Tuesday, April 7, 2009

the Directors: Stanley Kubrick

How do you compare Kubrick’s films? He never made a film in the same genre, yet each of his films is instantly recognizable as a Kubrick film. He always managed to fuse his impeccable eye for craft into each body of work.

In fact, Kubrick may have very well been the best filmmaker in terms of craft, that has ever lived. The sweeping cinematography, the classical music, the perfectly timed dialogue, etc. Kubrick’s films have a way of growing on you. In fact, I didn’t like several of these movies the first time I saw them. But in time, they manifest themselves as masterpieces.

Here are reviews of every Kubrick film available on DVD. Forgive my repetitiveness in the grading, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for Kubrickian cinema.

The Killing1956
It’s jumpy narrative was groundbreaking at the time, showing a horse track race heist from multiple points of view. The pacing is cunning and quick. It’s great fun. One problem: the spell-it-all-out-for-you narration. Don’t blame Kubrick, it was added in post-production against his will. A+

Interesting fact: This film influenced a geeky movie-store clerk to make a little film called Reservoir Dogs.

Paths of Glory1957
How many WWI movies have you seen? Let alone terrific ones. This breezily paced film (only 90 minutes) tells the story of a battle gone wrong, and how officers selfishly do anything to mend it. We start to notice Kubrick getting into form via several long, tracking shots. My favorite Kirk Douglas performance. I dare you not to be moved during the last scene. A

Interesting fact: Kubrick married the singing woman from that final scene.
Kubrick was hired (per Douglas’s request) after the first director fought constantly with producers. While the film is a timeless epic, it does really feel like Kubrick. But, I could benefit from another viewing. B+
Interesting fact: Kubrick never really felt like this movie was completely his, after being the second director on the film.
This film does a great job of subtly hinting at its sexual undertones. Sultry dialogue and movements had to be hidden well in ’62, but it’s great fun trying to pick apart the metaphors and analogies. Peter Sellers (in his first great Kubrick role) easily steals the show as Clare Quilty, watching him is half the fun. A
Interesting fact: One of the few films Kubrick didn’t write, original novelist Vladimir Nabokov penned the screenplay, which Kubrick made several changes to.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Kubrick’s first masterpiece. Possibly the best satire of all time. The cast is top notch, especially in the infamous war room scenes. But it’s Sellers that wins the prize. Playing three of the films main characters, it’s incredible that he didn’t win the Oscar for best actor. Shame shame shame. A

Interesting fact: Kubrick’s only real comedy. Which is, conincidentally, his most seen film.

2001: A Space Odyssey1968
Essential Kubrick. Hated when it was released, it’s now revered as one of the very best motion picture experiences of all time. Every aspect of this film bleeds perfection. It’s true, the film will test your patience, but this is time well spent. Kubrick won his only Oscar (for Special Visual Effects) on this film. Notice how those effects are just as good as most of the effects around today. Grows only better with time. Part of the fun is philosophizing what it all means. A timeless classic. A+

Interesting fact: After the world premiere, the reviews from critics were terrible across the board. After receiving such bad press, Kubrick nearly had a mental breakdown. But one lone reviewer deemed the film a classic, and single handedly got the ball rolling on its monumental success.

A Clockwork Orange1971
Vile, repulsive, corrupt, a total masterpiece. Not for the queasy, the film appalled viewers upon its release. But time has shown how strong its statements are, whether political or moral. It contains one of my favorite film endings ever, with a final shot you’re not likely to forget. A+
Interesting fact: At one point Kubrick actually threw his own screenplay out and shot the film with the original novel as his only source guide.

Barry Lyndon
I just watched this for the first time (I was putting it off due to its 3 hour running time), but this is great, Kubrick stuff. Ryan O’Neal is fantastic as a man who tastes royalty and success, and dares not let it go. This may be the best looking of Kubrick’s films (winning four technical Oscars). It’s long tracking shots, its breathtaking stillness during the gunfights, the vivid colors, etc. It’s a fast three hours, check it out. A
Interesting fact: It took nearly a month to shoot the final gun draw.

The Shining1980
A movie that didn’t catch with me the first few times I saw it. I thought Nicholson was way over the top, the movie was too long, too boring, and so on. Time only proved me wrong. The best Stephen King adaptation ever, Kubrick brought a manic horror to a man gone mad. If you have the DVD, watch the ‘making of’ special feature, you’ll respect the film much more. Great, creepy stuff. And again, the fun is guessing what it all means. A

Interesting fact: Kubrick shot the scene when the hotel caretaker explains "shining" to Danny 148 times, the most takes ever shot for a single scene in film history.

Full Metal Jacket1987
The first half is widely regarded as the most accurate portrayal of boot camp ever captured on film. Regardless if that’s true or not, this is incredibly riveting (not to mention funny) stuff. R. Lee Ermey, as the Gunnery Sergeant from hell, delivers one of cinema’s most remembered characters. The second half of the film, the Vietnam segment, is usually overshadowed by the first. But it certainly isn’t less provocative. The final reveal, when we discover the identity of the lone sniper, remains shocking. A

Interesting fact: Ermey was a real US Marine Core Drill Instructor.

