Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick

Have you ever tried to watch all of Kubrick’s films within a very short duration of time? It’s no easy task, take my word for it. It’s kind of like an episode of Will it Blend?, where your brain gets overstuffed with so much detailed data that your processor has to work at three times the strength just to remember to breathe, and eventually you kinda fizzle out and die.

I completed the assignment though, and as I reached the conclusion, I demanded my mindcomputer produced a summary of what it had learned. It whirred for a bit, then spluttered, and eventually shat out one plain and simple sentence:

“Kubrick is the greatest director that ever lived”.

Debatable! But that’s what my brain said! And even if we can shout other names (Hitchcock comes to mind), no film connoisseur could argue that Stanley Kubrick is one of the most influential directors of all time. Perhaps you have a different favourite, but I still doubt you’d kick up too much of a fuss when someone drops this genius’ name in such high regard. Because he changed everything! With his controversial topics, revolutionary cinematography, borderline torture of his actors, and complete disregard to what the viewer might have wanted, he managed to lead one of the most perfect careers in movie history, truly without a bad film, and with some very good ones. And so my only hope is that I do the man some justice here by gushing my fanboy juices all over this page, and I also want you to enjoy it, whoever you are.

Note: Short documentaries and AI were not included for obvious reasons.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 13. Killer's Kiss

13. Killer's Kiss (1955)

Only a list about Kubrick would dare to feature a movie as decent as Killer’s Kiss to be this low, but something had to be here, and so here it is. For, as the director’s second feature film, you could already feel the man gazing in the right direction, even if the budget was so constrictive that Stanley was reportedly forced onto welfare during the shooting, and a lot of the scenes had to be shot in secret, hidden from the police due to the lack of permits. However, the absence of money wasn’t the issue, as all the style and odd surrealistic moments in the world could not save this film from the one thing that burdened it the worst: a painfully ordinary storyline. It flashed back upon the thin love tale between a boxer and a private dancer, portrayed by some of the stiffest acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life, complete with dialogue so bland that it’s rumoured to have been dubbed into the film during post production. True or not, that's a pretty severe rumour. Now blend this with the fact that United Artists changed the ending of the script against Kubrick’s wishes, and I reckon the man himself would understand why we are leaving this right here.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 12. Spartacus

12. Spartacus (1960)

I am Spartacus! Winning four Academy Awards, becoming the biggest moneymaker in Universal Studios’ history for a decade, and having been subjected to countless parodies ever since; it is no wonder as to why this historical epic drama has received more than its fair share of worship in latter days. But that means shit to me. Because even while the mighty title character (portrayed perfectly by Kirk Douglas) impressively leads this powerful rebellion against Christianity, slavery, race discrimination, gender discrimination, and the Roman Empire ... the film itself simply feels less “Kubrick” than anything else on this list. The reasons are obvious, as the director was employed as a replacement, forced into the pilot seat within two days of signing his contract without any creative control over the script, design, or the actors. As a result, even our hero labeled this three hour long drag as “too moralising”, distancing his name from the project and refusing to be a hired gun ever again because of it. And I understand. I mean, sure, I have to respect that many groupies do praise this flick's existence most highly, but I am just not one of them, and this is my blog, so.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 11. Fear and Desire

11. Fear and Desire (1953)

By creeping around the net, you will find almost every similar Worst to Best Kubrick list cold-heartedly elbows this short military film to the very bottom, and who can blame them? As Stanley’s first feature (funded by borrowed money from family and friends), critics have disregarded Fear and Desire as a clunky, sloppy, and unsteady introduction to the director. Hell, even the master himself denounced the film, calling it a “bumbling, amateur exercise,” comparing it to a “child’s drawing on a fridge,” and then personally attempting to buy all the prints himself to destroy them from all of existence (and he nearly succeeded too). Thankfully, some copies survived, and now anyone can enjoy these four soldiers stuck behind enemy lines as they deal with their fear and mental illness, one cliché tale delivered by acting and dialogue which leaves much to be desired (see what I did there?). However, such a bad reputation has served it well by dropping the expectation bar so drastically low that I myself was pleasantly surprised, finding the effort relatively charming with some really memorable scenes, and naturally blessed with the unavoidable scent of Kubrick’s genius firmly in tact. So, yes, maybe it’s not all that great, but it’s definitely not as bad as everyone says it is.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 10. Barry Lyndon

10. Barry Lyndon (1975)

Despite this pitiful position, there has to be a reason as to why Barry Lyndon won four production Oscars; why Scorsese named it his favourite Kubrick in the world; and why it is often rated one of the greatest films ever made, right? Right. And this is because the 1700s period drama is a technological feat and an aesthetic landmark of note, as we witness our unlikeable protagonist elegantly manipulating his way through the most visually appealing scenery one could envision, surrounded by historically accurate costumes and a certain minimal lighting which achieved exactly what Kubrick set out to create: a movie which looked like a painting. But, be honest now, would you stare at a painting for three hours? Because that’s what this is like: one slow, uneventful experience, presented via characters as dull as the storyline itself, a prime example of style over substance. Which might be why the bloated offering didn’t quite hit the commercial success everyone had hoped for, yet is still defended vigorously by many, claiming it takes multiple viewings to fully appreciate, but that's a lot of hours, man! I don't really have time for that, sorry. I mean, in all fairness, it is untouchable for what it is, but as far as entertainment goes, it simply falls too short for my liking (or, rather, way too fucking long).

