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Ranked: The Complete Works of Spike Jonze
Listen all ya'll, it's a sabotage.
by Nathaniel Janowitz
Spike Jonze is one of the most unique directors alive today because of the way he has immersed himself in so many mediums. Arguably the greatest music video director of all time, he has also made everything from commercials to short films; strange internet mockumentaries to seminal skateboard videos. His three feature length films have all been widely praised by critics, and received a number of Academy Award nominations.
As we welcome the limited release of Spike’s fourth feature length film, and his screenwriting debut, Her - starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with a Siri-esque operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson - we take a look back at one of the most far-ranging, intimate, and talented directors of our generation-- his music videos, short films, and feature pictures.
67. Marxman – All About Eve (1994)
Here it is everybody - the worst music video Spike Jonze ever made! Some guys rap in an elevator. Other people seem upset. Yeah…
66. Teenage Fanclub – Hang On (1993)
Mostly filmed at a live concert, inter-spliced with scenes of the band fooling around. Typical Sunday morning breakfast. Eggs, bacon, hash-browns and a side of toast with weak coffee.
65. Chainsaw Kittens – High in High School (1992)
Spike Jonze’s first video ever has Chainsaw Kittens play to a crowd of fans in some club. Some light tricks, and randomly interspersed videos of life in the 1940s and 50s. This video, along with the two previous on this list, really highlight Spike’s humble beginnings. You never would have expected the greatest music video director of all time to emerge from this. But this is the end of the bad, from here on, they only get better.
64. Jay-Z and Kanye West - Otis (2011)
Spike Jonze has created some of the greatest music videos of all time, innovating throughout his whole career. While this video is better than 75% of mainstream hip hop videos, in the end it's just Jay and Kanye reaffirming their grandiose images.
63. R.E.M - Crush With Eye-Liner (1995)
A bunch of Japanese youth mime the track and play the instruments, cut with scenes of them running around the streets of Tokyo. I think R.E.M made a cameo as a bunch of onlookers?
62. AsDSSka - Hold On (25) (2009)
Simple video, following a floating balloon and some melancholy musicians performing in a dimly lit room. Very beautiful in an art school end of term project sort of way, but its Spike Jonze, so much better.
61. The Breeders – Cannonball (1993)
Great song, so-so video. One of Spike’s first, it’s little more than The Breeders playing live in a building, some color tricks, and images of a cannonball rolling down the street. Another video that shows Jonze in the early stages of his career. Oh, Kim Deal, I want to marry you.
60. Tenacious D - Wonderboy (2000)
If some of the previous highlighted his humble beginnings, the next shows off how over production and big-budget can lead to ridiculousness like this. For any other band it would be too ridiculous, but for Tenacious D, it fits perfectly.
59. MC 900 ft Jesus - If Only I Had a Brain (1994)
A man goes searching for a brain, mailing himself off in a box. The box gets picked up by strangers and goes on a bumpy ride while the man dances inside, drinks tea, meditates, and sometimes just gets thrown around. Here we see an early example of the comedy stylings that would become a staple in many of his greatest videos.
58. Weezer - Island in the Sun (version 2) (2002)
The boys of Weezer play with some exotic animals. Nice cinematography and some really darn cute animals.
57. R.E.M - Electrolite (1997)
After 1995, Spike’s video output dropped dramatically, but each video became more and more of a production, with usually, amazing results. However, this R.E.M video feels cluttered as Jonze appears to try every camera trick in the book throughout the video. Held against some of his earlier videos, yes its more complex, but do I prefer this to a simple classic like Beastie Boys - Time for Livin? No.
56. Beastie Boys - Root Down (Version 2) (1998)
This video was shot during a live performance of Root Down at one of the first Tibetan Freedom festivals in the 90s. It’s interesting for showing both images of the concerts wildness, but also the part of every festival that people are familiar with that you don’t see in videos. The hanging out, resting, sitting down.