Eyes Wide Shut1999
Kubrick took several years developing what would turn into his final film. Real life married couple Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise signed open contracts and filmed the movie over the course of three years. Most critics didn’t feel that this film lived up to Kubrick’s other work, but I couldn’t disagree more. The haunting music, the perfect cinematography, the slow reveal of a world most of us have never heard of. Sure, Cruise is a little miscast, but he certainly doesn’t ruin the film. I’ve long considered this my second favorite Kubrick film (behind 2001), and can watch it over and over. It’s hypnotic smoothness makes it nearly impossible to turn off. The film contains one of my very favorite last lines ever. A+

Interesting fact: That’s not really NYC, Kubrick spent years building soundstages in England to recreate downtown Manhattan.
Listen to my podcast on Stanley Kubrick:


  1. I didn't like Barry Lyndon as much as you did, so maybe a B, and I don't see how Dr. Strangelove isn't an A+ (it's the funniest movie ever made!), but everything else I think I'd agree or be within half a grade of your thoughts.

    I hadn't really thought about how varied Kubrick's films are, but you're right, even the war movies are pretty dissimilar. That's pretty impressive in itself, but even among the great directors, he's on a short list that just didn't make any bad movies, so it's even more of an accomplishment.

    1. I think I expected to so bored by Lyndon, and the fact that I was not at all just astounded me. You're right, if written today, Dr. Strangelove gets an A+.

      So varied, and so so brilliant. Ah, I just love Kubrick. What's your favorite? Strangelove?

    2. Dr. Strangelove is my favorite. I also have a soft spot for Eyes Wide Shut, as it's the only one I saw in a theatre (well, original run... I've seen some in art houses).

    3. Eyes Wide Shut is my second favorite. Love that damn film. 2001 is tops for me.

  2. I'm a huge Kubrick fan (you could say I'm obsessed). He's my favorite director. I've seen eight of his films, and so far I would rank them as such:

    1) Dr. Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (my all-time favorite film)
    2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (my second all-time favorite film)
    3) A Clockwork Orange
    4) Barry Lyndon
    5) The Shining
    6) Paths of Glory (tie)
    6) Full Metal Jacket (tie)
    7) Lolita

    He truly was a master of the form. I wish he was still alive. It would be awesome to see the latest Kubrick on the big screen (his only film to come out during my lifetime was Eyes Wide Shut, which, from what I've heard, is not an ideal film to show a two-year-old).

    1. He's the best, isn't he? Eyes Wide Shut is my second film of his (behind 2001). It's really a subtle masterpiece in internal damnation. Cruise and Kidman are both fantastic, and the film is technically flawless as well. Hope you have a chance to see it soon!

    2. Can't believe I didn't comment earlier, but I actually did see Eyes Wide Shut a few months ago. I left the theater giddy because it was so perfect. Right up there with 2001.

    3. That's awesome! I absolutely love that movie.

  3. Kubrick is my favorite director of all time. Here's how I rank his films:

    1) 2001: A Space Odyssey
    2) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
    3) A Clockwork Orange
    4) Eyes Wide Shut
    5) Lolita
    6) The Shining
    7) Spartacus
    8) Barry Lyndon
    9) Paths of Glory
    10) The Killing
    11) Full Metal Jacket

    Wow, that was hard.

    1. Love that 2001 tops your list. That is one of my Top 5 films of all time. It never ceases to amaze me. From there, it gets insanely difficult. I actually think Eyes Wide Shut would come in at number 2 for me. But I love them all.

    2. 2001 is definitely in my all-time top 5 list too.

      Number 2 to 5 on my list could really be in any order. Even looking at them now, three days later, I would probably change it.

      2) A Clockwork Orange
      3) Eyes Wide Shut
      4) Lolita
      5) Dr. Strangelove

      But again, it could be in a completely different order.

    3. Yep, it does change, but the point is that they're all so great, you know? 2001 is playing in a massive theater in LA next month, so I can't wait. I've never seen it on the big screen.

  4. Above, you wrote "He never made a film in the same genre", but he made 2 (3, if you count Dr. Strangelove) sci-fi films.

    I see why is X rated.

    I saw last night A Clockwork Orange for the first time. Was magic and gorgeous. Genial. Brilliant. The score... Wow. The look... Ah. Malcolm McDowell... YES. Perfect timed dialog... Hm. The editing... Huh. The End... The Best. I FACKING love this film. All was great. Nothing boring or bad or anything else. A masterpiece. I slept just 2 hours for this film. IT DESERVED.

    Plz, tell me you saw this!!! http://imgfave.com/view/4298757

    1. So glad you liked this. I've seen that movie dozens of times and it never gets old. What a nightmare of a gem. And yes, of course I noticed the 2001 album! Great little meta moment there.

