When is a Film REALLY “Spielberg Worthy”?

Having recently reviewed The Post, the latest film from Steven Spielberg, I got to talking with fellow Gabbing Geek movie reviewer, Tom Kelly, about Spielberg’s career.  In Tom’s review, he noted that this seemed to be a little bit of a paint by numbers affair from someone I have described as the greatest director of all-time.

So that got me thinking:  When is a project WORTHY of Steven Spielberg getting behind the camera and directing?

Obviously Spielberg has earned the right to tell me to shut the hell up and direct whatever interests him.  I get told to shut up all the time… admittedly not by Oscar winning directors… so I will push on with my article because I so admire Spielberg that I think at times his prolific film-making style delivers projects not worthy of his stature and legacy.

I mean, come on!  Before Schindler’s List, which you will see below I consider a transition point in his legendary career, Spielberg had directed Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., three amazing Indiana Jones movies, The Color Purple, an underrated Hook, and the first Jurassic Park film.  We kind of expect a lot from the guy!

So let’s jump in, film-by-film, and see if the projects he took after his last game-changing blockbuster, Jurassic Park, were worthy of the man himself!

 

Schindler’s List (1993)

What Was It All About?  Spielberg told the story of the Holocaust through the lens of Oscar Schindler, a German arms manufacturer who used his business to save Jewish workers from the concentration camps.

Who Was His Talent? Spielberg directed pre-action flick sellout Liam Neeson as the titular role and introduced the world to Ralph Fiennes in a brilliant performance.  Oscar winner Ben Kingsley rounded out the elite talent in this all-time classic.

Awards and Buzz? Big time!  It won Best Picture and finally nabbed Spielberg his first Best Director Oscar.  It won seven Oscars overall, but didn’t land an acting statue for Neeson or Fiennes.  Schindler’s List was so buzzworthy at the time, that it made it into an episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry is caught making out during the film.  That’s about as buzzworthy as we got in the 90’s.

Spielberg Worthy? You bet.  Among his all-time contributions to the history of cinema.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997)

What Was It All About?  Reminiscent of King Kong, the cloned dinosaurs from the first film escape the island and wreak havoc on the mainland.

Who Was His Talent?  Hot new star Julianne Moore (this is a dated reference) stars alongside ummm…ummmm….Jeff Goldenblum; replacing Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and anyone eaten in the first film.

Awards and Buzz? Obviously the first film broke global box office records, so there was a lot of heat surrounding the sequel.  It opened to record box office the first weekend.  Sadly the film stunk and the reviews were mixed to negative.  The film received an SFX nod but failed to win.

Spielberg Worthy? Nope… Much as Spielberg let lesser talents direct Jaws 2 and Close Encounters of the 4th Kind (ok…I made that last one up), so should he have deferred here.  Lost World brought nothing new to the table in terms of narrative or even advanced SFX.  This movie is one of the worst films I have ever seen in the theater, so I think Spielberg should have made the decision to merely produce…a rule he would follow with the remaining dino capers.

Amistad (1997)

What Was It All About?  A true,19th century legal and political battle over the survivors of a slave rebellion aboard a ship of the same name.

Who Was His Talent? A big time cast.  Anthony Hopkins put in a brilliant performance as former President John Quincy Adams.  Also in the all-star cast were Morgan Freeman, new “it-boy” Matthew McConaughey, and our first real look at the utterly brilliant  Djimon Hounsou.

Awards and Buzz? It didn’t garner a Best Picture nomination (that was when there were five) but did land unsuccessful nods for Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score (John Williams), and for Hopkins’ performance in a supporting role.  I think in the modern era of up to 10 films, it would have been included.

Spielberg Worthy? Juuuuuuust on this side of Yes.  It was an ambitious picture, with a sweeping scope few can handle.  I liked it but it wasn’t his most memorable entry.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

What Was It All About?  The story of a stoic, WW2 Army Captain (Hanks) taking his squad into enemy territory to escort out a young Private (then hot new thing, Matt Damon) after the Private’s three brothers were killed on the same day.

Who Was His Talent? His first of many collaborations with Tom Hanks, who was coming off Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, and Apollo 13.  Matt Damon, also hot, was coming off Good Will Hunting. Between these two, a great supporting cast, and cameos from folks like Ted Dansen, the cast was pure A-List.