55. Puff Daddy - It’s All About the Benjamins (Rock Remix) (1997)
Puff Daddy and the Lox take over a high school prom. The beginning is great, filmed as a mockumentary, we see their bus break down outside of an unsuspecting high school. They enter and find a cover band, where Puff also plays the lead singer belting out Everybody Hurts by REM. Once the music starts, though, it turns into a typical Puffy and crew on stage rocking it/crowd goes nuts affair. It was nominated for video of the year at the MTV Video Music Awards.
54. Luscious Jackson – Daughters of the Kaos (1993)
A theme in Spike Jonze’s videos are stories being told, with the band playing the roles of the characters. The first of his videos to explore this form of story telling has the women of Luscious Jackson playing disgruntled prostitutes, hunting down their slick-haired pimp.
53. Elastica - Car Song (1995)
In skin tight red suits, Elastica chases a ghost through the streets of Tokyo, eventually encountering an anorexic Godzilla. The purposefully cheesy special effects make this ghostbusters/Japan film parody pretty fun.
52. Wax - California (1995)
This video created quite a stir when it came out, and was actually banned from day-time TV which makes it kind of cool. SPOILER ALERT: remember the little girl, remember the little girl…
51. The Commercials of Spike Jonze
Spike is also known for making some of the wildest commercials ever to hit the television screen. Here’s a highlight of some of his famous ones, but my favorite is for sure number three, the Sprite commercial with a Sunny D knock off that makes the family run off screaming. HILARIOUS.
50. Mystery of Dalaro (2004)
Not exactly a commercial, instead, it’s more of an experimental promotional video released under the pseudonym, Carlos Soto. It's an eight minute long mockumentary about a single day in 2003, when 32 people supposedly bought a Volvo S40 from the same dealership in a small town in Sweden. Only later was it explained that the mysterious Carlos Soto, was actually Spike Jonze.
49. Sean Lennon - Home (1998)
Son of John, wearing some nifty headphones, starts from real casual, to cool special effects, to tripping with friends. In other words, a typical day to day, for a lot of us. It’s cool, but compared to that other video he made in 1998 (which was voted by MTV as the #1 music video of all time), it didn’t receive much press.
48. Sonic Youth – 100% (1992)
There’s not much too this video, only Spikes second, but watching a young Jason Lee (My Name is Earl, Mallrats) ride around on his skateboard while Sonic Youth blasts out an awesome song does make it an enjoyable flashback to the beginnings of Spike Jonze.
47. Bjork - It’s in Our Hands (2002)
In 2002, Spike only released 3 videos and in classic Jonze style; he really went back to the basics with all of them - just him, a camera and the musicians. In this one, a pregnant Bjork finds herself amongst plants being filmed with a night vision camera.
46. How They Get There
Ever see a single shoe on a curb and wonder how it got there? In this two minute and change short film Spike Jonze has his own theory.
45. Wax - Who is Next (1995)
Remember the girl? In the second video from Wax, it begins with her in the car, quietly looking out the window at a Volkswagen van. The van is filled with the members of Wax rocking out this adrenaline drenched song as they cruise around. Special cameo by two members of Rancid who come and try to mosh with the van.
44. The Breeders – Divine Hammer (1994)
Kim Deal floating through the streets in a devilish red robe followed by a nuns white robe, as she searches for one divine hammer that she’d bang all day. My marriage proposal still stands.
43. Sonic Youth - The Diamond Sea (1995)
The Diamond Sea, by noise deities, Sonic Youth, is arguably the greatest grunge ballad of the 90s. To film its video, Spike collaborated with Lance Bangs, Dave Markey, Steve Paine, and Angus Wall, to shoot several of their live concerts. It's really a video tribute to Sonic Youth’s greatness.
42. Arcade Fire - Afterlife (2013)
Directed live for the 2013 YouTube video awards, it combines some excellent cinematography, with awkward dancing. If it wasn’t live, this would be much much lower.
41. Beastie Boys – Time For Livin’ (1993)
A Beastie Boys punk rendition of a Sly and the Family Stone song, Spike provides a simple video of them performing the song live mixed with scenes of skateboarders pulling off some nasty tricks. The difference between this and some of the other videos Spike has done with scenes from concerts, is this one truly captures the energy and mayhem that the Beastie Boys created when they went punk.