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 09. The Killing

09. The Killing (1956)

Even if this hopeless love story/heist gone wrong isn't exactly the most unique of plotlines, it does mark the point where Kubrick started to realise who he wasn’t (by judging his former failures), and working out where he needed to go (which is evident in what followed). Unfortunately, not everyone was too convinced, as United Artists still had no faith in the man, refusing to put up much money for the project (leaving the director to once again rely on loans), as well as insisting on a narrator (which Kubrick hated, and is often noted as a big flaw of the film). However, our director got the last laugh, as when this movie was released, the box office ... performed poorly at best :( But it did do wonders for his reputation; the non-linear, fast-paced flick praised as Stanley’s most mature to date, critically acclaimed then, and a cult favourite now, many applauding its humorous commentary on morality—not to mention the trademark camera work Mr Kubrick quickly became famous for. Yet perhaps even more significant than all of this, was when Quentin Tarantino openly labeled The Killing as a major influence on Reservoir Dogs, which is not only very easy to see, but also, very cool.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 08. Eyes Wide Shut

08. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

As Kubrick died six days after showing the final cut of Eyes Wide Shut to Warner Brothers, the rumours surrounding his own opinion of the film reflected that of the general public. Some say he considered it his best work, others claimed he loathed it, and I sympathise, as even I cannot tell whether I enjoy this “erotic thriller” or not. Featuring the awkward on screen romance/jealousy between the (then) real life lovers Cruise and Kidman, the whole script felt as though it was lost in its own dream, stumbling through excessively sexual scenes, so far detached from itself that even the challenging surrealistic mindfuck resulted in one overall unsatisfactory dull stroll. But as slow and indulgent as it turned out, the seedy mood lingers long after the credits, and much like all of Kubrick’s latter work, was so unsettlingly detailed that the symbolism debates have often outweighed the plot. Which is why I could talk about this film forever, as undoubtedly his most psychologically creepy and dangerous offering, either my favourite of his lesser films, or my least favourite of his better ones, I can never tell which one. But a curious leaving gift regardless.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 07. Paths of Glory

07. Paths of Glory (1957)

You may have noticed that "anti-war" is a common theme in Kubrick’s tank, but none hit the mark as sincerely as Paths of Glory, which tackled the issue of cowardice in the face of a suicide mission, and the horrific consequences a platoon may be subjected to as punishment. Set in World War 1, there is no comedic value in here, rather a very truthful account of the dark sadness one may be exposed to within these tragic circumstances, although the true tragedy lay wherein (once again) an early Kubrick was so easily disregarded, barely breaking even and receiving heavy censorship and opposition from Spain and France due to the portrayal of their countries. But all's well that ends well, and it ended well, as the movie continues to be critically worshipped to this very day, partially for the outstanding acting (in particular from Kirk Douglas), but mostly for the director finally coming into his own style with his perfect choices of locations and methods of lighting, reportedly a key influence on “one of the greatest TV dramas of all time,” The Wire. Kubrick also met his future wife on the set of this film, and they stayed married forever, so that’s lovely too ::heart emoji::

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 06. 2001: A Space Odyssey

06. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

This film is so epic that I’m scared to even talk about it. It’s basically four movies in one, with hardly any dialogue, purposefully bland acting, and a slow pace to really accentuate the atmosphere of space, cryptically exploring complex philosophies such as artificial intelligence, extraterrestrial life, and (most importantly) the evolution of man. If such an overly-intellectual premise didn’t exhaust you already, then the execution will, as this is one of the most influential films ever made, leaping over the special effects of its era, and pioneering techniques which other directors steal to this very day. And yet, it still divided audiences on either side of the ground it broke: the Academy adored it (earning Kubrick his only personal Oscar) and kids on drugs found God in the Star Gate sequence; while others once again called another Kubrick “too long” and “a drag”, 241 people reportedly walking out of the premier alone. What’s worse is that it aimed to ask questions rather than solve them, leaving the obscure art piece frustratingly open to interpretation, all of which abandons me on the fence, watching me die while I try to make my mind up. But what I do know is that it changed the game, was ahead of its time (even now), and will be furiously analysed until mankind’s very end (or perhaps even more so then). It's kinda beyond a movie, really.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 05. Lolita

