Pulls Me Back In

What world-famous director could Slate‘s Bill Wyman be talking about? Excerpts: (a) “He can’t do comedy”; (b) “He has a surprisingly weak record when it comes to eliciting great performances”; (c) “He never commits to a worldview that doesn’t ultimately have a sunny patina”; (d) “The scares, the drama, the emotional ups and downs [in his films] feel hackneyed and even mannered”; (e) “His lack of interest in narrative coherence is one of his hallmarks“; and (f) His career has ultimately become “an arc of failed promise.”

  • Redbeard

    “Hits have been slow for a few days. Better throw out a Spielberg hate-piece to rile up the masses. Next, gotta complain about some fatties.”

  • Rashad

    “He never commits to a worldview that doesn’t ultimately have a sunny patina”

    Because Munich is all rainbows and sunshine.

    I’m not going to read what else that clown has to say.

  • Chinaski1

    Who the fuck is Bill Wyman? This is my first experience with him and I’ve decided he is a talentless douche.

    He’s wrong on every point, but what’s even worse than that, is his criticisms of Spielberg are hardly original. So he is a hack that also can’t think for himself.

    “Failed promise”

    The box office, awards, esteem, and longevity prove this wrong. Again, fuck Bill Wyman. The hack doesn’t even have an original name.

  • JChasse

    I don’t know if you were “pulled in” so much as someone waved something shiny and you saw it and came running.

  • Terry McCarty

    If memory is correct, THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS didn’t have a “sunny patina.”

  • moveable hype

    Why is the ex bass player of the Rolling Stones so cranky?

  • Dan Revill

    Minority Report isn’t all that sunny. The hero gets locked away and that’s when all his “dreams come true.”

    AI isn’t too happy either. David experiences the last moment of happiness for humanity before being retired.

    So right there, two films that refute whatever anti-Spielberg sunny rant you feel like going on.

  • Markj74

    Duel. Jaws. Close Encounters. Raiders. E.T. Temple of Doom. Empire of the Sun. Jurassic Park. Schindler’s List. Saving Private Ryan. A.I. Minority Report. Catch Me If You Can. Munich.

    Yep. Failed promise right enough. Spielberg’s B-level material (Sugarland, 1941, Color Purple, War Horse etc) is more interesting than most filmmakers at the top of their game.

  • Mark

    “He has a surprisingly weak record when it comes to eliciting great performances”

    A bit unfair. Anyone think P.T. Anderson could have gotten anything more out of Tom Cruise as he ran from an invading alien tripod? Big budget directors don’t win actors any Oscars; see Fincher, Jackson, Cameron, Cuaron, Del Toro, etc. OK, Zemekis got Hanks one, but that one pretty much prevented Hanks from getting another for Saving Private Ryan.

  • Mark G.

    Let’s pretend Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut was A.I. (2001), followed by Minority Report (2002), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Terminal (2004), War of the Worlds (2005), Munich (2005), Indiana Jones IV (2008), The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and War Horse (2011).

    Would anyone believe that the director of these diverse movies only got one nomination for best director (Munich) while Martin Scorsese got four nominations AND the big prize in the same time period with his slate of movies Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010) and Hugo (2011)?

  • Robert Cashill

    “Think about the upending Lynch did to the cherchez la femme noir in Mulholland Dr., or the complex ways Baz Luhrmann wove the threads of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz into the underappreciated Australia.”

    Agreed, Spielberg isn’t Lynch. Who is? I did think about AUSTRALIA, I really did, but I could only hold the thought for eight seconds. That was Luhrmann trying to ape Spielberg and missing by a continent mile.

    And, yes, HOOK, ALWAYS, and THE TERMINAL aren’t very good. We’ve known that. Leave it to Slate, “an arc of failed promise” if there ever was one where incisive criticism is concerned, to dredge up the obvious and recast it in the pissiest way possible.

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    “Duel. Jaws. Close Encounters. Raiders. E.T. Temple of Doom. Empire of the Sun. Jurassic Park. Schindler’s List. Saving Private Ryan. A.I. Minority Report. Catch Me If You Can. Munich.”

