Stanley Kubrick

Malcolm McDowell as Alex in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Malcolm McDowell as Alex in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971)

  • Born:  1928
  • Died:  1999
  • Rank:  4
  • Score:  927.20
  • Awards:  BAFTA / 2 NYFC / NBR / BSFC
  • Nominations:  4 Oscars / 5 DGA / 2 BAFTA / 4 Golden Globes
  • Awards Note:  13 total Oscar nominations and 1 Oscar (for Best Visual Effects); four times he received three nominations for a single film (Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon)
  • Feature Films:  13
  • Best:  Dr. Strangelove
  • Worst:  Killer’s Kiss

Top 10 Feature Films:

  1. Dr. Strangelove – 1964
  2. A Clockwork Orange – 1971
  3. Paths of Glory – 1957
  4. 2001: A Space Odyssey – 1968
  5. Spartacus – 1960
  6. The Killing – 1955
  7. Eyes Wide Shut – 1999
  8. The Shining – 1980
  9. Full Metal Jacket – 1987
  10. Lolita – 1962

Top 10 Best Director Finishes  (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1953 – 7th – Fear and Desire
  • 1956 – 3rd – The Killing
  • 1957 – 2nd – Paths of Glory
  • 1960 – 3rd – Spartacus
  • 1962 – 10th – Lolita
  • 1964 – 1st – Dr. Strangelove
  • 1968 – 1st – 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • 1971 – 1st – A Clockwork Orange
  • 1975 – 3rd – Barry Lyndon
  • 1980 – 5th – The Shining
  • 1987 – 3rd – Full Metal Jacket
  • 1999 – 3rd – Eyes Wide Shut

How can you like him, people ask me.  He’s so cold.  He’s so un-emotional.  His films are so long and boring.  Well, let’s get this straight.  The only reason Stanley Kubrick is at #4 and not at #1 is because he made so few films.  He made fewer films than any director in the top 10 and far fewer films that anyone else in the top 6.  Based on shear talent alone, Kubrick is the greatest director of alltime.  But, he didn’t prove it often enough.  That’s why I have all these categories – to sort out various aspects and account for such things.  And Kubrick was so amazingly talented that in spite of only making 13 films, here he is, ranked above Hitchcock and Bergman and ranked below three others who, it seems to me, must be fairly obvious to all serious film fans by this point.  He made 13 films and 9 of them carry a ranking of **** from me.  And, he did it while crossing through various genres.  In the course of 8 years, he made three films, all of them the best of the year, and all very different; one a dark Comedy, one a long introspective Science-Fiction film, and one an urban Horror film.  That was after he already proven himself with War, Crime and Adventure/Epic, and before he would move on to a very different War film, a very different kind of Horror and a psycho-sexual Drama.

Kubrick began in New York City, making short films and graduated to feature length with the very low budget, yet still quite good Fear and Desire.  After that, he made Killer’s Kiss, a solid Crime film.  But then he one-upped himself with The Killing, a brilliant heist film and he never looked back.  The next year he made Paths of Glory and if it didn’t win any Nighthawk Awards, that’s because it had the bad fortune to be in the same year as Bridge on the River Kwai.  But Spartacus was epic film-making at its best.  Then came Lolita, a slight mis-step, but still a very good film.  If he could have gotten luckier with the casting for the two leads, I feel it could have been a masterpiece.

But it didn’t matter, because then he was making masterpieces.  First came Dr. Strangelove, the brilliant black comedy.  Then came 2001, the amazing space film.  Then Clockwork, the disturbing, but no less brilliant take on humanity.  Barry Lyndon was a bit of a comedown after that, but the direction was amazing and the film looked gorgeous.  But then he entered Orson Welles / Terry Gilliam land and started having projects fall apart.  He finally made The Shining, the film that kick-started this whole Great Director project some six years ago.  But over his last two decades, he sadly only made two films: Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.  They were both amazing, though they both lended themselves to the argument that Kubrick is so cold and his films are long.  But then he was gone and we were denied any more films.

A Clockwork Orange – #1 film of 1971

What kind of a sick bastard am I?  I get asked about it a lot, especially among people who know my opinion of this film.  That I should admire this film for its technique, for its visual mastery, for its performances, for its direction, is not such an odd thing.  It did win the NYFC and was nominated for Best Picture by the Academy, BAFTA and Globes.  It ranks in the top 100 on TSPDT.  There aren’t a whole lot of film lovers who think it’s a bad film.

But sick, controversial, demented, twisted; those are adjectives used to describe it.  There are lots of people who acknowledge its quality.  It’s quite different to actually enjoy it.  But I actually enjoy it.  I enjoy it because in spite of the pervasive sex and violence (and there is something to be said for enjoying sex and violence in a film – just look at how many films filled with sex and/or violence are hugh success stories), there is an intelligence behind it.  There is thought behind this film, so much more thought than goes into twenty big summer blockbusters.  It actually has something to say about the sex and the violence.  It explores where the sex and the violence actually come from and how different societies react to it.  There are legends even, that Clockwork is supposed to represent what is happening on Earth while 2001 is happening out in space, that this is what we let society come to while we try to push ourselves further out towards the stars.

There is also the fact that Clockwork is funny.  And funny because it is meant to be.  There are great lines in it (“How art thou, thou globby bottle of cheap, stinking chip oil? Come and get one in the yarbles, if ya have any yarbles, you eunuch jelly thou!”) and humor in the situations (gratuitous sex and nudity is one thing, but gratuitous sex and nudity set at high speed to Beethoven is hilarious).  This is because Alex is an intelligent creature, one who is forced to confront the world he lives in and when that world turns out to be too much for him, confront the way the world wants to deal with him.  The school can’t deal with such a thug, so they throw him to the authorities.  The authorities want to take away his right to a choice in life so they metaphysically emasculate him.  Then when he is back in the world and forced to confront the horror of his past, he is tortured beyond belief until he breaks through that window with a scream.  I feel for that rage against all humanity, for the feeling that the system has not worked for Alex, that while he has been a horrible person and done horrible things, there is a very real sense that the system has failed him.

I suppose the ending of the film plays in to how much I enjoy the film.  Because the film is adapted from the American version of the novel (which leaves out the last chapter), we never get a boring reformed Alex who has moved on in life.  Because as much of a message that has in it, where is the dramatic potential?  I prefer the cynical take on how power is enacted between different people, how Alex cynically plays along with the politicians while remembering the true highs and joys of life, is allowed to access his full range of emotion.  Because the film belongs on that ending note:

“I was cured all right.”

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