Split Decision: Spielberg’s Filmography

Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!

This week’s question:

What is your favorite film directed by Steven Spielberg?
Bonus: What is one Spielberg easter egg you’d love to see in Ready Player One?

I do love me some Last Crusade, but I’ll go with Saving Private Ryan. It’s WWII, it’s Hanks, it’s incredible sound design, it’s the storming of the beach at Normandy, what more do you want? Anytime you see a saturated olive green color palette for a war flick you know who to thank. The bookends I could do without. Imagine this film starting with D-Day and you’re just thrown into the chaos immediately. Sometimes the greats get it wrong. Sometimes they get it wrong twice (Lincoln).— Jill Malcolm

Raiders of the Lost Ark. My father was an Archaeologist so this film has some meaning for me.
Gary M. Kramer

This is a cruel, cruel question. Picking a favorite Spielberg film is like picking a favorite piece of pizza from a lifetime of eating pizza. I could definitely tell you about the worst piece of pizza I’ve ever had, but the best? I can’t single it out. As such, I have to give two answers, both based in incredible theatrical experiences. The first is War of the Worlds. I will never forget the day that me and my good buddy Isaac (holla!) hopped over to the AMC Marlton 8 to check it out. We made my car into a cloud and then had our minds blown by Spielberg’s actiony take on the beloved H.G. Wells tale. The breathless pace and gigantic scene by scene scope in conjunction with the top notch special effects made for one of the most memorable and exciting moviegoing experiences of my life. It was also one of the first post-9/11 movies that had the balls to be hopeful. Yes, I think it’s awesome that the son didn’t die. 

The second is Jurassic Park. As a boy, I read the book, I collected the action figures, I had velociraptor t-shirts — I was a little dino junkie. But since my parents weren’t big moviegoers, I had only seen the movie on VHS for many years (full screen, ugh). But a few years back Jurassic Park was rereleased on the big screen in 3D, and I’d be damned if I missed the opportunity. So me and my friend Genevieve (holla!) took the trip down to the UA Riverview to take it in. It was worth every second that I waited to see it in the theater, and worth every penny I paid for the 3D transfer. If ever a movie could be qualified as “movie magic,” it’s Jurassic Park!

Also, bonus: If someway, somehow Pee-Wee Herman makes his way into Ready Player One, I will die, and happily so. —Dan Scully

In a career which spans nearly fifty years, and includes such classic work as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and the deeply undervalued A.I., Spielberg’s second theatrical feature, Jaws, for me, remains his high-water mark (no pun intended). Honestly, what else is there to say about the maritime thriller? It’s a classic — established, beloved, oft-revisited, and continually passed down. It constitutes a breakthrough in film pacing, favoring explicit narrative delivery and immediate excitement over implication, and, for better or worse, steered the American film business toward a more globalized movie-model with the advent of blockbuster culture. Yet, despite what followed, Jaws remains a timeless slice of pop-entertainment, as well as a textbook example of motion picture craftsmanship. The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael even deemed it “the most cheerfully perverse scare movie ever made.”

Nearly forty-five years after its release, we can luxuriate in Spielberg’s deft handling of actors (particularly Scheider and Shaw), his knack for expressing the glee of fright and transitioning laughter into a scream within the same breath (see the shark’s first major appearance, preceded by Brody’s bickering), and his long-take approach to staging — critic Tony Zhou, in the video essay, “The Spielberg Oner,” discusses how Spielberg compresses multiple shot conceits into one fluid take, effectively telling a mini-story within the longer scene, and emphasizes the director’s penchant for classicism as opposed to “look-at-me” camera-batics of now, but think about how Spielberg’s long takes portray the development of conflicts between characters and a scene’s shifting power dynamics, ultimately utilizing the cut to indicate a situation’s finality rather than juicing up a moment.

Moreover, the Shark remains a potent source of primal fear, a creature so faceless, its behavior simultaneously instinctual and irrational, that the audience can project their own anxieties onto it. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues, very convincingly, that Jaws is a non-ironic, Fascistic parable, wherein the Shark represents the Other, a signifier of collective social/political fears, which must be terminated in order for a community to endure. Alternative schools of thought are available: Fidel Castro offers a Marxist take, reading the shark as a symbol of all-consuming capitalism. However, one not need to intellectualize the movie in order to be affected by it. The terror is inherent to the scenario, and it inspired a whole generation of moviegoers to think twice before dipping their toes in the water every summer. What was once just a movie is now a cultural myth. The Shark may perish, but its legacy persists.Dan Santelli

Are these questions getting harder each week? Yes, they are. Listen, I love a lot Spielberg movies. Duh. I was raised on them, like many. And like many, they shaped my early cinematic experience. I will always love Spielberg’s classics. Always. But I’m gonna go against the grain a little bit on this one, and go with my gut. And remember, we’re talking favorite, here. Not necessarily “best” or “most iconic.” My favorite Spielberg is Minority Report (2002). Not only am I strangely a die-hard Cruise fan (his work, okay? Not his lifestyle), but also this movie is just seriously so enjoyable. In a not-too-distant future, a set of triplets can predetermine when and how murders take place. Cruise plays John Anderton, one of the future “cops” who apprehends the would-be murderers. When the triplets predict Anderton himself will commit murder, it sets off an insane journey that includes Anderton stealing one of the gifted triplets, switching his eyeballs to deter recognition, and the unfolding of his tragic past. I first saw Minority Report when I was thirteen (when it came out, almost sixteen years ago), and I still find it to be a completely chilling, suspenseful, and wildly fun experience. And I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, so that has to count for something, right?