40. Fatboy Slim - Weapon of Choice (2000)
Christopher Walken, one of the most recognizable voices in Hollywood, doesn’t say a word in this video. Instead, he dances up a storm, and flies around a vacant hotel. Great choreography and a fun watch. But if it’s not Christopher Walken would it be ranked this high? But it is Christopher Walken, so…
39. Weezer - Sweater Song (1994)
This video, at first, seems simply like the band playing in front of a blue screen but it is unique because it’s filmed entirely in one take on a steady cam, while the band played to a sped up version of the song. When slowed down to its normal speed, the video appears as if Weezer is playing in slow motion.
38. Kanye West - Flashing Lights (2008)
After a three year hiatus from music videos, Spike co-directs this video with Kanye. Cool concept, and I won’t spoil the end.
37. Velocity Girl - I Can’t Stop Smiling (1994)
Mostly done as if in a family portrait studio, the band holds permanent fake smiles. Dressed in outfits from the 40s and 50s, somehow this video couldn’t look more 90s if it tried.
36. We Were Once a Fairytale (2010)
An interesting short that has Kanye playing a drunken stupor of himself. It’s fun with a bit of symbolism that I won’t spoil here. Kanye though, even when not taking himself so seriously, can’t help being a bit self-indulgent.
35. Pavement - Shady Lane (1997)
This is one of those cases where I had to take a step back and be like, "Damn this is amazing, I love Pavement." But then separating the video from the music is difficult.
34. Beastie Boys - Sure Shot (1994)
The first of Spike Jonze’s trilogy of videos off the boy’s 1994 release Ill-Communication. This video has the Beastie Boys in their element, rapping into the camera as they rip through one of their best songs ever.
33. Beastie Boys - Ricky’s Theme (1994)
In the second, this instrumental track has the Beastie Boys dressed as old men, playing basketball with some kids and generally getting their asses kicked. Anyone see the Kyrie Irving Uncle Drew commercials? Meet its inspiration.
32. To Die By Your Side - (Mourir auprès de toi)
This roughly six minute stop motion short-film is goddamn adorable, and a bookworms dream. Treat yourself to a little fun, with a side of sadness.
31. LCD Soundsystem - Drunk Girls (2010)
This video is great. Co-directed with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, James and his bandmates attempt to sing their song in a large room as a bunch of people dressed as pandas basically just fuck with them. They throw eggs, spray them with a fire extinguisher, push them around, and generally treat them like their bitches. Nothing profound about this one, just Spike going jackass on the band.
30. Beck - Guess I’m Doing Fine (2002)
One thing Spike Jonze is famous for is the occasional improv nature of his videos, and the pure talent he has with just his eye and a camera. In this video, Jonze and Beck take to a park, and see what happens. This time it involves eating a sandwich, Beck explaining to a teenager what his video is about, then going to play with his friends.
29. The Jackass Franchise
While not actually the director, Spike Jonze served as an executive producer with the franchise, from the television show, to the movies. Showing, once again, how far ranging Spike Jonze’s reach is. How can the same man be one of the fathers of Jackass, the director of Being John Malkovich, and the main character in Fatboy Slim’s "Praise You"?
28. Dinosaur Jr. – Feel the Pain (1994)
This video signifies a turn that took place in Spike Jonze’s career in 1994 when he started using his wild imagination to create really strange videos. Dinosaur Jr, decked out in full golf gear, take the term ‘play it as it lies’ to new levels, leaving business men in the exhaust fumes of their golf kart. Watching this video makes his future production of the Jackass franchise make a little more sense.
27. The skate videos of Spike Jonze
I’m sorry to all the skateboarders out there who I know, for most of you, Spike Jonze is the man. But I’m not a skateboarder, and unfortunately I do not feel qualified to rank all his skate films. So I will slot them in here as being just below the upper echelon of his greatest videos and films. I’m sorry, but maybe this next video will help some of you not hate me…
26. UNKLE - Heaven (2009)
This song was used in one of Spike’s most famous skate videos, Fully Flared, which features epic skate tricks happening in a demolition skatepark. Footage from the film was used in this video, and works perfectly as a backdrop for simultaneous explosions and kick flips.