    2. lol I still remember Id seen Clockwork Orange about 26 times, so I was like 'I just showed you 2001, so now this' to my parents and my mum spotted the album. Cant believe I missed it! Just shows how damn absorbing and beautiful his films are, I guess I was so distracted every time :D
      Anyways, If I had to say…

      1. 2001: A Space Odyssey A+
      2. A Clockwork Orange A+
      3. Barry Lyndon A+
      4. Eyes Wide Shut A+
      5. The Shining A
      6. Full Metal Jacket A
      7. Paths Of Glory A
      8. Lolita A-
      9. Spartacus A-
      10. Dr.Strangelove B+

      Still NEED to see the Killing, watching it soon!

    3. Great stuff, gotta love Kubrick. The Killing is really fine, and it's ending is incredible. Enjoy!

  5. I saw Paths of Glory. It was great. For compassion I saw Lawrence of Arabia and War Horse. Lawrence of Arabia was...good-ish. Was well directed, well acted, well wrote and well shot, but I was indifferent the WHOLE film. The film doesn't did it for me. Maybe next time. War Whores was really bad. The whole film I said to myself WTF just happened. Dumb as hell. To optimistic, and not very well acted. So Paths of Glory its my favorite WWI film. To be honest at the end I wasn't moved, I turned off the film, I go in lobby and I start to cry for 5 seconds.

    1. I'm actually really glad you didn't like War Horse either. I really did not like that film. One of Spielberg's worst. Sentimental garbage. Yuck.

    2. Paths of Glory its a really great film. I love it. When I compare Paths of Glory with War Whores (this title reflect better the quality of the film) its like comparing Saving Private Ryan with Pearl Harbor. (Maybe) The best of all time with the worst of all time, for sure.

    3. Haha shit, "War Whores" made me laugh my ass off. So true.

  6. I saw Lolita. I read (half of) the book first. The book has art the first part and the second part I still need to read. The film was (in the first part) fantastically great and then was very good. My (mine) problem is that I laughed in the first part of the film more then I laughed at Dr. Strangelove (which I saw a long time ago and I'll see again soon). Shelley Winters, James Mason and (especially) Peter Sellers were incredible. What I love about Kubrick is that someone could pause in some moments his film and would make a great painting with that image.
    First half: A+; second half: A; the film A.
    From what I love to what I should see again: A Clockwork Orange, Lolita, Paths of Glory,
    Dr. Strangelove, The Shining.

    1. Nice man. The remake of Lolita actually isn't that bad either, and WAY more sexually scandalous.

  7. I re-watched The Shining. First of all, horror isn't my favorite genre, second, this is my first Kubrick film that I saw when I was a kid, third, I HATED it,, the film made my hate Kubrick I didn't like the story, the acting, the direction of it and it was too long, I saw just the half of it and I had enough. Then I'd give it a D+. Now I saw it again last night. It was fucking great. It is long, yes, but it needs to be so long. I could see more into it (more Kubrick stuff that I love), Jack Nicholson was goddamn perfect in that role, sure Shelley Duvall it's ''a little" miscast but the film is goddamn great. I think this is now my favorite horror film but I have many to see. I'm not sure if the film its A+ (the second best King adaptation and lots of long takes that I love) or A. Could you help me, I think I didn't take the end right.

    From what I love to what I really like: A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Lolita, Paths of Glory.
    And I really should see again Dr. Strangelove.

    1. I've had this same exact experience with EVERY Kubrick film. I didn't hate them all on first watch, but I've never loved a Kubrick film on first watch. And I love most all of them now. I literally had the exact same experience with The Shining - saw it as a kid and hated it, watched it several years later and really loved it. It's long, for sure, but I dig it. It's funny, not a whole hell of a lot happens in the first 2/3 of that movie, then it just goes insane. So cool.

  8. Full Metal Jacket is fantastic. One of the best Vietnam War films I ever saw. I think the main reason why people prefer the first part would be because of R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio performances. They were amazing. So crazy, so manic. The second part is also well acted, but not as great. The cinematography was superb. I feel like I need to watch it again.
    Right now, this is how I would rank the Kubrick film that I've seen: Eyes Wide Shut, A Clockwork Orange, Paths of Glory (it's so fascinating the second time), The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove (still need to give it another watch).

    1. Love your rankings, mine are pretty similar. You have to do 2001 next. One of my Top 5 of all time. Turn your phone off, turn the lights down and marvel at that beauty. It's a thing of wonder.

    2. You know, I try to watch 2001 the last to see how it holds up against all his masterpieces. But I'm sure that I'll Be amazed by it the second I watch it.

    3. I've seen that movie dozens upon dozens of times, and I still get more from it with every new watch. It's astounding.

  9. You said you've re-evaluated your view on Strangelove (Me too. Loathed it when I was younger)...but what about Paths of Glory? Any better? Worse? Saw it again yesterday and its comfortably my favorite of the bunch.

    1. The thing about Kubrick is, every time I rewatch one of his movies, I like it more. I saw A Clockwork Orange in the theater on Monday and it was amazing. I never realized how much of it was shot hand held! Kubrick's films always grow on me.

  10. FINALLY returned to writing on my Blog Alex and re-assessing Kubrick a few years (and about a thousand movies) down the line is probably the most significant thing on there so far. Might be of interest to you, though I'm not always the nicest ;)


    1. I will absolutely check this out ASAP. Thanks for sending it along!