As for a Spielberg easter egg that I’d love to see in Ready Player One: Any character picks up a necklace and says to another character, “Must of slipped right off your neck.”–Catherine Haas

I feel almost unqualified to answer this question of favorites because most of Spielberg’s oeuvre has escaped me. In fact I havent seen a single of his films since Munich. With 21 years now passed, I still vividly recall Djimon Honsou’s vital performance in Amistad and the profound hurt of that film’s unflinching portrayal of slavery, and its tackling of the moral/philosophical/legal problem of enslavement. Jurassic Park would have been the easy call. It transported me as a youth, broke ground in special effects (which in some ways have barely been bested) and was watched ad infinitum, but Amistad seared itself into me as a 13 year old, and its images haunt me to this day. In tandem with other works, it taught a younger me that cinema was a medium of ideas and feelings, not just a medium of entertainment..–

I really have a hard time not choosing Jurassic Park; I truly fell in love with the magic of the movies as a result of Jurassic Park.  It’s also what made Spielberg a household name for me at 8 years old, to the point that I spent many hours with his computer game, Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair in 1996.  Sidenote: that game was awesome and starred none other than Quentin Tarantino, Jennifer Aniston, Penn and Teller, Dean Cundey, and Michael Kahn, among others.Talk about a weird cast.

But my favorite Spielberg movie is actually one that came out 4 years before Jurassic Park took over my brain– Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  It’s certainly not the landmark film that Raiders was, and it kind of mimics everything that made Raiders great– huge set pieces, punching nazis in the face, a God-related mcguffin– but I can argue that Last Crusade is actually the best in the trilogy (I don’t count Crystal Skull).  The Indiana Jones formula that was proven in Raiders, tested in Temple of Doom, and perfected in Last Crusade.  Add to the globe-trotting and whip-cracking a new element, Indy’s backstory, by way of the absolutely phenomenal Sean Connery as Indy’s father, and you have a refreshing pathos that is somewhat absent in the other films.
Spielberg is also at the top of his game in Last Crusade.  Rewatch the first 15 minutes for proof; the train chase sequence involving River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones is a high-wire act that deftly juggles so many technical feats of cinematic strength that most directors would be lucky to pull off just one of the elements Spielberg employs during that sequence.  The very next scene, the infamous “That belongs in a museum!” scene that takes place during a monsoon on a boat, is similarly expert in its execution.  Spielberg pulls back the camera so you can see the entire ship rocking violently during that fight sequence, with everyone from the actors to the stunt doubles to the crew working the rigs and water features firing on all cylinders.  Spielberg’s use of practical effects in this scene remind me why the exact same scene filmed today with a green screen would not have the same high stakes.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade may not be the best movie Spielberg’s made, but it is certainly one of my all-time favorites.Jeff Piotrowski

I wrestled with this question right up until actually typing this text—Spielberg is one of my favorite directors, and his movies mean so much to me on a personal level—and I might have a completely different answer tomorrow. I enjoy both his classic films as well as much of his newer stuff (see my reviews of the criminally underrated Bridge of Spies and last year’s The Post) but picking a favorite usually requires the lens of history. So while I credit Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, as the movie that made me love the idea of “the movies,” I must go with my heart and say Raiders of the Lost Ark

One of my earliest memories is wearing a fishing hat that my pre-kindergarten brain deemed was the same hat that Indiana Jones wore (it was a bucket hat). I finally got the look right for Halloween several years ago, and for a while there was a barista at the Starbucks in Newtown, PA who referred to me as “Dr. Jones” long after that day; I have rarely ever felt such pride. My lifelong love of history may also tie into Indiana Jones as well.

Viewing it as an adult revealed a whole new set of treasures. The balance that Harrison Ford strikes between cool, uncool, and scared out of his mind (we really do see that he is making it up as he goes). The way each segment of the film builds to its own crescendo. The pulp adventure feel captured but with one of the most badass women to ever grace the screen. If filmmaking is alchemy, Raiders of the Lost Ark is cinematic gold.  —Ryan Silberstein

For some reason I feel like Jaws is going to be considered a boring answer, but it shouldn’t be. Endlessly entertaining in both its storytelling and filmmaking, Jaws changed the landscape of movies and remains one of the most rewatchable pieces of cinema ever. We did an episode of I Like To Movie Movie about Jaws a couple years ago, and it was the first time I realized our heroes are shit-hammered drunk through the entire final act of the movie. It makes a lot of their decisions, like guiding the shark back to the island they’re attempting to save from shark attacks, make a lot more sense when you view it through the same drunken haze they are. It’s also really funny to watch and talk about when framed that way. For a movie that I’ve seen over and over throughout my life, the fact that it keeps revealing new things to me is part of what makes it such an enduring classic, and I think it will ultimately be the movie Spielberg is most remembered for.

Is it weird that I’m interested in Matt Hooper showing up using de-aging technology in Ready Player One? I don’t know that this is exactly what I want to see, but we live in both an age of wonder and the darkest timeline, and somehow I feel it’s what I’m fated to see. —Garrett Smith

Among a legacy of blockbusters and legends, Schindler’s List is my favorite Spielberg movie. I watched it over and over as a kid, which may sound weird, but I’ve always been easy to tears and hopeful for humanity. With Schindler’s List Spielberg’s attention to detail is next level. He made a non-documentary movie look authentically terrifying. Every human on screen is flawed, but resolute. Even the melodrama (which people complain about, but it is still a movie, after all…) hits you in the feels the way you didn’t expect it to. (But also exactly like you expect it to. So many tears.) For 99% of the movie, you see the director at work without the director showing us the work. It’s magical, moving, horrible, and human, and it deserves its place in film history books. And yes, I totally cried even thinking about the film as I typed this.

Easter Egg for Ready Player One: A mountain of Reese’s Pieces accompanied by a life size Reese Witherspoon doll.Jenna Kuerzi

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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