25. Phantom Planet - Big Brat (2003)
In Spike’s only video of 2003, he created a gem. It starts out with the band unloading a bunch of stuff into a house, then putting on make up and beginning to film something themselves. The second half of the video is a zombie throwback made on a 16mm camera by the band themselves, where various members and friends are massacred, before a surprise twist at the end. Spike gets a little meta on this one.
24. Ludacris - Get Back (2004)
Luda’s been working out! Jonze jacks up Ludacris with massive arms as he slaps the s**t out of Fatlip in the bathroom. Remember Fatlip?
23. that dog - Old Timer (1994)
Possibly the greatest epitome of the 90s aesthetic of any Spike Jonze video.
22. Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak (2009)
A touching and poignant conversation with Maurice Sendak; author of The Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and others. Done in preparation of Spike Jonze’s film, Where The Wild Things Are, it provides a great insight into the man behind some of the most influential children’s books of all time. Specifically, his fascination with death.
21. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Y Control (2004)
Controversial at its release, understandably, as Karen O and the band perform around children carrying dead dogs and participating in self-mutilation in a dimly lit room. It also encapsulates the angst and anger underlying many of the fans of bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs - no longer children, beginning their foray into the burgeoning hipster scene that would soon take over a large subsection of these grown up children, like myself.
20. Chemical Brothers - Elektrobank (1997)
Sophia Coppola, Spike Jonze’s now ex-wife, portrays a gymnast. Beautiful cinematography throughout the video captures the dance routine as Spike intertwines a story surrounding the girls struggle to complete her act; filled with divorced parents, mom’s trophy boyfriend, blonde-haired villain, rounded out nicely with a grumpy goth sister. Great accompaniment to the song.
19. Beastie Boys ft Santigold - Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win (2011)
For his most recent collaboration with the Beastie Boys he created more of a short film than a music video. The music becomes secondary as the Boys and Santigold are portrayed in action figure form, fending off anti-Beastie Boys assassins through various life of death situations. The story was written by Adam Yauch, better known by his alias, MCA, prior to his 2012 death. In what may be the final work we ever see from MCA, his fun loving side comes out full blast.
18. X – Country at War (1992)
X busks on an anonymous corner in an anonymous town as life passes around them. Reminiscent of Harmony Korrine’s Gummo, the viewer is treated (or forced) to watch snapshots of disturbing images of small-town life. Ventriloquist dummies, kid smashing toy cars with a hammer, and more. Definitely the best of Spike’s first five videos, and the first that shows the weirdness that will come in the future.
17b. Scenes From the Suburbs (2011)
This short film is a snapshot into a teenage summer in the suburbs that unfolds amongst the militarization of the neighborhoods. Beautiful cinematography with a dystopian edge.
17a. Arcade Fire - Suburbs (2010)
Made up of footage from the accompanying short film, for some reason, it feels more cohesive as a music video than the short film did. Disturbing and poignant.
16. Mike Watt - Liberty Calls! (1997)
In this video from his first solo album, seminal post-punk bassist and overall badass, Mike Watt, goes riding around on a large boat being pulled by a truck down the highway. In full yellow rain gear, Watt and co. fish off it until arriving at a punk show and breakdancing. It’s just a damn good time.
15. Ween - Freedom of ’76 (1995)
The mid 90s was the age of the super trial. This video depicts Ween as two rebellious thieves stealing the Liberty Bell, followed by their trial, and the ensuing guilty verdict that leads to large protests on the street as they get taken away in the police van. As usual, a very unique theme that also includes over a minute of story before the song starts. I don’t know about you, but this video makes me want to go protest somewhere. Hi Obama.
