era. Each of these four auteurs has shaped cinema for the better and have moulded it in their own visionary fashion. And it would be an absolute crime if we do not include Steven Spielberg in this list.
Spielberg is a legendary figurehead of the cinematic art form. He is responsible for the creation of countless stories and characters we know and love. The iconic Indiana Jones franchise and the ever-nostalgic Jurassic Park franchise are only a few of his creations which have achieved the status of cult classics. This is probably the most difficult list I’ve compiled for a director so far, seeing the insane amount of quality artwork Spielberg has in his filmography. He has his share of flops, but his vision and mastery cannot be overlooked. There may be some disagreements here and there, but this is my list for Spielberg’s 10 best films.
14. Back to the Future (1985)
The Back to the Future franchise is one of the most iconic ones under Spielberg’s belt. It is an amazing story and truly visionary in nature. The movie is close to our hearts because there is an obvious nostalgia factor involved in it. But apart from that, the movie has been shot so wonderfully that everything appears to be magical. The pseudo-science behind time travel was interesting enough to hook us on immediately. The visions of the past and future and the infinite number of possibilities, all supply to the extreme popularity that the movie receives.
13. The Color Purple (1985)
The Color Purple is a very gripping, tragic and triumphant coming-of-age period drama. It was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker of the same name. The Color Purple is a powerful movie that pushes forward the feminist agenda. It presents to us a world of cruel patriarchy and brutal misogyny through the eyes of an African-American teenager during the early 20th century.
The movie is quite striking as it shows that the world of a black woman is completely dominated by the black male. She (here she stands for the collective sisterhood of the female community of America) is tortured, raped and her children either sold or killed. The atrocities that she has to suffer are many. And the movie shows this aspect brilliantly.
A brilliant contrast has also been shown between the protagonist, Celie and the mistress of her husband, Shug Avery. The intimate relationship that grows between the two is completely unexpected and beautiful. A wife and the husband’s mistress coming together is a concept that is not often explored. But here we find them joining together in a romantic unison. The theme of lesbianism is also deftly explored with a lot of sensitivity although not confronted directly.
The one thing about the whole concept that is quite interesting is the fact that Celie started adoring her victim status. She took up the role of the damsel in distress and expected a knight to save her from her misery. How ironic it is that she received salvation in a damsel as well. The intricate complexities of character and tone have been handled so well by Spielberg. It is almost unimaginable. The sheer power of the realistic recreation is nothing to scoff at. It stands as a testament to the power of Spielberg’s filmmaking genius.
12. The Post (2017)
A gripping tale of a gruesome battle between the press and the government, two of the major pillars of democracy. One fights to conceal while the other fights to enlighten. The Post bashlessly tells the story of the many cover-ups and conspiracies involved in safeguarding the pride of America which was already internally tainted by its participation in one of the most futile wars ever fought – Vietnam. As a hollow government clings to the last straw of its consistently delegitimising reputation, one woman battling against views and gender equalities of her time and one man with an unwavering iron will toil relentlessly to show the true face of the government.
The movie is surely a great addition to Steven Spielberg’s hall of fame. It is a movie that questions the truth that is told to us as well as the truth we so readily accept. The way the movie is structured, it feels as if it is instructing us to stand up to the lies that governments often shove down our throats. It is a brave and courageous statement against the authoritarian rules that limit the freedom of expression. The movie is a grand celebration of this very freedom which is a necessity for the survival of a nation in today’s’ day and age.
The Post is a much-needed wake-up call for all news outlets to rise up again for the cause of the people. With stellar performances from Hanks and Meryl Streep and a focused direction by Steven Speilberg, this movie is easily one of the best historical dramas to date.
11. The Terminal (2004)
Steven Spielberg’s airport drama might be overly exaggerated and sentimental, appended with a trite love story. Yet, its list of flaws is balanced by Tom Hanks’ fantastic performance. Casting Tom Hanks was truly a masterful decision made by the filmmakers. Hanks plays Victor Navroski, a man visiting New York from a war-torn Eastern European nation. He is caught in the bureaucratic cracks when he lands upon the JFK airport with a useless passport. Until his country resolves its problems, Victor decides to lead a harmonious life in the airport lounge. It isn’t a nuanced performance, but Hanks plays Victor with aplomb that often makes our eyes well up.
The scene, where Victor becomes the unofficial translator for an immigrant carrying doubtful medications, is one of the most endearing in the film. The director truly did a great job of incorporating it. Apart from that one, there are many other scenes that have been handled with deft execution. Both the cast and the crew seem to be in tune as they have produced a work that is both emotional and practical. The central message has been relayed with a lot of feel and substance. And grasping and implementing it has been made very simplistic through the grounded style of the movie.
10. Empire of the Sun (1987)
Some people may not agree with me on this, but Empire of the Sun is one of Spielberg’s most criminally underrated works. Starring a young Christian Bale in a role that would put him on the map, and John Malkovich, this coming-of-age WWII film is an overlooked masterpiece of cinema. Yes, you read that right. One scene in particular, where an American fighter jet liberates a POW camp is truly beautiful. That’s John Williams’ sound, Spielberg’s direction and Bale’s intensity in one amazing scene. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.
9. Catch Me If You Can (2001)
Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks in a cat-and-mouse chase around the world, directed by the showman Steven Spielberg? Yes, please! One of the most fun crime movies in recent memory, this wonderfully Spielbergian movie doesn’t get dark or morose at any point, and the tone is still light and breezy, with the audience waiting for what happens next. Frank Abagnale Jr. (DiCaprio) reacts to his parent’s divorce by running off and becoming an impostor airline pilot, forging checks, and spending years avoiding capture. Hanks, DiCaprio and Spielberg are all excellent in this brilliant crime movie.
8. Lincoln (2012)
Based on the final few months of the life of President Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis is a master at work, as he steps into the shoes of the legendary American President who was responsible for the abolition of slavery and the end of the American Civil War. Lincoln must use every political trick in the book (and outside of it) in order to get the 13th Amendment passed and to end slavery once and for all. Spielberg’s touches are evident, but this movie will be remembered most for being a showcase of acting excellence, especially from Day-Lewis, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts.
7. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks make a wonderful pair. This partnership was at its peak with Saving Private Ryan, one of the best war films ever made. His first war film after the legendary Schindler’s List, this was a full-on battle right from the start. It took us to the very heart of World War II, and its most famous event, the Normandy Invasion.
That opening battle sequence will remain one of the finest scenes in all of cinema. It is truly a sight to see, and it is Steven Spielberg at his finest. In a tragic quest to track down the last surviving brother in a family of soldiers, Tom Hanks and his squad take us through the tolls and spoils of war, and how it affects the human mind. Baffling, how it didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar that year.
6. Jurassic Park (1994)
It’s 25 years since this movie came out. The CGI is way better today, obviously, but this movie is still brilliant. Still makes us go ‘wow’. True fans of the franchise would probably geek out and get goosebumps when they see the ‘Welcome to Jurassic Park‘ sign. How time flies! In a laughably audacious script with plenty of Spielberg set pieces, he brings in the emotional equivalent which anchors the rest of the movie, and ultimately, makes for an absolutely entertaining watch. Hey, I’m a simple man, I see Jeff Goldblum, I click.