Awards and Buzz? You bet.  This movie really changed war films.  The brutal opening scene of the D-Day landing, which didn’t spare us the horrors, led to a huge spike in calls into Veteran help lines.  The film won 5 of 11 Oscar nominations, including a second Best Director nod for Spielberg, but in one of the great mistakes in Oscar history, the film lost Best Picture to Shakespeare In Love.  While that is a fine film, many attribute the loss to unethical campaigning from producer, Harvey Weinstein.  Boy…I hope that guy got his comeuppance…

Spielberg Worthy? You bet.  One of the most important and powerful films of a generation.  Pure Spielberg majesty.

A.I. (2001)

What Was It All About?  Ugh…I don’t know…a family loses a biological child… replaces him with a robot…and then wants to return him for store credit or something.  Man this movie sucked…

Who Was His Talent? Say this about Steven.  He gets people to come work on his films just as they are becoming big stuff.  Jude Law was on the rise and Haley Joel Osment was coming off Forrest Gump and an Oscar nomination for The Sixth Sense.

Awards and Buzz? This was a film that Stanley Kubrick had been working on for decades and handed off to Spielberg shortly before his death.  It garnered two Oscar nods (SFX and Williams again with Score) but no wins.  The buzz was more about the Kubrick ties than the film itself.

Spielberg Worthy? Despite really hating this movie, I will say a reluctant yes.  The material is in Spielberg-Magic wheelhouse, and was a psuedo dying wish of his friend and mentor.  I just wish the movie had been more interesting and had fewer endings.

Minority Report (2002)

What Was It All About?  A near-future society where cops use psychics to stop crimes and arrest people BEFORE the crimes are committed.  I know.  I know.  Sounds like a TV show and not a film…

Who Was His Talent? Tom Cruise and Spielberg finally got around to making a film together.  Add in rising star Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and the legendary Max Von Sydow, and you got a solid cast.

Awards and Buzz? Just a sound editing nomination, but again…lotta talk about adapting this for TV…

Spielberg Worthy? A fun movie, but I think this is just barely a No.  It is heady sci-fi…and it was really good…but couldn’t Paul Greengrass or Doug Lyman have made this movie?

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

What Was It All About?  The true story of a brilliant con man and the FBI agent hot on his tail.

Who Was His Talent? Hanks is back, and this time they add post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio in a role that would influence the amazing, non-heartthrob era of his career.  Christopher Walken, fresh faced Amy Adams, and Martin Sheen round out the cast.

Awards and Buzz? Walken got a Best Supporting nod and John Williams was nominated for…ah crap…you know what John Williams got nominated for.  Because Ryan is a Broadway fan, I will note that this film was later adapted as a musical.

Spielberg Worthy? Probably NO… but a nice picture.  This one was really on the bubble.  It was excellent, and had a great cast but, again, could Spielberg have handed this to someone of lesser talent and gotten the same output?  Probably.  Hearing rumors of how DiCaprio was still a bit of a diva, and would leave Spielberg and Hanks waiting for a hour for him to show up on set for his scenes, maybe it was best to have the master behind the camera.

Terminal (2004)

What Was It All About? Loosely based on a true story of a man whose passport is invalidated while travelling, and must live for years in DeGaulle Airport while trying to resolve his legal status.

Who Was His Talent? If you build a relationship with Tom Hanks, you don’t let go of that cuddly bastard!  Pairing with Hanks was Hollywood’s newest star, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Awards and Buzz? Just barely avoiding Rotten Tomato status, this film didn’t even land a nod for John Williams.  You know it’s bad when that happens.

Spielberg Worthy? NO!  This is the ultimate waste of Spielberg’s talents.  This should have been an unmemorable HBO original movie starring Bill Pullman and Bonnie Hunt.

War of the Worlds (2005)

What Was It All About?  A modern adaptation of the HG Wells classic about alien invaders.

Who Was His Talent? Tom Cruise is paired with “it-child-star-of-the-moment” Dakota Fanning.  Tim Robbins has a small but impactful role, and Morgan Freeman narrates…because that’s what Morgan Freeman does.