14. Amarillo By Morning (1998)
When filming a commercial at a bull riding competition, Spike befriended two teenagers who dreamed of being professional bull riders. He spent the afternoon with them, listening to their stories, meeting their friends, and traveling out to a farm where they had constructed a gas barrel into a bull riding practice machine. Watching this documentary, and still now, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t staged. The awkwardness of the boys, the things they say, its all just so perfect in creating a subculture of America that everyone knows must exist, but would have to see it to believe it.
Well you can see it here, and its amazing. Spike’s ability to make his subjects feel comfortable, when it’s just him and a camera, is one of his greatest gifts. Jonze treats them like friends, and thats how he’s able to create such beautiful, hilarious, documentaries like Amarillo by Morning.
13. Adaptation (2002)
The first of Spike Jonze's three feature length films to make this list. Okay, so I need to start out by saying that even though this is the lowest, it is a really amazing film. The reason I ranked it below the others, is that the screenwriting by Charlie Kaufman totally steals the show in Adaptation. In terms of Jonze’s work as director, he ties it all together beautifully, and turns an amazing script into an amazing film. So while this may be ranked lower than his other films, it is still a must-see for anyone that enjoys weirdness.
12. Fatboy Slim - Praise You (1998)
Spike steps in front of the camera for a change, to become Richard Koufey, the leader of The Torrance Community Dance Group, who perform a one-off performance, guerrilla-style, in front of a movie theater. The spontaneity and awkwardness of this video made it an instant classic, and in fact, in 2001, it was voted #1 on MTV’s 20th anniversary countdown of the 100 best videos of all time. Now I may take a bit of a hit for this, but while this video is amazing, it’s not even a top five Spike Jonze video for me. His innovation and creativity is on full display, but in the end, the video is not as good as the ones at the top of the list. Let the comment trolls begin.
11. Pharcyde - Drop (1996)
One of the most under appreciated hip hop groups of the 90s golden age was The Pharcyde. For Drop, the group worked with a professional linguist to learn how to recite the words to the entire song backwards - which Spike filmed them rapping, while performing stunts also backwards. When ran in reverse, it creates one of the most surreal, trippy music videos ever created. Their movements seem as if aliens have inhabited their bodies. In Spike Jonze’s only video of 1996, he created a masterpiece. He also made an accompanying six minutes documentary that shows how the video was made, and the efforts of the four members of The Pharcyde: Imani, Tre, Bootie Brown, and Fatlip.
10. Bjork - Triumph of the Heart (2005)
If you are cat video lover, and have never seen this music video, you have failed felines around the world. After a fight, Bjork leaves her husband, played by a house cat, to go to a pub, where she gets obliterated drunk. At the end of the video the cat finds Bjork, they share a kiss, and break out into a dance. The cat from this video, wearing a suit and reading a paper, has even became a famous cat meme. Meow.
9. Daft Punk - Da Funk (1997)
Charles, grown up man/dog, is new to New York. In the video, aptly titled Big City Nights, anyone whose ever moved to a big city can relate with feeling lost, wandering the streets in the dark. Luckily for us, we didn’t have a broken leg and a broken boom box permanently blasting Daft Punk with no volume control. Correction, maybe that was unlucky for us. Another truly special video, after Spikes early phase, when his music video output dropped dramatically, but the ones he made became quite the productions.
8. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
I don’t know about you, but Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are was one of the most memorable stories of my childhood. I knew where the wild things were then, and now I bump into them on occasion. It’s dark at times, but so is life, and along with author David Eggers, Spike Jonze wrote the screenplay that took a 10 line story, and showed a slide show of young turmoil through the looks in the characters eyes. One day, if I ever have a child, they will watch this movie (after reading the book a few hundred times), because it is something we all can relate to.
7. Beastie Boys - Sabotage (1994)
A homage to 70s crime-drama television shows, it has become one of the most enduring images of The Beastie Boys. As soon as that opening riff comes on, instantly you're forced to think of MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock wearing ridiculous fake mustaches, running through the streets, chasing bad guys. There are few songs that are as difficult to separate from their videos as Sabotage, and that shows how one of the first videos that put Spike on the map, was also one of the greatest he ever created.
