Stanley Kubrick is one of our most accomplished film directors. Unless you are in the small minority (you know who you are) you’ll have at least one of his films on your list. Through his black comedies such as Dr. Strangelove and Lolita through to A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, Kubrick has crafted insanely rich and plentiful movies over decades of brilliance.
To celebrate Kubrick Day and the release of Barry Lyndon, we take a look at the best films by the director in an article so painstakingly crafted (seriously, how can you not choose all of them?) that we’ve become isolated loons in a hotel somewhere…
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The stirring score. The montage opening. The space thriller 2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic. The film caught space-age in the scariest of ways. Based on a book by Arthur C. Clarke, the epic science fiction film follows a voyage to Jupiter that goes awry when the operating system becomes sentient. Believe it or not, this film was met with mixed reviews upon its first outing but has since been widely acclaimed and influenced a dozen of cinematic glories since.
HAL’s breakdown has, as with most movies, been parodied repeatedly within subsequent movies and television shows (as is the evolution of man at the beginning,) which really denotes the superiority here. Kubrick’s space age wonder as well as the horror of a machine leaving you stranded in mid-space. And whilst we now have loads of Machines From Hell: When Good Bots Go Bad films, Kubrick’s was one of the most definitive.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
On its release the film received mixed reviews and was only a moderate success. Much of this could be down to the films slow pace and long running time. Made at a time when an interval was still used, the film runs at just over three hours and may turn away some audiences. With its beauty and detail, however, Kubrick allows the camera to linger on landscapes, settings, and interior detail. This in no way progresses the narrative but is as much the director’s vision of the characters and story.
Leading man O’Neal may still be best known for schmaltz-fest Love Story but here he gives an impressive and understated performance as Barry. Able to portray the young naïve boy we meet in the beginning right up to the cold, calculating and ruthless socialite he turns into. His downfall is epic and even though it feels inevitable, it still shocks an audience following his story.
A Kubrick epic as only the man could deliver. Beautiful cinematography and a rise and fall of epic proportions.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Imagine a young Vincent D’Onofrio sat on a toilet in white shorts and a t-shirt starring up into the sky as his mind dwindles further and further away. Clenching onto his gun, one that he has spent months with, preparing, loving, and polishing, he is clearly broken by the army’s brutish and unrelenting techniques to train him as a soldier. The moonlight streams in through the window as a bully of an officer comes pounding in with venom streaming out of his tongue to give the boy another lashing. Standing in mumbling retaliation, hefty breathing and a gun aimed square at the enemy built up in his mind – vengeance clear in his mind – and then, bang bang, they are both dead.
That’s just a slice of the iconic imagery that Kubrick’s work that tackled the implications of the Vietnam War, following a group of soldiers from recruitment to actual war caught the violence and grim in a brutal and hellish way. Though the story does lose momentum following D’Onofrio’s crazed manner, Full Metal Jacket still catches each troubling second in the ferociousness of war.
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Peter Sellers is one of the greatest comedic actors of all time and his loss is still deeply saddening. He could take on each character with a zealous and intricate way, making each of them believably droll and untimely. His best work is definitely his multiple roles within Dr Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.)
This utterly satirical film hits every note and every joke. Tackling the ridiculousness of the Cold War and the countries (namely America) taking part when war is threatened, Kubrick and Sellers team up for a dark and hilarious black comedy. While you know that this is a spoof of War Rooms and politicians, you also know that there is some sickening truth when it comes to the folks with the fingers on the trigger. Even worse, the sharp comedy could still be held up today – especially if orange coated morons get into power.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
With an insatiable score that moves the movie into fantastical reality and hits its thudding crescendo at man pivotal scenes, A Clockwork Orange is a cinematic triumph. While it may be hated by some and adored by most, I doubt there are people out there entirely indifferent to the film itself.
What really makes A Clockwork Orange truly a triumph is the casting of Malcolm McDowell as Alex. Plucked by Kubrick thanks to his work in …If (which could easily just be called Alex DeLarge: The Early Years) McDowell’s gleeful gang leading Alex is both witty and terrifying. As his, wide eyed, merciless attacks with little much thought, means that he has no empathy with his victims and sees his acts as a way to combat boredom. Enthralling, McDowell is a powerhouse of fear that twists into confusion when he is experimented on in prison. He is able to take a terrifying murdering rapist and turn him into this pitiful creature that we feel sorry for despite loathing him in the first act. McDowell handles the change in character, the wandering lost teenager as he no longer knows his place – even if his original stance was repulsive. McDowell gives us an entirely human monster – a protagonist and antagonist all at once – the ultimate anti-hero.
Kubrick’s direction combined with Burgess’ themes are great but then by adding Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange proves that there is a strain of art made for purely one reason – to provoke. And love or loathe it, it has certainly succeeded in that.
The Shining (1980)
A pulsating heartbeat that punctuates a tense atmosphere makes an alluring and horrific feast. Solidified in pop culture, rippling within shows, cartoons, and other films. Even the brand new Ghostbusters movie (which, sidebar, is brilliant and I believe you should all go watch it to prove a lot of babies wrong,) has a sly reference to the ghostly mind-fuck of a movie. One of Kubrick’s greatest triumphs, the story of a family isolated in the wintery forests, pursued by relentless spirits and the father’s troublesome mind-sets, is a creepy, redolent feature that doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares to freak you out. Kubrick adds terror to the long and billowing corridors and unleashes mayhem on the psyche of a psychic child and his abusive father. The climatic scenes are built up in carefully weaved pressure and the tension mounts so exquisitely that the aftertaste will writhe through you forever since your first watch.
With a vivid and memorable performance by Jack Nicolson, The Shining is a perfect example of thrillers done right.
HAPPY KUBRICK DAY!