Kubrick's list of films may be short for a director
whose career spanned almost fifty years, but he
packed a hell of a punch into nearly everything
For most of his last forty years,
he stuck to projects that meant something to him.
He refused to play the I'll-do-this-to-get-money-to-do-something-else
game. When a studio signed Kubrick, that was it.
He called all the shots, from production time to
He had the kind of patience a
Trappist monk would envy. It was nothing for Kubrick
to go several years between projects.
Kubrick made twelve feature films,
including the soon-to-be-released Eyes Wide Shut.
Eyes Wide Shut took two years to shoot and
may one day take its place with the greatest of
Kubrick's work. And considering that Kubrick already
has three movies in the American Film Institute's
Top 100 list, that's mighty impressive.
Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and
Love the Bomb (1964)
One of the greatest anti-war satires
ever filmed. Peter Sellers plays three roles (including
the President of the Unites States), George C. Scott
plays the President's key military adviser, and
Slim Pickens gets the ride of his life as he bronco-busts
the bomb to blow up "Roosia." At one point,
Sellers (as the demonically Telleresque Dr. Strangelove)
starts ad-libbing so hysterically that actors turn
their backs on the camera so we won't see them laugh.
No matter how many times you watch it, you always
seem to catch a new joke. Kubrick is a master of
subtle humor—such as playing patriotic music
beneath scenes of Americans preparing to drop the
bomb that would ultimately destroy the entire world,
or one soldier's concern that if another soldier
is not telling the truth about the need to break
into a vending machine for phone money, damages
will have to be paid to The Coca-Cola Co. of America.
This movie is a true masterpiece.
A Space Odyssey
Released in 1968—a year
before humans walked on the moon—this movie
is much more than a simple space epic. In fact,
it explores what happens when humans become so dependent
upon machines that they can no longer function without
them. Think that's far-fetched? Try staying away
from the Internet for a few days. And HAL 9000,
the computer that leads the mutiny, has a calm,
irritating voice—"I'm sorry, Dave, I
can't open the pod"—that will crawl inside
your skull and stay there. It was "followed"
by a sequel in 1984 (not by Kubrick). The book,
too, has been sequeled twice, the latest one just
recently hitting stores. This is a slow story, if
you're expecting a lot of shootouts with x-wing
fighters. But if you're looking for art, this is
a great place to start.
This vision of futuristic hell
features a bravura performance by Malcolm McDowell.
As Alex, the leader of the Droogs, he's a brutal
thief who, while jailed for rape and murder, agrees
to allow scientists to disconnect his ability to
cause violence—even in his own defense. At
the center of this horror-show, of course, is the
vital question of free choice—including the
right to choose wrongly. When we no longer have
that ability, Kubrick suggests, we become mechanized
and thereby horribly diminished. Set up another
glass of molocco plus, right right.
Metal Jacket (1987)
The satire of Dr. Strangelove's
Cold War gives way here to the brutality of Vietnam.
From the culture shock of boot camp—brutal
sons of bitches breaking individual spirit in order
to build killing machines—to the actual horrors
of war, this is a torturous film to watch. For anyone
with a romanticized view of warfare, this is the
movie that'll forever change your perception. Not
for the faint of heart.
The most controversial Kubrick
adaptation, at least from a literary point of view.
Stephen King the novelist, Stanley Kubrick the film
director: two different artists, two different media,
two different results. Kubrick gets an over-the-top
performance from wacky Jack Nicholson, and Shelley
Duvall freaks out quite well. Those long corridors
are hypnotic, and you're never sure where anything
leads in this movie. The lady in the bathtub made
me drop my popcorn the first time I saw it. Chilling,
even to skeptics and King purists.
Kubrick slipped past the censors
by dropping some of the lust-filled obsessions that
are the very heart of the story. But James Mason
is terrific as the middle-aged professor who finds
himself falling for the teenage girl. Shelley Winters
turns in the performance of a lifetime as the sex-starved
mother, and Peter Sellers is quirky as the drama
teacher under Lolita's spell. And Sue Lyon truly
gave the performance of a career as Lolita (she
wound her way down to Alligator by 1980).
7. Spartacus (1960)
Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis star
in this amazing sword-and-sandal epic. Thanks to
restored footage, it can finally take its place
among the best ever. (In the restored version, Anthony
Hopkins dubbed in Laurence Olivier's lines.) Douglas
plays the title role, a slave who leads his fellow
slaves in rebellion. Consider the movie in its historical
context with the Civil Rights movement and its power
increases. Peter Ustinov won a best supporting Academy
of Glory (1957)
Douglas again. This time, he's
a decent Army officer caught up in his own moral
war in the middle of the First World War. The movie's
worth is proven by the tracking shot that follows
Douglas through the trenches as his men prepare
for battle. The court battles that follow and the
final outcome are a searing indictment of war itself.
One of the harder of Kubrick's movies to find since
few video stores go out of their way to promote
quality black-and-white movies.
Ever the technical innovator,
Kubrick developed a camera to shoot in the reduced
interior light of the 1700s. Beautiful, lush and
seemingly stagnant, time slows down until at last
we are moving at the speed of William Makepeace
Thackery's original novel. Some claim Kubrick was
at his best setting his movies in the future, but
this film, Spartacus and Paths of Glory
prove he was just as at home in the past. Initially
panned as being tamer than his previous works, it
deserves to be reevaluated.
This is the movie that first showcased
Kubrick's talent. Sort of Dick Francis meets Elmore
Leonard, it's a case study of a racetrack heist
and is full of eccentric characters, including Elisah
Cook's performance as a milquetoast in love with
his tramp of a wife. Kubrick adapted the script
from Lionel White's novel but wisely let pulp fiction
writer Jim Thompson supply the snappy dialogue.
If you can find it—and that's no small task—it's
well worth checking out.
Shot for a buck twenty-five plus
a pastrami sandwich, this was Kubrick's chance to
break away from shooting magazine layouts. It's
the story of a down-and-out boxer striking up a
romance with a taxi driver against the slums of
New York. Kubrick directed, produced, co-wrote and
did the photography as well. Another one that's
tough to find, but you'll spot a few similarities
to another boxer's love story that made a lot more
money for someone else. (Yo!)