6. Bjork - It’s Oh So Quiet (1995)
In this cover of a 1951 Betty Hutton song, Jonze creates another homage, but instead to musicals of the 50s. A melancholy Bjork sings in a slow motion world, which is interrupted by raucous dance routines during the choruses that are based on Jacques Demy's 1964 film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. Truly beautiful in an odd Bjork/Jonze sort of way.
5. I’m Here (2010)
Watching two robots find love, and the extent they will go for each other in this science-fiction romance short film, is a beautiful experience. Based loosely off The Giving Tree, Jonze creates a 22nd century adaptation that makes you really able to envision a world where robots coexist with humans.
An issue that people sometimes take with Jonze is his first two films, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation, were both written by Charlie Kaufman, who is widely considered one of the greatest screenwriters of the last 20 years. With the mixed reviews that Where the Wild Things Are sometimes receives, critics have contested that Jonze’s success in film has more to do with his relationship with Kaufman, than his own talents. However, with 2010’s I’m Here, Jonze gives us an incredible glimpse into his talent, who at the age of only 44 has a lot of career left. Of any of Jonze’s work, this short film, makes me the most excited for his upcoming work, Her, and everything that will follow after.
4. Notorious B.I.G - Sky’s The Limit (1997)
After the untimely death of Biggie Smalls, Spike Jonze was tasked with making the video for Sky’s the Limit. Spike didn’t take the task lightly, creating an endearing montage to the memory of Christopher Wallace. The video is entirely shot with children, portraying the Notorious B.I.G, Puff Daddy, 112, Faith Evans, Busta Rhymes, Lil Kim and other contemporaries living luxuriously in a mansion, performing at a club, and recreating scenes from some of Biggie’s most famous videos. It reminds us of that sensation you get when you grow up, and realize we’re all just still kids pretending to be adults. Watching children living the life Biggie talked about so much, humanized him in a way only Spike Jonze could innovate.
3. Weezer – Buddy Holly (1994)
With Buddy Holly, Spike Jonze set himself apart, doing something totally different and revolutionary. With some nifty editing tricks, he seamlessly placed Weezer into Arnold’s Diner from Happy Days while Fonz and the gang get down. A power pop ballad, that from the opening line - What’s with these homies dissing my girl, why do they gotta front? - feels entirely out of place in the 50s setting. But the costumes, smiling performance by the band, and the direction by Jonze, make it seem perfectly natural. Not surprisingly, Spike Jonze won his first four MTV Video Awards with this song, and it’s become one of the most well known videos of all time.
2. Being John Malkovich (1999)
In his first full length feature film, Spike Jonze created, hands down, one of the most oddball movies ever made - and it is fantastic. A puppeteer finds a portal into the brain of arguably the greatest actor of our time, and is involved in a love triangle with his wife and a mystery woman - all through the body of John Malkovich. Not only is the direction amazing, which garnered Jonze an Academy Award nomination, watching Malkovich playing different versions of himself is one of the best performances of the last 15 years. Spike Jonze found the perfect way to harness this wild Kaufman script, and created the second greatest creation of his career. But for number one, were going back to the basics.
1. Fatlip - What’s up Fatlip? (2000)
You have two choices here. You can watch the video itself, or the 30-minute documentary which culminates in the video. My recommendation would be to watch the video, then watch the documentary. But the world’s your oyster. Fatlip, former member of seminal hip hop group, The Pharcyde, and Spike Jonze take to the street with a hand held camera for three days, and make what is Spike Jonze’s greatest work. The documentary is a bonus, but the video for What’s Up Fatlip? Is Spike Jonze at his best - because its just him, a camera, and the world.
That’s one of the things that sets Spike Jonze apart from so many of his contemporaries is his way to make the camera and the subject blend together to create snapshots of life. Here, he chose to point it on Fatlip as his career outside of the limelight began. Heartfelt and different, it holds nothing back and shows Fatlip for everything he is - fantastic, funny, and flawed. Spike Jonze captures the essence of his subject. And for that, this video captures the essence of Spike Jonze.