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Black Sheep’s Five Favourite Films: Stanley Kubrick

BSR’s Five Favourite Films: Stanley Kubrick


I can’t quite put my finger on what I love most about Stanley Kubrick. There’s the meticulous attention to detail and the wildly vivid imagination that has led to so much breathtaking imagery. There’s also the man’s brashness, his boundary pushing, his incredible ability to transcend genre and leave his mark on every project he is involved in. Or perhaps it is his uncanny ability to turn whatever he worked on into an event picture, how he infused his films with so much grandness, both in cinematic scope and in the size of the ideas explored within them. His films, although not for everyone, given how abstract and controversial they can be, grow over time, in depth and in esteem. They take on lives of their own as they are almost all seen differently now then when they were first released. Kubrick was always ahead of his time and the evolution his oeuvre has gone through over the years points directly to his genius.

That genius is currently on display at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, in an exhibition entitled Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition. (Click here for our comprehensive preview of the exhibition.) The exhibition runs until January 31 and features memorabilia from Kubrick’s many films, from his first feature, THE KILLING to his last, EYES WIDE SHUT, which Kubrick finished cutting together just days before he died of a heart attack at 70. To accompany the exhibition, TIFF will be screening Kubrick’s films in a series entitled, Stanley Kubrick: A Cinematic Odyssey. In addition to screening all of Kubrick’s features, TIFF also plans to screen a selection of short films Kubrick made when he was very young, 70mm presentations of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and SPARTACUS, as well as the rarely screened international version of THE SHINING, which cuts out 25 minutes from the original version and is said to create an even more oblique experience of the film. I’ve not seen this version myself so this, and the opportunity to see A CLOCKWORK ORANGE on the big screen for the first time, are exciting to me personally. Many special guests will also be on hand to discuss the films. For more information, visit

To honour this fantastic TIFF series and exhibition, as well as the director himself, Black Sheep Reviews presents its five favourite Kubrick films for your enjoyment. (Films are in alphabetic order.)

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)


This is the perfect film to start with because every time I see 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, I am not entirely certain I have ever truly grasped its numerous, vast ideas. Kubrick, in a collaboration with science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, explores humanity, evolution, technology, extra terrestrial life and artificial intelligence. He does so, so abstractly that the ideas behind the film are still debated to this day. Another reason 2001 is still to this day so captivating is because its Academy Award winning visual effects, groundbreaking at the time, still come across as stunning. It took a small army to create the visual look of 2001 but their efforts have gone on to change the way movies are made. In fact, 2001 is so mesmerizing at times that audiences don’t even mind that there are long stretches without any dialogue at all. What is perhaps most remarkable about the film is that, unlike most other science fiction or effects heavy films, 2001 never looks dated, even though a great deal of how the year 2001 is portrayed is nothing like the year 2001 that actually happened. You feel like it will probably still be just as fascinating to watch in 3001, which may explain why the American Film Institute considers it the best science fiction film ever made.



Kubrick follows up 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with what is considered one of his most difficult films to watch and what is surely the most controversial film Kubrick ever made. It also just so happens that A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is my favourite of all Kubrick’s works. An open and unapologetic exploration of youth violence and rebellion, its roots, its causes, its futility, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is distinctly disturbing to watch. Malcolm McDowell plays the protagonist and humble narrator, Alex DeLarge, who leads his friends, a group he refers to as his droogs, on an evening of excessive violence that does seemingly nothing to shake him the next day. Clearly a sociopath, Alex is eventually brought to justice for his acts and subjected to an experimental treatment meant to associate negative physiological reactions inside Alex whenever violent impulses overcome him. Based on Anthony Burgess’s novella, Kubrick explores the idea of an inherent goodness within every human being. Does it exist? And if it doesn’t, is it fair to say that there can also be an inherent evil within certain individuals? And suppose you are inherently bad, should you be subjected to have what makes you most yourself eliminated from your design? Outside of its intellectual explorations though, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is a devilish social satire that disturbs in all the right ways.



DR. STRANGELOVE is Kubrick’s first film to be embraced by the Academy Awards, earning him his first of four Best Director nominations (of which he never won once) and his first of three Best Picture nominations (of which he never won one either). The film is an absurdist satire on the industrial war complex and the ever present threat of nuclear war, which was certainly more on people’s minds in 1964. In it, an unstable United States general puts a plan in place to launch a full scale nuclear attack on Russia, without the President’s authorization. The subsequent action cuts back and forth between the air force carrying out its instructions, the general (Sterling Hayden) being persuaded to call off his plan by his second in command (Peter Sellers, in an Oscar nominated performance that saw him play four separate characters, including the title character), and a crisis management meeting in the US war room called to diffuse the situation before the entire world is destroyed. Like most of Kubrick’s work, it is multilayered and multiple viewings lead to deeper understandings of just how many military actions and theories Kubrick is poking fun at. Personally, I first saw this film in college and only came to fully appreciate its biting nature years later. Again, this is the great beauty of Kubrick’s work; as you mature, his films mature with you.



Of all the films on this list, in fact, of all of Kubrick’s films, THE KILLING is the least Kubrickian. It is his first financed feature, having only made an independent feature and shorts prior. Kubrick himself considered this film to be his first feature as a mature filmmaker so I’ll concede to that to keep things simple. This black and white feature finds Kubrick in film noire territory a good ten years after the genre had run its course. All the same, THE KILLING, albeit a flop financially, is considered by many critics to be one of the finer noire films. Kubrick employs many of the genre staples, from starkly contrasting lighting to shady characters and femme fatales. Although he is faithfully working within the genre, there is an air of playfulness to it that suggests that he is aware of how unreal the whole thing is. Kubrick further plays with the conventions of film noire, as well as linear narrative filming in general, by manipulating the time line and telling his story of an elaborate heist in non-chronological order. Even in his first major feature, Kubrick was decades ahead of the rest. Famously, Quentin Tarantino cites THE KILLING as a major influence over RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION, two films that made non-linear storytelling the staple that it has become in contemporary filmmaking.



THE SHINING is arguably Kubrick’s most popular film. It is famous for so much of its onscreen imagery and influence it has had over popular culture; and it is infamous for the behind the scenes drama that caused the already lengthy production to balloon past a year’s worth of principal photography. It is based on a Stephen King novel and the author was quite vocal about his dislike for the casting of the principal parts that went to Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. In fact, King to this day doesn’t think the film does his novel justice because it foregoes a deeper exploration of alcoholism and family decay to focus more on the more horrific elements. That said, it is an incredibly eerie and isolating experience to sit through. Nicholson and Duvall (who was by all accounts emotionally abused by Kubrick to get her distress just right) play the Torrence’s. Together, with their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), they are watching over a mountain resort that closes for winter. About a month into their stay, cabin fever sets in and it isn’t long before all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I would describe the whole thing as delightfully horrifying. This may seem like an odd statement to make but, while THE SHINING is easily one of the most viscerally and psychologically scary films ever made, it is also an incredible delight to get lost in all of that all consuming fear.

For more information on TIFF’s series, Stanley Kubrick: A Cinematic Odyssey, or their exhibition, Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, please visit And again, for our comprehensive preview of the exhibition, click here.


  1. Great article. I love Kubrick. Tonight I am seeing Eyes Wide Shut. Even though I’ve seen it so many times, it’s still remains as a mystery to me.

    • Thanks! Eyes Wide Shut is a film I need to revisit. I hear it has aged rather well.

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