And now for something completely different: a satire piece. Not too long ago, Ken Morefield published the definitive ranking of every Robert Bresson film ever. The semi-satirical semi-serious essay was meant to parody the click bait film lists of Buzzfeed and the like. Never one to let a good joke go to waste, I decided to do the same thing with Stanley Kubrick, and since yesterday was his birthday, it seemed like a great time to publish it. The rankings are pretty much the order I like the movies, but I’ve watched most of them multiple times, so that’s my claim for this list being the definitive ranking. And even if it seems like something is rated too low, remember: these are Stanley Kubrick films, so that means all of them are fantastic.
13. Fear and Desire (1953) — I know I said every Kubrick film is fantastic, but I kind of lied. Fear and Desire does leave quite a bit to be desired, so much, that Kubrick tried to destroy every copy of it. (He was a notorious perfectionist and embarrassed by his less than perfect first feature.) However, for his first feature film, it’s pretty impressive. Sure the acting is terrible, the dialogue is worse, and the storyline is pretty dumb too, but there is really great editing (merging of different shots) and blocking (telling the actors where to stand amidst the props). The visual composition captures the helplessness of four soldiers lost behind enemy lines too. You can clearly see Kubrick’s background as a photographer, and since film is a visual medium, the fantastic visuals mostly make up for the less than stellar aspects.
12. Killer’s Kiss (1955) — Okay, this one’s not quite fantastic either, but it’s really good, unlike Fear and Desire, which is only plain good. The storyline is about a boxer who wishes to retire and leave New York, but he falls in love with a girl, and then runs afoul of the mafia. At 67 minutes, it’s one of Kubrick’s shortest features, and it still feels like the paper-thin story would have worked better as a short film. However, Kubrick being a fantastic director, has a great sense of style, and this film has style in spades. He stops the plot for a brilliantly filmed ballet scene and an equally brilliantly filmed chase/gun fight in a mannequin warehouse. The rest of the movie is pretty forgettable, to be honest, but those two scenes are incredible and they form at least a third of the movie. The acting is slightly better than Fear and Desire, but this is still clearly a freshman effort, unlike Kubrick’s next feature — a masterpiece which is his seventh best film ever!
11. Full Metal Jacket (1987) — Yes, this one is fantastic, despite the rough transition between the two halves, which is the main reason it’s at number 11. The two halves of Full Metal Jacket are actually two separate movies. I know that sounds confusing, but what I mean is that the two halves are so stylistically different that they feel like two separate movies which happen to be connected in one bigger movie. You might think that one bigger movie would be two times more awesomer than its two parts, but after watching Full Metal Jacket a couple times, I still think the transition from the training base to Vietnam is rough. The first half chronicles the training of US marines by the sadistic Sergeant Hartman, (R. Lee Ermey) and the second follows one of the marines after he is stationed in Vietnam. The slow pacing of the second half reflects the sense of purposelessness and questioning of the Vietnam war. The aggressive pacing of the first half reflects the brutality and relentlessness of Hartman’s training. Both halves open with a scene suggesting loss of innocence and then conclude with a shocking, unexpected death witnessed by Pvt. Joker (Matthew Modine). One major theme of the movie is the duality of man and how war brings that out, as exemplified by Pvt. Joker writing “born to kill” on his helmet yet wearing a peace button at the same time. The movie’s pretty deep; but nonetheless, its definitive ranking is number 11. But that’s not a bad ranking; remember Spinal Tap, great Kubrick films go to 11.
10. Lolita (1962) — This is the first movie that Peter Sellers made with Kubrick, the second one they did together is a bit higher on this list, which I might add is definitive. It is possible to debate which Sellers performance in a Kubrick film is better; it is not possible to debate which Kubrick film he did was better. Lolita is the weaker of the two, because it is ranked lower on this list. The novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was very controversial, especially in 1962, and as a result Kubrick had a lot of difficulty in adapting it into a film and getting approval with the Hollywood censors. Consequently, even though Nabokov wrote a really good screenplay adaptation of his own novel, Kubrick significantly revised it so he would not run afoul of the production code. The result is still a great movie (it’s a Kubrick film, lest we forget), but the pacing could have been a little tighter, and I think it was possible for the film to have been even creepier as well.
9. Spartacus (1960) — I was on the fence about including this one, because I believe in auteur theory, the idea that the director exercises control over all aspects of his film, and he is the true author of the film. However, Stanley Kubrick did not have complete creative and artistic control over Spartacus, because he was hired as a replacement director after Kirk Douglas and Universal Studios had a falling out with the first director, Anthony Mann. Kubrick had to include the few scenes which had already been filmed, and he was not allowed to rewrite the script to his satisfaction. So therefore, while Kubrick did technically direct Spartacus, it is debatable whether it really is a Kubrick film. However, since the title of this post is “The Definitive Ranking of Every Stanley Kubrick Feature Film” I figured it should be included. And since it’s awesome (because the über-talented Kubrick could make a great movie even if he did not have everything done the way he wanted) it’s included in the top ten.