05. Lolita (1962)

Taking on Vladimir Naboko’s naughty novel about an anxious 40 year old man’s irrational infatuation towards a barely teenage girl, one would inevitably expect to clash with some share of opposition, and yet even Kubrick had no idea as to the extent of this. Naturally, the film was plagued with censorship issues from the get-go, nobody daring to touch it, forcing the director to rely on innuendos and subtle suggestions to get the intense subject matter across, toning it down to such a degree that the man admitted he would have never made the movie if he knew what the limitations were going to be. Due to this, groupies of the original book were appalled by the tame adaptation, taking it in turns to disregard the butchery of their classic “love story”, and I can only imagine this hurt Mr Kubrick even further. However, it did make money, and the reviews have always been consistently high, with a particular focus on the actors themselves. And I guess that’s why I love it so much. Which is to say, I am in love with Sue Lyon, I don't care if she was only 14 years old at the time, her performance seduced me as intended and now I'm probably going to jail. Thanks a lot, Stanley.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 04. Full Metal Jacket

04. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Ok, and now we’ve hit the real big boys, starting with Full Metal Jacket, based on Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers, and coming in as Kubrick’s first feature after a seven year hiatus. The story itself was set in the Vietnam War and is split down into two segments: the first being undoubtedly the most memorable as our volunteer marines endure strenuous bootcamp sessions which challenge their masculinity, owed above all else to the infinitely applauded role of R. Lee Ermey as the vulgar drill sergeant—one truly genuine and considerably quotable performance (reportedly a result of him improvising most of his lines). Unfortunately, as we set off into real battle, the second segment does not quite hit the same mark as the first, but the message still screams loud and clear, exposing the effect of war by granting no hope and dehumanising the characters to point of numbness, whilst somehow maintaining the imaginative spark of humour and unconventional dialogue throughout. So, naturally, it grossed high, was instantaneously critically acclaimed, and everyone still loves it long time.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 03. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

03. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

There is no topic in the world more serious than an atomic missile attack between the USSR and the US, so why not make a completely ridiculous piss-take of the people’s concerns while it was still fresh on their minds? Which, of course, is exactly what this black and white satire did, telling the tale of various politicians trying their best to prevent a nuclear holocaust in the face of world wide doom. It's a tough situation only aggravated by the fact that every character is a little bit stupid and a little bit insane—a weight carried almost exclusively by Peter Sellers (who performs three of the most memorable roles), granting us permission to laugh in the face of one legitimately scary topic. And this is what makes Dr. Strangelove the film which really cemented Kubrick’s genius; a cynical piece which hasn’t dated whatsoever, effortlessly topping many similar lists, boasting the longest title for a Best Picture nominee (at 13 words), and was so relevant to the time’s greatest fears that the government reportedly changed some of their procedures because of its content. Without a doubt, the most hilarious work Kubrick had to offer, especially once you learn that the whole plot's delivery was actually some metaphor for sexual intercourse. That's not a joke either.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 02. A Clockwork Orange

02. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Even if a person hasn't seen A Clockwork Orange, there is a good chance they will be aware of how disturbing it is, and I’m here to explain why. It’s because this dystopian crime landmark shoves violent images into your face whilst asking you to sympathise with the sadistic nature of the main character, Alex. He was created as wicked as they come, yet is still sold as one likeable chap, with his funny words and love for Beethoven and interesting attire and tendency to rape women—he’s almost adorable. Furthermore, his antisocial antics serve a greater purpose, requesting that the viewer contemplates some serious topics to the likes of free will, juvenile delinquency, crime, pornography, and other such problematic political subjects. We, as the witnesses, are expected to identify with evil, and reevaluate who the real victims of our cruel society are. Naturally, such a controversial request was an immediate success everywhere, to the point that many misunderstood the message, and (like any good film) was the catalyst for various real life murders and rapes, generating massive debates in the media and tormenting Kubrick until he completely withdrew the film's release in the UK. But with all the parodies and accolades, no one could escape A Clockwork Orange as one explicitly brutal classic, managing to make violence seem like just a bit of fun, really.

Worst To Best: Stanley Kubrick: 01. The Shining

01. The Shining (1980)

Based on but far removed from Stephen King’s novel, this is a film that some of us understand as Kubrick’s greatest work, while others do not. But we who are in the know, view this haunted house as a character itself, allowing ample space without any breathing room, isolating then rejecting all horror clichés, and abusing the actors until their hair began to fall out (note: this actually happened to Shelley Duvall). It’s one long build up of symbolic paradoxes and fleeting inconsistencies, details easily missed by the untrained eye, almost another movie hidden within the movie, so easy to get lost in once you find the key. And yet you never truly find out what it’s about. Is this some paranormal tale? Or one of insanity? We must never know, hence why it still divides opinion to this very day, some calling it “too long” and others calling it “overrated”, which are the type of comments that make me a dull boy. Rather, I consider this film to be the scariest horror I have ever seen (and I’ve seen them all), but so stylish in its attack that you don’t realise how freaked out you were until the film is over and it’s time for bed.

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Worst to Best: Wes Anderson
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  1. Well, in a Worst to Best list of Kubrick ranking lists, this list is in the lowest tier.

    1. Don't suck his balls, Brian. You're right.