Friday, July 1, 2011

Top five most moving Spielberg moments

Damn you Spielberg.  You got me again with that War Horse trailer.

There is just something about the way Steven Spielberg directs, or more specifically the combination of Steven Spielberg imagery and John Williams music. It seduces you. It calls to you. It draws you in and somehow bypasses all of the built up cynical armor in normally cold-hearted bastards like me.

It cuts right to the main artery of unfiltered raw emotion.

I vividly recall seeing E.T. for the third time in 1982. It was at the end of football camp my freshman year and I was with a group of players. These were testosterone stoked freaks, seriously tough guys. And let’s just say the film worked quite well. Everyone in the theater that night was as emotionally involved with a movie as I have seen before or since.

The bearded one’s career has had several peaks followed by periods where it looked like his best work was far behind him and his skills were on the wane like a Hall of Fame quarterback creeping up on 40 years of age.

The most recent such peak for me was his creative explosion of 2001-2002.  He directed one of the most fascinating films of all time, the deeply moving (and deeply polarizing) A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg followed that up with two more masterworks the next year; Minority Report, arguably one of the best science fiction film since Blade Runner, and the highly enjoyable, breezy Catch Me If You Can.

Then came a serious decline with three big letdowns. Dakota Fanning was fantastic in War of the Worlds, but the whole 9-11 parable felt forced and phoney. I hated the Tim Robbins character. And the movie has one of the most brutal blatant ripoff visual effect set pieces I have ever seen, a sequence that comes right of the Abyss almost shot for shot.

Next was the pretentious Oscar bait, Munich. Artificially arty and dull. And the less said about Indy 4 the better.

The majestic War Horse trailer was such a revelation to me because I had written Spielberg off years ago and figured the closest thing I would ever get to experiencing Spielberg magic again would be via proteges such as J.J. Abrams in homages like the superb Super 8.

But as soon as I hit play and that trailer started and the sounds of John Williams reached inside me as the imagery unfolded, I began to feel something. Something from the past. Something wonderful. I began to think that maybe the old Spielberg magic was still alive after all.
We will find out in December if War Horse can live up to the promising trailer and the legacy of its legendary director. In the meantime, let’s take a look back into some iconic emotional moments of the man who once said, "I dream for a living."

My top five most moving Spielberg directed moments.

Over the Moon - E.T. 1982

The first time E.T. lifts Elliot and his bike into the sky, it becomes their moment and ours, and one that will live on forever.

Signing - Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977

The spectacular finale when the Francois Truffaut character finally gets to realize his lifelong dream and stand before beings from another world; it feels like witnessing a religious event.

If you were there on that Thanksgiving weekend in November of 1977, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Cadillacs of the Skies - Empire of the Sun 1987

A young Christian Bale running across the rooftop of the prison camp trying to reach up into the air and touch God.

I get chills just thinking about the first time I saw this scene.

Reunion - The Color Purple 1985

When two long lost sisters finally re-unite with a beautifully mounted dolly shot set to the heartbreaking Sisters theme (by Quincy Jones in John Williams mode), the film gets an orgasmic emotional release that only Spielberg pull off.

The film garnered 11 Academy Award nominations but a spiteful Academy denied one to Spielberg. Still might be the worst Best Director snub in Oscar history

Resurrection - A.I. 2001

The combination of Kubrick's cold existential intellectualistism and Spielberg's emotional spiritualism makes for a facinating experience.

The entire final 20 minute act of A.I. is among the most deeply affecting pieces of cinema I have ever experienced. Haunting and achingly sad.

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