Awards and Buzz? Nominated for three of the more technically artistic awards, including SFX.

Spielberg Worthy? Yes, but it was another Spielberg movie that I saw in the theater and didn’t like.  I was so bored and disengaged, I would have left had I not been with a friend who wanted to stay.  Still, it was a big, budget take on something that is considered the holy grail of the scifi genre, so I will give Spielberg a pass.  I just wish he had chosen a different vehicle than Cruise and daddy issues (a rcurring Spielberg theme) to anchor the narrative.

Munich (2005)

What Was It All About?  The true story of an Israeli revenge squad seeking retaliation for the horrible assassination of the nation’s Olympic athletes at the 1972 Munich Games.

Who Was His Talent? Eric Bana was the big name at the time, but more interesting was an early mainstream role for future James Bond, Daniel Craig.

Awards and Buzz? Pretty heavy resume for a film that I don’t remember as that buzzy at the times.  Munich garnered five Academy Awards nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Spielberg), Best Adapted Screenplay (Kushner and Roth), Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn) and…oh yeah…. Best Original Score (John Williams).

Spielberg Worthy? I’d say so.  Spielberg thought of it as a spiritual sequel to Schindler’s List as he explored his roots and the historic difficulties of the Jewish people.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

What Was It All About?  The 1950s adventures of the iconic archaeologist who might just be “too old for this shit”…

Who Was His Talent? Harrison Ford returns as the title character because recasting a Harrison Ford role is just silly (cough…cough…Han Solo….cough, cough…Jack Ryan….wheeze) and is joined by hot star on the rise (before this fall) Shia LeBouf.  Cate Blanchett, between-Oscars, played Russian the bad guy (after Schindler, Spielberg said he was done with cartoon Nazis).  Karen Allen, John Hurt, and Jim Broadbent rounded out a nice cast.

Awards and Buzz? Short of the Prequels, had there been more advance buzz for a film?  Harrison Ford was returning to his most legendary character and being directed by Spielberg, who had not sat out directing as did Lucas before returning.  The film was a financial hit and received decent reviews, but fans of the series complained about the silliness of the plot, including: an atomic ride in a refrigerator, swinging CGI monkey, and a non-religious based mcguffin.

Spielberg Worthy? If you are going to make an Indy movie, Spielberg needs to direct.  So Yes.  It was not nearly as good as the original films but, South Park’s opinion aside, was not a monstrosity.  If they make a fifth as rumored, we might benefit from Lucas being removed from participation.

The Adventures of TinTin (2011)

What Was It All About?  Based on the famous European comic strip, it seems to be a story of a boy and his dog wrapped up in international mischief.

Who Was His Talent? CGI?

Awards and Buzz? I’m…um…sure it was big in Europe.  I don’t even remember it being released here and fell asleep when watching as the free movie they play in your room on a cruise ship.

Spielberg Worthy? No.  I am sure he has some fond memory of the property, but this could have been one he produced.  A major waste of his time.

War Horse (2011)

What Was It All About?  Based on a novel and play, it tells the story of a boy, his horse, and WW1.

Who Was His Talent? Like…no one really…

Awards and Buzz? Holy crap.  This was nominated for six Oscars; including Best Picture and of course, original score, but this time helmed by Hans Zimmer.  Just kidding.  It was John Williams… I am stunned. I don’t remember this one getting that kind of buzz.   I literally…LITERALLY…saw this on the same cruise as TinTin!

Spielberg Worthy? No!  Best Picture nomination aside, this wasn’t a Spielberg movie.  No one big was in it (ok…Tom Hiddleston had a small role…) Still can’t believe this got a nomination.  The Academy was generous…

Lincoln (2012)

What Was It All About?  Donald Trump says it is the story of the second greatest president ever!

Who Was His Talent? Daniel Day-Lewis…the “greatest actor ever”, is joined by Oscar winners Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln’s son.

Awards and Buzz? The film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director; it won for Best Production Design and Best Actor for Day-Lewis.  Day-Lewis’ win was his third best actor statue (a record) as an Irish/Brit portrayed the Greatest American. I can’t help but think they were getting back at us for Bridget Jones’ Diary… In case you need to know, yes John Williams was nominated again.

