Spike Lee's Greatest Films Of All Time

BYErin Haley584 Views
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He one of the most celebrated filmmakers of our time, and we're revisiting cinematic icon Spike Lee's best movies.

The phrase film d'auteur is especially potent and necessary when defining the work of Spike Lee. As a term, it describes a director's complete oeuvre, recognizing and acknowledging the themes and powerful tropes that offer a prismatic peek into the passions and personalities of the creator. When examining Lee's vivid portfolio (or various film joints), those themes run the gamut of unpacking race relations against social and personal backdrops. This includes the media's invasive role in contemporary society, crime and poverty in urban areas, as well as colorism and politics.

When someone watches a Spike Lee film, they will learn something and question their assumptions and misunderstandings. This occurs as they appreciate and marvel at his use of long shots, color schemes, and layers of music. To welcome those feelings of discomfort that lead to clarity is all part of the Spike Lee Joint experience.

School Daze (1988)

Recently, publications have started to revisit Lee's 1988 film School Daze. The website Shadow and Act examined its status as a classic. Lee recalled how the film was a victim of colorism. The shooting moved locations because the president of Morehouse did not like that the fictional president in the film had such dark skin. Lee recalled how that adverse reaction only reaffirmed that he was making the right choices. "I know what we were doing was right. Because I had the president of Morehouse telling me the man I cast as the president was too dark-skinned.” The film, starring Laurence Fishburne and Tisha Campbell, examined the world of fraternities and pledging at a historically black college.

When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)

In 2006, HBO premiered perhaps its most important documentary to date: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. This Spike Lee film took viewers to the hours leading up to Hurricane Katrina. It held the audience's hand while the storm raged and fully displayed what happened in the New Orleans aftermath. Lee interviews residents from all walks of life, the cameras taking people into the Super Dome and the Ninth Ward.

Divided into four acts, this documentary has an operatic scope and feel. Jazz music is applied throughout, using the soundtrack of the Big Easy to its fullest effect. It also manages to still come across as scathing without pointing fingers. The footage's skill and direction forever ensure that the audience can understand who was responsible for the dereliction of duty as New Orleans floundered. Yet, Lee does not allow the tone to be hopeless. He crafted a narrative that promises eventual resurrection while making it clear that the city's people deserve all the credit for the city's survival.

Do The Right Thing (1989)

It is difficult to know where Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing belongs in the pecking order. Released in 1989, it was his third feature film and perhaps one of his most brilliant. Undoubtedly, it is a classic used in both film classes to discuss style and the director's voice. Additionally, it is discussed in sociology courses to catalyze deeper conversations about socio-economic realities. With a stellar cast that includes John Turturro, Ossie Davis, Ruby Lee, and Danny Aiello, the writing is as tight as any script can get. The action occurs in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood during the hottest day of the year. With Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" pounding like a heartbeat through the city, the film looks at how tensions build in a city that represents a nation that has yet to deal with its racist past or present.

Malcolm X (1992)

Spike Lee's 1992 Malcolm X forced America to reckon with the legacy of one of its Civil Rights Leaders who not only pointed out racism and hypocrisy embedded deep within every layer of society ("The Ballot or the Bullet" being one of his most outstanding speeches), but who did not give way to compromise to further the agenda of the middle. Although the production had a slew of budget issues, many of which were ameliorated thanks to such celebrities as Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey, the film debuted at the height of a new wave of police brutality, epitomized in the Rodney King case.

Those emotions ripped through the audience with the words: "We’ve never seen Democracy, all we’ve seen is hypocrisy! We don’t see any American Dream; we’ve experienced only the American Nightmare!” Starring Denzel Washington, the film demonstrated Lee's ability to tackle historical material and make it applicable to modern-day audiences. That relevancy is why it remains one of his most appreciated films.

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