5 Barry Lyndon (1975)
A film that saw a mixed reaction, in its day, only to gain much higher esteem over time, Barry Lyndon is one of the most visually perfect films ever made. Using only natural light (sun, candles), Kubrick achieved the elegant beauty of 18th century paintings to tell this story of a young Irish adventurer seeking nobility and status in 1700s Europe. Ryan O’Neal portrays the determined, formidable title character, whose journey to jadedness, arrogance, and eventual ruin is told in a stately and somber fashion, with its majestic theme echoing throughout. It’s a testament to the films visual and narrative power that it makes one often forget/not realize its three hour length.
4 A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Kubrick’s beyond-controversial adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel is still shocks and disturbs by today’s standards, mainly for its unflinching portrayal of and references to the act of rape. Malcolm McDowell indelibly portrays vicious teenage gang leader Alex DeLarge, who, after being convicted of murder is subjected to an experiment that leaves him physically unable to cause others harm. Kubrick’s eye shows us many unshakable images, such as the opening close up on MacDowell, and zoom out to reveal the drug-laced milk bar he inhabits, or the backlit view of Alex and his gang beating an old wino in a tunnel. The music is key here maybe more than any other Kubrick, as the score toggles between Beethoven (Alex’s favorite) and ominous futuristic (then) Moog synth. The film itself is still a bracing and thought provoking study of free will and morality.
3 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Without doubt one of the most influential films ever made, this groundbreaking and technically brilliant adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel still causes people to ask “How did they do that” at certain points in its runtime. A look at the progression of intelligent life on Earth, that begins before the dawn of humanity as we know it, the film has very sparse dialogue, with much of that there is being delivered by malevolent spaceship supercomputer HAL 9000. The glowing red light amidst sterile white interiors that personifies “Hal”, the intelligence-granting monolith, the “light trip” Kier Dullea’s Dr. David Bowman embarks on, the thunderous classical score, it’s all very iconic business. The film quite understandably won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and is now considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time.
2 Full Metal Jacket (1987)
This is Kubrick’s version of “Platoon,” a film primarily about the dehumanizing effects of war, and violence in general. The film follows USMC recruit Private “Joker” (Matthew Modine, not smirking at all by the end) from boot camp at Perris Island to the front lines in Vietnam. Full Metal Jacket, which is episodic, yet tightly constructed, is almost more horrifying in its boot camp scenes than in those of combat. It is within that setting we find the performances of Vincent D’Onofrio (as a bullied overweight recruit who loses it big time) and R. Lee Ermey (a real life military man expertly playing an explosive drill sergeant), undoubtedly the film’s greatest and most memorable. The Academy Award nominated script was adapted from the 1979 novel “The Short Timers.”
1 Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)
For his only straight-up comedy, Kubrick made this classic Cold War satire that stands as one of the funniest films all time, thanks in no small part to the brilliant Peter Sellers’ multiple uproarious roles (including the titular Nazi physicist). When crazed Air Force General Ripper (A hilarious Sterling Hayden) orders a nuclear strike on Russia, the countdown to doomsday begins, while President (Sellers) and his men try to make sense of things deep underground in the War Room (a fine piece of set-work). Consulting the President are George C. Scott as war-hawk General Turgidson, and Dr. Strangelove, a wheelchair bound German nuclear expert who very much seems to be enjoying the proceedings on some inner level. Terry Southern’s gleefully subversive script is the solid foundation on which Kubrick and the insanely talented cast erect a cinematic monument. This is Kubrick’s most consistently re-watchable film.
Paths Of Glory (1958) – The heartbreaking WWI story is beautifully filmed and written, and stars Kurt Douglas as a conflicted French military officer.
The Shining (1980) – This Stephen King adap holds many immortal, eerie moments as well as some top drawer acting from leads Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall.
Lolita (1962) – An admirable stab at Nabokov’s brilliant, “un-filmable” novel, Kubrick captures some small piece of the novel’s depraved humor, and owes a lot to Peter Sellers’ expanded role as Clare Quilty.
The Killing (1955) – This sturdy, well-crafted noir first earned Kubrick attention and acclaim, despite not being a commercial hit. The apparentness of Kubrick’s gifts and some memorable characters help elevate this heist tale among the many others of its time.