Spielberg Worthy? You can’t help but say Yes.  This is the story of the most significant person to ever live and breath in American history (other than Gabbing Geek’s own, Ryan Garcia, of course).  Who else but the greatest director to steer the ship?

Bridge of Spies (2015)

What Was It All About?  Another true story of a lawyer sent to orchestrate the exchange of a spy held in US captivity for a young American on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall.

Who Was His Talent? This film marks Spielberg’s first collaboration with a little known character actor named Thomas Jeffrey Hanks.  In all seriousness, Hanks was joined by Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, and Alan Alda in a script written by Matt Charman and the Cohen Brothers.

Awards and Buzz? Bridge of Spies garnered six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and won Best Supporting Actor for Rylance.  Because I think you will doubt me at this point, I am including a link to the Wikipedia page to prove it was a guy named Thomas Newman who received the nomination this time for Best Original Score.  I was shocked too!

Spielberg Worthy? No.  But for an amazing performance but Rylance, this would have been an unmemorable film…even with that generous Best Picture nod that Gabbing Geek at the time rolled our collective eyes at…

BFG (2016)

What Was It All About?  Roald Dahl’s story of a modernish Britain that discovers a secret giant population that likes to eat little kids.  A story for children….

Who Was His Talent? Spielberg’s second foray into motion capture, and he pulled in his recent Oscar darling Mark Rylance.

Awards and Buzz? It received mixed reviews and bombed at the box office.  It got zero nominations at the Oscars despite a $140m budget.  John Williams was wicked pissed!

Spielberg Worthy?  No way.  He should have produced it and left Robert Zemekis to direct.

The Post (2017)

What Was It All About?  A newspaper challenges a corrupt president as he fights the free press.  Total fiction…

Who Was His Talent? Hanks…AGAIN!  This is starting to seem like the Oceans 11 pictures, where Clooney is making them just to hang out with his friends.  The cast is rock solid though with Hanks working with the legendary Meryl Streep for the first time.

Awards and Buzz? To be determined next week (nominations are announced 1/23), but I am sure we will see nominations for Best Picture, Streep, John Williams… of course, and maybe Spielberg/Hanks.

Spielberg Worthy? Barely No.  I really enjoyed the film, but I have to agree with Tom when he says it  really has nothing special to add to the ongoing national conversation. I think someone with a little more cynicism would have questioned the issues in a more nuanced and incisive manner.

 

That’s Spielberg’s Filmography through present day, but what about his next film that is already in the can and waiting for its March release?  We at Gabbing Geek got you covered!

Ready Player One (2018)

What Was It All About?  The adaptation of Ernie Cline’s geek classic about a virtual world filled with 80’s Pop Culture references.

Who IS His Talent? RP1 stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T. J. Miller, Simon Pegg, and new Spielberg muse, Mark Rylance.  He and Tom Hanks must be having a tiff…

Awards and Buzz? Doubtful this will win any major Oscars, but the buzz is high.  It’s one of the hottest geek properties to be adapted in the last 25 years.

Spielberg Worthy? Yes… for certain….sight unseen.  This is Delorean-esque vehicle is made for Spielberg (my poorly ventured coffee bet that he would drop out, aside), as only he has the cache to get the necessary intellectual property rights and bring everything together on screen.   Jenny and Ryan are not high on this movie based on the trailers, and they may turn out to be right in the long run, but this is the kind of project that is definitely Spielberg worthy!

4 thoughts on “When is a Film REALLY “Spielberg Worthy”?

  1. War Horse has Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch in the same scene! Jenny doesn’t remember anything about the movie after that moment.

  2. This is pretty damn comprehensive. I agree that Spielberg is best when he tackles “the big issues.” Not that he can’t do a great job with other movies (Indiana Jones wasn’t exactly thought provoking), but his legacy with be greats like Schindler and Private Ryan. He also deserves credit for making a movie with Liam Neeson where he doesn’t suck (I can’t stand his acting, excluding Dark Man, where his overacting was a bonus).

    1. I remember when his “small picture”!fascination started. Everyone was like “Why is Steven Spielberg directing Always? Shouldn’t that go to Rob Reiner?!?”

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