It’s like picking through diamonds. Some are flawless. Others have minor imperfections that do little to damage their luster. As for the rest, well, there are a couple that could pass for precious, but beyond that, they’re more industrial than iridescent. That’s what it’s like looking over Stanley Kubrick’s amazing output. In the lexicon of film, few stand as tall or as iconic as this renowned genius. He’s the agreed upon gold standard, the definitive talking point when the subject of cinema as art comes around. Few have reached his level of reverence. So imagine the difficulty in ranking his work. With so many great entries to go through, so many mythic movies to consider, it is like being a jeweler. One has to take into consideration the entirety of the catalog, as well as the standing of each object, before plowing through and putting them in order.
There is a caveat, however. For starters, we have purposefully left out Kubrick’s first two “films”—1953’s Fear and Desire and 1955’s Killer’s Kiss. The former was disavowed by the director and has not had a legitimate home video release. The latter suffers from some technical issues and is considered a mere shadow of the filmmaker’s future genius. We also aren’t addressing his days as a photographer or his work in newsreels and short subjects. While important, they don’t fully explain this director’s lasting appeal and influence. Instead, this is an exercise in examining Kubrick’s ‘critical’ output—the titles that took him from unknown New York novice to internationally recognized auteur. Each step along the way, each aesthetic leap, leads to one inevitable conclusion—as an oeuvre, few are more impressive. As a craftsman, none can match him.