    You can’t cite Duel, Jaws, and Close Encounters as evidence that Spielberg didn’t fail his promise. Those are the early movies that established the massive promise that he subsequently failed. Raiders and Temple are wonderful pop-corn movies, but come on – the world and the history of cinema wouldn’t be any wiser or worser if they’d never been made. They’re fun movies to watch on tv during the holiday season, and that’s about the extent of it. Jurassic Park the same, with significantly diminished rewards. Saving Private Ryan is of dubious significance outside of its opening set-piece. Minority Report is just about above average, and its conclusion is horrendous, and the attempts of some lone apologists to explain this away as an Inception-style fake-out are very unconvincing.

    Munich is the one anomaly: a stylish movie made by an adult for adults.

  • Ray DeRousse

    I guess Oscar blogging hasn’t been providing the traffic you’ve been hoping for.

    I’ll take on the ridiculous accusation about performances –

    – Roy Scheider, JAWS

    – Robert Shaw, JAWS

    – Richard Dreyfuss, JAWS (BAFTA nom)

    – Melinda Dillon, CE3K (Oscar Nom)

    – Harrison Ford, RAIDERS

    – Henry Thomas, ET (BAFTA, GG)

    – Drew Barrymore, ET (BAFTA)

    – Whoopi Goldberg, COLOR PURPLE (Oscar nom)

    – Oprah Winfrey, COLOR PURPLE (Oscar nom)

    – Margaret Avery, COLOR PURPLE (Oscar nom)

    – Christian Bale, EMPIRE

    – Liam Neeson, SCHINDLER’S LIST (Oscar nom)

    – Ralph Fiennes, SCHINDLER’S LIST (Oscar nom)

    – Tom Hanks, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (Oscar nom)

    – Christopher Walken, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (Oscar nom)

    – Leonardo DiCaprio, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (GG nom)

    – Eric Bana, MUNICH

    Spielberg OBVIOUSLY cannot direct actors given this list of performances, many of which are iconic.

    Good points, Bill! Don’t stop with all of these good points! In fact, never stop!

  • Sasha Stone

    Spielberg movies have sadly become well oiled machines but machines nonetheless. I would say he should find his passion for them again but the “critics” give him a pass every time he lays an egg so why would he bother.

  • RoyBatty Returns

    Just remember, this just a warm-up folks: the patented Wells’ hatred for Lucas will come roaring back to full pointless fury in about one week when he realizes the 3D PHANTOM MENACE is about to hit the screens.

    And to what purpose some of us would like to know. Spielberg and Lucas have never been any sort of Hollywood sacred cows and both have had detractors going back to JAWS & AMERICAN GRAFFITI respectively.

    Meanwhile, the films and filmmakers who got awards this past weekend at Sundance that could use further discussions are already forgotten, receding in Jeff’s rearview mirror until next November when they might pop up on other award lists.

  • Rashad

    Sasha, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was nominated for 13 Oscars. So please.

  • thevisceral

    Listen, Senor Spielbergo, I want you to do for me what Spielberg did for Oskar Schindler.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    The stupidest comparison is to take a hugely successful director and wish he was someone else. It reminds me of Albert Goldman’s complaint that The Beatles gave up their shot at being a true working class band like The Who for writing catchy melodies, to which Luc Sante retorted, “Yeah, and they could have adopted Elizabethan garb and made Jethro Tull look really small, too.”

    Get past that and the obviously dunderheaded always-sunny thing, and he’s pretty right about Spielberg. Nobody of consequence (that excludes Dee Wallace and Oprah) ever gave their best performance in a Spielberg movie (though I will say that Christopher Walken came close); his movies are accumulations of moments of technique, not opportunities for actors. But what technique; I go to a Spielberg movie for his mastery of the form, for a few moments in which he shows you something utterly new. It may happen in a plodding movie (the truest thing ever said about Saving Private Ryan was a friend of mine saying “It’s a brilliant open and close bookending a pretty good episode of Combat”) and, indeed, maybe one wishes for more in the end. But that’s hardly so dismissible (Wyman) or contemptible (Wells).

