DAR Films: Spike Lee's Filmography

By @TrueGodImmortal 

There are many directors that make films that speak to the black experience in some way, shape, or form. For me, the director that executes this the most, for better or worse, is Spike Lee. Spike, a Brooklyn born director, has been in the film industry for over 30 years, and he's captured some amazing scenes within his movies, helped push top tier actors to their first bouts with super stardom, and maintained consistency. Today, we wanted to take a look at Spike's filmography and his legacy. Let's get into it.

The Worst
Let's start off with his worst. The worst films in his catalog. Spike has missed a few times, and when he misses, it's definitely interesting to watch how badly he misses. His vision can sometimes be a bit abstract, which could explain why some of his films weren't received as well at times. Let's take a look at the worst of the worst in his catalog and why they fell short of the mark.

*She Hate Me (2004)

-Usually, a film like this starring an actor like Anthony Mackie should be great, right? Well, maybe. Perhaps ahead of its time in the manner that the movie ends, this movie is a mess throughout. Mackie stars as a financially successful man that gets his assets frozen, and following this, he decides to impregnate his ex girlfriend, who recently came out as a lesbian, and her new girlfriend. This then turns into a lucrative business where Mackie's character begins impregnating other lesbians for large shares of money. The premise itself is odd, but what makes it worse is that the story feels scatterbrained as if Spike didn't think the story and the dialogue all the way through. This isn't your usual "sperm donor" story, as it is more so tied into sexual nature than just donating your sperm in a cup. The movie drags a bit and by the end, it's just really a big mess that cannot be redeemed. Spike lost his way on this one.

*Summer Of Sam (1999)

-For one, the whole basis of this movie just was doomed for the start. Based around the Bronx killer from the 70's known as the Son of Sam, this movie follows the accounts of fictional members of the community, and how their lives were bothered. The story of Vinny and Ritchie is one that is interesting, as two friends go down differing paths and one of them gets accused of being the Son of Sam. Ritchie has a strange life so to speak, much different from the life that Vinny and his other friends like Joey T have experienced. This movie would have been much better if not for the extra twists and turns that Spike throws in. When we learn of what Vinny and his wife's issues are, Ritchie's "job", and the movie reaches the end, it all feels like one big mess. Yes, a lot of Spike directed movies feel that way, but sometimes it ends up as a mess in a beautiful or endearing way. This movie just feels a bit off and uneven, without great scenes or characters to identify with.

*Girl 6 (1996)

-Perhaps Spike should have wrote this one as well. Maybe, just maybe. He directs this film that features a lot of Prince music (Prince does the soundtrack with mostly older songs and unreleased tracks), and that's about the only good thing about the movie. It's a boring film, and that's saying a lot considering the fact that Isaiah Washington and Theresa Randle are both great on screen. The story is horrid, and for some reason, the acting is even worse. The dialogue, as expected, is pretty bad as well, making this one of the few films in Spike's catalog that I wish never happened. At least we got to hear Prince's music throughout the film. There's that.

*Oldboy (2013)

-A rare miss for Spike in the later years of his career, this Josh Brolin led film was based on a South Korean film from 2003, and is essentially a remake. I'm not big on remakes, and this is an exact replica of the original, which made this film just a by the numbers version. The acting is executed well for the most part and the visuals aren't terrible so to speak, but the pacing of the film is horrible, and some of the roles aren't done properly IMO. Spike needs to stay away from remakes.

*Chiraq (2015)

-The less said about this movie, the better. Set in Chicago, this movie was doomed from the jump. Now, don't get me wrong, any movie that has appearances from Dave Chappelle and Wesley Snipes would usually be as good as gold in my book, but their roles aren't as significant, at least Chappelle's isn't. Because of this, the movie focuses on Nick Cannon as a violent drill rapper, and the role is horribly suited for him. Samuel L. Jackson has a prominent role, as does Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, and John Cusack, but nothing about this movie really flows. Meant to be a satirical film, it just doesn't make much sense. It looks at the reality of the hard violence in Chicago, but it also seemingly brushes it off with the other story arc of the women in Chicago threatening to withhold sex from their men unless the violence ceases. It's a horrible story and though there's a laugh or two in this, it is quite possibly Spike's worst film. This is one of those rare occurrences where his risk didn't pay off.

