Kubrick’s career spanned many decades, averaging about two to three movies per decade. He started off slow, then starting with Paths of Glory, pretty much everything he did turned to gold. His camera work is usually stunning. Four of the five movies below I’ve seen only once, and I have sharp visual memories of all of them, even the parts I don’t particularly care for. Apparently he was a bear to work with, as he obsessed over the smallest details and required an insane number of takes for most shots. However, it seems most of his actors held a deep respect for him.
2001: A Space Odyssey: There are certainly timeless aspects of this film. The chilling relationship between Dave and HAL holds up very well today. The special effects are still pretty good and unlike most movies that take place in space, it was pretty scientifically accurate (e.g. there is no sound in space). However, the grand philosophical theme of the movie did nothing for me. “The Dawn of Man” part that opens the film literally made me fall asleep, and the ending left me cold and uninterested, or rather, wishing I was high so I could really enjoy it. Still, the middle part of the film is brilliant everything.
Paths of Glory: French soldiers in WWI refuse to continue with an attack that is hopeless, but their superiors decide to make examples out of them in order to keep control over their army. Kirk Douglas shines as one of the sympathizers for those that mutiny. Very dark film, both visually and emotionally. Some of the shots are very chilling. My main quibble is Kubrick went for satire at times rather than pure horror; for example, the evil people are a little too evil (much like the communists in Orwell’s Animal Farm).
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: A U.S. general gone mad orders the bombing of the U.S.S.R., which would set off a doomsday machine on their end that would destroy the world. Most of the movie takes place in the war room in D.C. as they try to avert disaster. Laced with obvious satire “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!” but also some great subtlety as well. Peter Sellers is great, playing three different characters who are all trying to stop the bomb. A little too off-beat for my tastes, but I have fond memories.
The Shining: Jack Nicholson takes his family to a remote hotel in Colorado to be the caretaker for the winter. In the book, he slowly goes mad as the hotel takes over his psyche. In the movie, he’s pretty much of a psychopath from the beginning, just under control of his violent tendencies. That’s my main criticism of the movie. I don’t really believe Nicholson’s character is anything but a mean drunk who just needed a slight push to go completely mad. Shelly Duvall’s character is pretty believable as the meek wife of an abuser. The kid is downright terrible, no surprise there. At least Scatman Crothers is excellent. Where the movie shines (sorry), is the atmosphere and the genuinely creepy sense of isolation and terror that builds throughout. Kubrick has some superb shots, including one long one following Danny moving through most of the hotel on his tricycle. Also, the young girls and the bleeding elevator was brilliant. The Razzies nominated him for worst director for this movie and I don’t get it. I think they just really hated Shelly Duvall.
Full Metal Jacket: Two movies in one, with the first half being the brutal nature of Vietnam War boot camps, and the second half being the brutal reality of being in Vietnam. The former is simultaneously hilarious and scary, while the latter is truly horrifying with some biting satire thrown in for good measure. A bit uneven at times, but very powerful.
Other Stanley Kubrick Movies You May Have Seen
Eyes Wide Shut
A Clockwork Orange