8. A Clockwork Orange (1971) — Yes, this list is the definitive ranking of Kubrick films, and number 8 is the correct ranking of A Clockwork Orange. I understand that many people believe Kubrick aficionados are supposed to include this one in the top three, but the simple reality is I like the remaining seven films more than this one. A Clockwork Orange is the best types of movies — one which forces the viewer to draw his own conclusions on whether Alex’s (Malcolm McDowell) horrific crimes or his rehabilitation is the greater violation of human dignity. The vibrant gaudy color scheme and highly synthesized score create a fantastic dystopian aura of unease. Perhaps it is the pacing; A Clockwork Orange has three sections, and each one is almost exactly forty-five minutes long, even though the more important sections should be longer. Perhaps it is because I like Singin’ in the Rain even more than this. Whatever it is, I know it is not Kubrick’s decision to omit the final chapter of Anthony Burgess’ novel, because the story is definitely stronger without it, as Kubrick (who was a genius) correctly knew.
7. The Killing (1956) — You read that correctly. I am seriously ranking The Killing ahead of A Clockwork Orange. The Killing is very simply, a fantastic film noir, and in case you forgot, this list is definitive. In The Killing, a group of veteran criminals led by Sterling Hayden plan the perfect robbery, but during the execution things do not go as smoothly as planned. Like A Clockwork Orange, The Killing is also one of the best types of movies — one which has a title that can be interpreted multiple ways. This provides a great level of complexity upon which Kubrick masterfully builds, keeping the tension and suspense riveting to the end. I suppose I should repeat it here, because it is possible you’ve forgotten that Kubrick was one of the greatest directors ever.
6. Barry Lyndon (1975) — This movie is long and beautiful, and I love every second of it. After Kubrick’s funding for his planned project on Napoleon Bonaparte was pulled, he used the extensive research he had done to make the period drama Barry Lyndon about a fortune hunting Irish rogue. To add to the eighteenth century feel, Kubrick refused to use any electric lighting for the shoot. All scenes in the film were lit by natural light or by candlelight and shot with high speed lenses which would allow the film to capture more light than normal. That in itself is a really impressive achievement, but the clarity and stunning focus of the dazzling costumes and sweeping landscapes makes the technique all the more impressive. The film won four academy awards, which must be proof of something. I feel bad I can’t rank it higher.
5. The Shining (1980) — I often see this at number one on other lists rankings Kubrick’s films. However, those lists are not definitive, unlike this one, and putting The Shining at number one is a classic case of someone being wrong on the internet. Very, very wrong on the internet. Because while The Shining is great, (it’s a Kubrick film, so it has to be) it is not as great as the four titles which follow it here. Anyway, the film is about isolation and the breakdown of the family which occurs when Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) chooses to isolate himself as he works on his novel while being the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. It is not about Kubrick proving the moon landings were faked, as some fans of The Shining claim. While I can understand the disappointment from that revelation, it in no way detracts from this masterpiece.
4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) — I’m not going to say anything about this, except that it’s a perfect nightmare, and the eerie atmospheric pacing is perfect, and the use of Ligeti and Shostakovich perfectly adds to said atmosphere, and it has the perfect switch from underscoring to diegetic music during the first scene to suggest the transition from dreaming to waking up, and it has the best Tom Cruise performance, and the best Nicole Kidman performance, and the perfect use of the color red, and the perfect use of masks, and the perfect development of the theme of sex divorced from relationships, and the perfect ending. Okay, for not planning to say anything, I said a lot. In short, Eyes Wide Shut is perfect, and it was an incredible final film from Kubrick.
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — I am aware that this is Kubrick’s most important film, and it is supposed to be at number 1. But Kubrick’s top four films are all sublime, and by putting 2001 at number three, I am certainly not denying that it is Kubrick’s most impressive achievement. Instead, I am simply saying that it definitively ranks slightly behind two of Kubrick’s other incredible achievements. Maybe if it didn’t have so much in common with WALL-E I would rank it higher. But seriously, how can anyone miss that both films have a computer villain with a glowing red eye? Or the fact that both films use “Also Sprach Zarathustra” at dramatic moments when mankind is drastically changing its destiny? Both things are fantastic in both films, and Kubrick always knew how to create the best ideas, so I’m certainly not complaining. This film is divine.
2. Paths of Glory (1957) — I think I’ve already made it clear that all these movies are awesome, but considering that this was Kubrick’s fourth feature made when he was twenty-eight years old (what did you accomplish when you were twenty-eight?) that makes Paths of Glory all the more impressive. One of Kubrick’s first films to use his signature tracking shot, which he would use throughout the rest of his career, Paths of Glory follows Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) through the French trenches of World War I, and then continues to follow him when he defends three soldiers who are wrongly court-martialed. The depiction of human frailty, corruption, and greed is balanced by a touching depiction of vulnerability and compassion that I sometimes think the definitive ranking of this film is number one. If you don’t know the answer to why this movie is great, I pity you.
1. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) — No, I have not gone a little funny in the head, number one is the correct ranking for Dr. Strangelove, and this is the definitive list. A satire of the cold war, the film hilarious exposes the absurdity of attempting to commit mass murder for the sake of preserving peace. After all, what is 20 million deaths if the USA can emerge as a world leader and finally triumph over the Soviets? Kubrick wanted Terry Gilliam to direct a sequel to Dr. Strangelove; he didn’t want that for any of his other films. I think that proves this film is the best. How perfect is this film? The perfectionist Kubrick insisted that the conference table in the war room be the exact same shade of green as a poker table — for a film that is in black and white. You’ll laugh until you cry, unless your tear ducts no longer function because your tears have evaporated from being exposed to fluoride in drinking water and in children’s ice cream, as put there by the international communist conspiracy. In which case, you probably are a commie with no sense of humor, and in that case, we can’t allow you to see the big board anyway.