  • http://scottalanmendelson.blogspot.com Scott Mendelson

    Why this line of thinking is complete BS –

    http://scottalanmendelson.blogspot.com/2012/01/on-steven-spielberg-and-how-he-plumb.html

    Short version – Critics basically judge the entire Spielberg filmography around a single film – ET and a false reading of that iconic film (that it was warm/fuzzy with no human drama at its core and pandering to mainstream sensibilities).

  • DiscoNap

    This had better be the Bassist from the Stones. That’s the only way this isn’t a hugely misguided waste of time.

  • Mark

    What’s silly is speaking in 2011 about an arc of failed promise, when that promise was already fulfilled with Saving Private Ryan. That gave him 5 unarguable classics, (Before Ryan, Close Encounters was arguable), which is one more than anyone else including Hitchcock and Kubrick.

    Point is that everything the last decade is gravy. The dude is ancient in directors years. His fastball is gone, but it’s not like he has become incompetent like Coppola and Lucas.

  • Rashad

    Nobody of consequence (that excludes Dee Wallace and Oprah) ever gave their best performance in a Spielberg movie

    Whoopi

    Shaw

    Dreyfuss

    Neeson

    Fiennes

  • Cerulean

    @Ray DeRousse Ray: Thanks, you beat me to it. What a load of crap. Speilberg always pulls the best out of his actors. Failed promise? Please.

  • MAGGA

    Nice, someone got Karl Pilkington a job as a film writer

  • http://twitter.com/gurghi gurghi

    If only the proprietor’s posts on this site had the same hits-to-miss ratio as Spielberg.

    The “he can’t do comedy” part is perhaps the most laughable. He’s better at modulating his films with comedy than most comedies are. And show me the studio comedy in the past decade better than CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    Shaw gives a grand old performance of blarney. His great performance is his chilly Henry VIII in A Man For All Seasons.

    Surely Whoopi’s done something better than simper in The Color Purple. No love for Jumpin’ Jack Flash? Guinan?

    Dreyfuss: Maybe Jaws. Not Close Encounters– not enough distance between director and his representative on screen, as Spielberg has effectively acknowledged by saying he’s appalled now at how Dreyfuss walks away from his family.

    Okay, Neeson and Fiennes, you probably got me there. Although I don’t think the characterization of Schindler is especially deep or multidimensional.

    Still, when you look at his work, the performances tend to be more iconic or movie-starish. It is rare that anyone has the space and freedom to explore his character, as opposed to hit the mark in a powerful sequence effectively.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    “And show me the studio comedy in the past decade better than CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.”

    I agree. That is, it seems to me, easily the best and richest thing he’s done since Schindler’s List, the most human and personal, all the moreso for being casual and underappreciated.

  • VicLaz2

    1. THE COLOR PURPLE is NOT “B-Level”. It is akin to GONE WITH THE WIND among the Black community. For once black folks could enjoy a big colorful old-style Hollywood melodrama without having to wince at Butterfly McQueen getting slapped, happy slaves shucking and jiving, and other assorted moments of casual racism. And for the record it is WAY better than Gone WIth the Wind.

    2. E.T. is about a boy abandoned by his father, who finds another father figure who has to leave him in the end. The look on Dee Wallace’s face as E.T. and Elliot say their goodbye is THE BEST MOMENT OF ACTING in any Spielberg film EVER. She understood what E.T. meant to Elliot. As a kid I remember E.T. being UTTERLY TRAUMATIZING to sit through. Seeing him laying in the stream all chalky white with a raccoon about to pick over his half dead carcass was the first time I was really worried about a fictional character. (of course I was 5).

    3. I recently caught CATCH ME IF YOU CAN for the first time on cable. I avoided it like the plague for all these years, but goddamn, that was a pretty great movie.

    Ironic how the only recent film Wells praised INDY 4, was the most goddawful piece of shit ever made by Spielberg. At least 1941 LOOKED GREAT.

  • https://www.twitter.com/gurghi gurghi

    This guy is flat-out terrible. He can’t picture Sam Neill? Does he watch movies? And Spielberg’s films are “filled with nobodies”? WTF? Just about every measure he uses to judge is arbitrary and would be failed by every filmmaker ever. (One person’s films are full of the same themes and shots, for shame!)

