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Stanley Kubrick: In Focus

A true visionary and genius of his field, we take a look back at a selection of Stanley Kubrick’s most influential works, in the second In Focus feature.

Paths of Glory (1957) 

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Kubrick’s anti-war masterpiece still remains one of the greatest war films ever made and arguably the director’s best. Kirk Douglas stars as Colonel Dax, the commander of a group of French soldiers on the front line in WWI. When he refuses orders to send his troops on a suicidal attack against a German stronghold, his superior officers decide to make example of his men. What follows is an intense and heartbreakingly frank study of the futility and horror of war, which has a lasting impact on the viewer. The moving final scene encapsulates this and is seen by many as one of the most powerful in cinema history.

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

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This wacky and satirical black comedy played on the cold war anxieties of the era, with an insane general (Sterling Hayden) setting in motion the path to nuclear holocaust and the destruction of the human race as we know it. A war room full of politicians and generals frantically try to stop this scenario unfolding, with the help of Dr. Strangelove, their wheelchair-bound, former-Nazi, scientific advisor. With the Cuban Missile Crisis still fresh in the mind, this bizarrely brilliant film tapped into the nuclear scare at this time and features a tour de force performance from Peter Sellers, who plays three major roles, including Dr. Strangelove himself.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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The defining work of Kubrick’s illustrious career, 2001: A Space Odyssey, has come to be hailed as one of the greatest films of all time, and possibly the single most important science-fiction film in history. After the discovery of an unusual artificial object beneath the Lunar surface, a small crew sets off on a long voyage into space, accompanied by the super intelligent  H.A.L. 9000 computer. Not only is Kubrick’s man vs machine/dawn of man epic a profoundly engaging and mystical one, but it also pushed the boundaries of cinema at the time with its groundbreaking special effects. The soundtrack, featuring both Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss, is another a defining feature, creating an utterly unique and unrivaled atmosphere for viewers. Both mind-boggling and beautiful, this is Kubrick’s magnum opus.

That opening:

The Shining (1980)

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An all-time classic and one of the scariest films ever made, The Shining demonstrated Kubrick’s deep skill for manipulating his audiences. The spine-chilling strings soundtrack, ominous tracking shots and a stand-out performance from Jack Nicholson combine to produce a nerve-jangling horror which steadily builds in terror. Nicholson plays Jack Torrence, who heads to the Overlook Hotel with his family as the winter caretakers. Torrence is sent mad by the isolation and spiritual presences of the hotel, as he becomes increasingly unstable and dangerous. With some of Kubrick’s most memorable and haunting images, The Shining truly is masterful film-making.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

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Kubrick’s second war feature this time focused on Vietnam, firstly on the dehumanisation of marines at basic training and then in the thick of the fighting following The Tet Offensive of 1968. As with most films based on the Vietnam war, Full Metal Jacket preys upon the general discontent surrounding the war and its profound impacts on the soldiers who fought. Kubrick uses the first, and perhaps better half, of the film to show the brutal training of the marines, with some unforgettable exchanges between Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sgt. Hartman and his raw recruits. The latter half of the film shows off Kubrick’s skilled camerawork and his eye for detail, especially in the grisly final action sequence, whilst also providing Private Joker’s (Matthew Modine) philosophical musings on the ‘duality of man’. At once thought-provoking and brutal, Kubrick’s penultimate film is certainly a memorable one.

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Martin Scorsese: In Focus

With the upcoming release of The Wolf of Wall Street (January 17th), featured below, we take a look back at the highlights in the filmography of the great Martin Scorsese.

Taxi Driver (1976)

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One of Robert De Niro’s best performances, and his second career-defining collaboration with director Martin Scorsese, after Mean Streets (1973), sees him as a mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran working as a night-time taxi driver in New York City. However, he is unable to suppress his urges for violence in normal society and things quickly turn ugly. Also featuring a  young Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel, this remarkable film is held in high regard by critics and viewers alike, coming in at no. 70 on IMDb’s Top 250.

Goodfellas (1990)

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An absolute classic of the gangster genre, again featuring Robert De Niro, along with Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta, Goodfellas is a must have for any film aficionado’s collection. Scorsese’s direction and the stunning performances set a new benchmark for crime dramas, and this brutal tale of the rise of a young man up the mob hierarchy is certainly the director’s masterpiece, rightfully coming at no. 16 on IMDb’s Top 250. 

Casino (1995)

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The last of the director’s seven collaborations with Robert De Niro follows the battle between two mobster best friends (De Niro and Joe Pesci) over their gambling empire and the captivating Ginger (Sharon Stone). This film is not far behind the likes of Goodfellas and underlines Scorsese as a master of this genre, but he is by no means a one-trick-pony as shown by his forays into comedy with The King of Comedy (1982) and now the Wolf of Wall Street.

Gangs of New York (2002) 

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The first of his six collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio sees Scorsese assemble one of his best casts, also featuring Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Bredan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and John C. Reilly. Set in 1863, the film follows Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) as he returns to New York City  seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis), who murdered his father. One of Scorsese’s lesser know films, that shows the versatility of the director and his staggering consistency spanning several decades.

The Departed (2006) 

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Winner of 4 Oscars, this clever and complex story revolves around two moles, one an undercover cop in the Irish mob (DiCaprio) and the other a mob mole in the police force (Matt Damon), who are both trying to identify each other  before they are exposed. Based on Infernal Affairs (2002) from Hong Kong, many see this as Scorsese’s best film since Goodfellas and is one of my personal favourites from the last few years. Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Ray Winstone complete the cast, with one of the defining features also being the awesome soundtrack, including this.

Shutter Island (2010)

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Scorsese’s most recent success is a psychological thriller which follows  U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) as he investigates the disappearance of an escaped patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. This dark film delivers  intriguing twists and a noteworthy performance from DiCaprio, who continues his wait for an Oscar win and it remains to be seen whether he can break his Oscars hoodoo with The Wolf of Wall Street. 

Honorable mentions for The Aviator (2004), Cape Fear (1991), Raging Bull (1980) which also come highly recommended.