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5 favorite Steven Spielberg movies

The Associated Press, Thursday, June 9, 2011, 3:51pm (PDT)

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- This is perhaps the most daunting Five Most challenge I've thrust upon myself: choosing my five favorite Steven Spielberg movies.

Because, of course, there are way more than five great ones. He's one of the defining American filmmakers of our time. Even a top-10 list might have been insufficient.

Some omissions are surely going to leave you guys feeling baffled, even incensed. How dare I leave out "Saving Private Ryan"? Where's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"? Somebody actually pays me to do this? I'm an idiot! Hey, it would have been great to include "Minority Report" or "Munich" in here, too. But I only get to choose five. That's why the game is fun.

So, with the opening this week of "Super 8," J.J. Abrams' loving and meticulous homage to the early work of Spielberg — who's a producer on the film — I humbly select my five favorite movies Spielberg has directed. Feel free to lemme have it:

— "Jaws" (1975): One of Spielberg's earliest films still might be his best. He defined the summer blockbuster with this little movie that became an enormous pop culture phenomenon. Looking back at this (and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which we'll get to soon), the tangible, substantive quality of the effects is striking, even quaint — especially after having seen so many soulless, CGI spectacles. And of course, his killer-shark tale was scary as hell; even then, Spielberg knew how to do a lot with a little, and that's especially true of John Williams' deeply haunting, minimalist score. He made us feel nervous about making ourselves vulnerable in a place that should be so happy and safe: the beach at the height of summer. What he didn't show, what he merely suggested, was more frightening than the torture porn that became so popular over the past decade.

— "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982): Maybe it's a nostalgia thing. Maybe it's Spielberg's uncanny knack for conveying the feelings of loneliness and fear that every kid experiences (his parents' divorce is what inspired the movie). But I cry every time. I'm a grown woman — I'm not afraid to admit it. I know E.T. is going to live, and I know the little alien is going to phone home, and I know the spaceship is going to swoop down to pick him up and take him back to his planet where he belongs. Doesn't matter — it still gets me. The sweetness of the friendship between Elliott and E.T. and the iconography of the imagery endure nearly three decades later. And of course, there is that sweeping, Oscar-winning Williams score. I'm getting choked up just thinking about it. Pass the Reese's Pieces.

— "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981): Spielberg was a big kid with an even bigger toy set here, reenacting all those B-adventure pictures he'd grown up loving. Like "Jaws," "Raiders" has a rough-hewn look about it that seems utterly charming today. You get the feeling that the boulder Harrison Ford is running from is an actual and very dangerous boulder. Plus, this first Indiana Jones movie is just a ton of fun, full of snappy banter, imaginative set pieces and breathless action. Ford is at the height of his swagger as the resourceful and fearless (except when it comes to snakes) archaeologist, figuring a way out of every tricky situation with his trademark fedora intact. And I know I sound like a broken record mentioning Williams again, but just try getting that jaunty theme song out of your head. The best of the series, by far.

— "Schindler's List" (1993): An extremely personal film for Spielberg, it's also his masterpiece. It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven, including best picture and best director. Spielberg tells the tale of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman in Poland who turned his factory into a refuge for Jews during the Holocaust, in exquisite black and white (the Oscar-winning work of his frequent cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski). The approach is not only aesthetically striking, it also provides a startlingly intimate contrast with the epic nature of this true story. Harrowing, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful about the possibility of humanity, it features beautifully textured performances from Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley.

— "Catch Me If You Can" (2002): You probably would have chosen something different for this spot. This is probably where you would have put "Saving Private Ryan." But as much as I admire the enormity, detail and technical wizardry of that movie, "Catch Me If You Can" is the one I'd rather watch again and again. After a series of heavy films including "Schindler's List," "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" and, yes, "Saving Private Ryan," Spielberg allowed himself to have a good time again, and a giddy sense of adventure radiates from every frame. Leonardo DiCaprio is at his boyishly charismatic best as real-life con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., with Tom Hanks clearly having a blast playing a broad comic character as the FBI agent on his tail. It's slick and sexy, and it grabs you from the first seconds with its retro-cool title sequence and Williams' jazzy, catchy score. Spielberg just seemed so free here and the result is one of the most fun movies ever to come from this big kid at heart.

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Think of any other examples? Share them with AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire through Twitter: http://twitter.com/christylemire.

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