by Brandon Matzke
On this day in 1999, legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick passed away. For half a century, this man had been making movies that many now consider legends in their own rights. And to celebrate, I’m looking at his films that I consider to be his finest accomplishments, whether they’ve become parts of cinema culture, or have become so iconic that they’ve developed legends of their own. So, let’s take a look back at this legendary artist’s career, and determine his greatest works.
5. Full Metal Jacket (the first half) (1987)
Full Metal Jacket has one of the best first halves in film history, but unfortunately falls flat by the second half. The first hour of this film is the stuff of legends, showing the dehumanization soldiers suffered before many of them had even left for Vietnam, which drives one into insanity by the end. Not only is it brutal in a psychological sense, but it has one of the best supporting characters in all of cinema in the form of R. Lee Ermey’s legendary performance as the foul-mouthed Sgt. Hartman. His performance was so great that he apparently had Kubrick himself taking orders! That’s just awesome! It really is a shame that the rest of the film falls short, coming off as an Apocalypse Now imitator by the time I had to stop watching. But we can all say this was one heck of an opening.
4. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
This film is the definition of a dark comedy: taking the terrifying reality of the worst possible outcome of the cold war, but playing it all for laughs. And boy, do the laughs come hard. Thanks to all the performances Peter Sellers had to offer, ranging from the psychotic man scientist Strangelove, a crazed air force captain, and even the president, each role is equally hilarious. And Kubrick’s script makes things even funnier, including lines like “You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room,” and “have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?” the absurdity increases to hysterical proportions. And by the time the big bomb drops, you’re both laughing and terrified in the right ways.
3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
One of the most controversial films ever made, Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange is the film that made a generation afraid of Singin’ In The Rain, the film that invented ultraviolence, and the film that made us love to hate a man named Alex DeLarge. This film deals with many themes: inhumane government practices, juvenile delinquency, but biggest of all, free will. Specifically, what is right when concerning someone as psychotic as Alex DeLarge; do we let him loose because it’s the “right thing?” Or do we try to control him to prevent him from harming others, no matter how cruel our control becomes? Tough decision, isn’t it? Well, at least we get a pretty good film to ask us that question. Of course, the direction is phenomenal, with each shot looking like a bizarre yet amazing photograph. And the lead performance by Malcolm McDowell manages to be both maniacal and (at the right times) even sympathetic in a strange way. So, if you can handle a bit of the old ultraviolence, I recommend Clockwork. But by all means, start with the cable version. I still can’t watch the infamous Singin’ In The Rain scene…
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This was a really, really tough decision to make. 2001 is an achievement in not just cinematic history, but also in storytelling and art in general. It’s hard to put the phenominalness of 2001 into words, but I’ll try. It’s a thriller, it’s a visual marvel, it’s an exploration of humanity’s purpose in the vast universe, it’s a film about rebirth, about technology, about humanity, discovery, and so much more. The visuals and sound are astounding, bringing this strange and masterful film to life. Plus, it introduced cinemagoers to one of the greatest villains of all time; the legendary Hal 9000. That guy sends shivers up my spine whenever I even think about him…
1. The Shining (1980)
Probably the most unconventional horror film ever made, The Shining was rather disliked when it first came out, even being nominated for two razzie awards. Now, however, it’s considered one of the greatest achievements in not just horror, but in all of cinema. This film isn’t just terrifying; it’s smart too. Sure, it heavily deviates from the novel it’s based on, but it’s also a film that can be interpreted in literally any way imaginable. Depending on who you ask, it can be a straightforward horror film, or a film about alcoholism, or even a film about the moon landing! And that’s one of the many beauties of this film. The acting, while strange to newcomers, is top-notch the more you realise what’s happening. Jack Nicholson’s performance managed to startle me even on my 3rd viewing, a rare accomplishment for any film. And this film only gets better the more you watch it; you might not “get it” the first time, but if you watch it again, it somehow gets better. For me, I instantly loved it the first time I saw it, and it only got better with every viewing.