    Also: a diet of all of one person’s movies is a really, really bad way to judge their work. It’d be like eating everything on a menu and then declaring the chef a bad one because you felt sick.

  • BobbyLupo

    “He has a surprisingly weak record when it comes to eliciting great performances”

    This is bullshit. Spielberg doesn’t win actors Oscars because he doesn’t make movies that are built around great performances, he just gets quietly-solid performances. He never gives them the scene of the movie that’s about nothing more than Acting, he’s always propelling the story forward. Some people actually think that’s *better* than giving Walken a bullshit monologue in the final act just so he’ll definitely win an Oscar. You know, serving the movie itself rather than the egos of the actors.

    That said, it is noticeable, and a bit shocking, that Spielberg tops a very short list of great directors who have never directed an Oscar winning performance. Even Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Terry Gilliam all did that at some point in their career — though one of the ultimate actor’s directors, Robert Altman, never did. Sometimes it’s weird the way the dice land.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    “This is bullshit. Spielberg doesn’t win actors Oscars because he doesn’t make movies that are built around great performances, he just gets quietly-solid performances.”

    I think we’re saying the same thing– Spielberg creates icons, he doesn’t give actors a wide open space to be their characters (most of the time; again, Catch Me If You Can is an exception, for one). And to some degree he’s avoided the actors who gave the most memorable such performances– he never made a movie with DeNiro, with Duvall, with Hackman or Hoffman or Brando; with Streep or Julianne Moore or Debra Winger. He’s not an inner life guy; he’s an outsized character guy.

    On the other hand, Harrison Ford will be Indiana Jones 500 years from now, and people in titanium suits will wish they had a fedora to top it off. That’s what he can do with actors at his best.

  • Scylax

    Spielberg has worked with Hoffman and Julianne Moore.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    Oh yeah, Christ, Hoffman was Hook. Totally forgot that, like 98% of the rest of that movie. Well, that’s really Ratso Rizzo, isn’t it.

    What was Moore in? I can’t remember for the life of me. His women are such wan things aside from Karen Allen and Embeth Davidtz.

    (looking it up)

    Oh right, she ran around after dinosaurs. Another memorable one.

  • Raising_Kaned

    He’s also worked with Debra Winger (technically).

    I knew this was going to be about Spielberg before even clicking the link (as did any regular reader of HE…you’re becoming way too predictable, Jeff!), but the first person I thought of that fit all of those classifications for me personally was Wes Anderson (I’m not entirely sure he’s “world-famous,” though…probably depends on how you’d measure it).

    “Raiders and Temple are wonderful pop-corn movies, but come on – the world and the history of cinema wouldn’t be any wiser or worser if they’d never been made.”

    @Tristan: (“Worser…?”) Anyway, I’ll definitely grant you ToD (fun movie, slightly underrated, but entirely non-essential), and I’ll even concede “wiser” — although, really, the number of directors that have consistently contributed positively to the culture seem very few and far between.

    But Raiders?? I dunno, man, that’s “iconic” shit (as outlined above in the conversation between Bobby and Mgmax), and cinema needs characters, stories, moments (for all those clip shows!), and — especially — $$$ from these kinda films, too. For a picture with commercial aspirations and extremely wide-appeal, it really doesn’t get much better than RotLA (or the first couple SW).

  • Raising_Kaned

    @BobbyPeru:

    Re: luck — I would make an obvious sports analogy regarding “peaking” here, but I think most of us (save perhaps our gracious host) understand the fundamental inherent difference between the way “success” is measured in the two respective fields.

    Your comment does make me think, though (as I have in the past), that adding a “Best Ensemble” or “Best Overall Cast” category for Acting isn’t necessarily such a terrible idea.

    At the very least, it would certainly make the process of rewarding the thespian craft clearly evident in such flicks as Nashville, The Player, Gosford Park, etc. much easier than trying to pick out one bit part and force-fit him/her into a supporting category that they don’t truly belong in.

  • Schumacher, le garde-chasse

    I’d forgive all of Wells’ tired Spielberg-hit-baiting if he’d just title all such posts with the terse label, “Dead Horse.”

    Lets us know what we’re expecting.

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