The Middle 
Spike has made a lot of movies in his career, and while he's had some misses, he's also had some classics. However, there are also those movies that aren't horrible, but they aren't great either. Some are just good, while others pass as decent, but he has some middle of the road films in his collection. Let's take a look at his films that didn't completely flop, but also aren't regarded as the best of the best.

*25th Hour (2003)

-Many people love this film, but I'm on the fence about it. A post 9/11 film that isn't rooted in the tragedy itself, this Edward Norton starred film is somewhat hit or miss for me. I think Spike does a good job in the scene transitions and the story is solid, plus I do appreciate the visions of a possible future that Norton's character Monty experiences before his fate is sealed. Where the film does miss to me is within the story, as the inclusion of Naturelle, Frank, and others all seem off. Still, while its not a bad movie, it's not as great as the reviews would have you think, thus it ends up as middle of the road.

*She's Gotta Have It (1986)

-A lot of people love this movie. I, admittedly, am not one of those people. Early on in Spike's career, he would debut his first feature film focusing on a woman who has three men she is interested in. If anything, this movie has a bit of an iconic standpoint for two reasons: the lead character Nola and her "sexual liberation", as well as Spike himself acting as Mars Blackmon. While the message of the movie on monogamy has its valid points, the truth of the matter is that it has a weird way of getting there to the climax of the film. One could hear Nola and her voice and understandably feel her plight, while one could dismiss her and say it's her fault for the situation going how it did. Truthfully, both perspectives would be right. However, what takes the movie down a notch is the acting and some of the outlandish scenes/moments. Spike has a history of doing that in his films and it backfired in this one somewhat.

*Red Hook Summer (2011)

-I remember when this came out, I was interested. Spike has a few movies based in Brooklyn, in his "Chronicles of Brooklyn" movie series, and this one was interesting in its own right. There was a bit of a religious undertone in this, as it was based around a 13 year old going to live with his grandfather, who happened to be a preacher. It was interesting to see the road the film would take, and while I personally thought the cast did a pretty good job, it would be the story itself and how it continues to progrees that just seemed to miss the mark for me honestly.

*Jungle Fever (1991)

-Allow me one moment of Chappelle's Show outtakes inspired randomness ("Interracial Dating... WHO YA GONNA RUN TO... THAT'S RIGHT). Now that I've got that out the way, I think it's a fact that this soundtrack to the movie is a classic. Stevie Wonder creates a beautiful soundtrack, but... the movie just doesn't work. It's a tough subject to document in a film, but I do like how Spike executes in certain scenes. With scene stealing moments from Samuel L. Jackson and Halle Berry, this movie has a lot of great scenes, but the interracial relationship at the forefront of the movie is honestly one devoid of actual chemistry. It creates a trickle down effect that causes the main characters to lose so much in their lives, but it also sheds a lot on the racial issues that plagued communities, but in such an in your face and slightly unrealistic way (I always think most of Spike's movies are satires), which is why it is here in the middle of the road section.

*School Daze (1988)

-While most people would consider this movie a classic, it's honestly just considered great for the imagery and topics touched on in the film. I think many people look at the exaggerated elements of colorism in the film and think it signals the reality, and while some of that was true, a bit of it was exaggerated and outlandish, like most Spike movies. It's his imagination pushing through. However, I did enjoy the cast and some of the moments of this movie, as I thought Laurence Fishburne, Ossie Davis, and Tisha Campbell all did great jobs in this one. While School Daze is seen by many as a cult classic, I truly think it's just a middle of the road film with a controversial message.

The Best
Spike's greatest works are very well documented. From Bamboozled to He Got Game, he's made a lot of debatable classics, but the best of the best in his filmography are all well known and loved. What are some of his greatest? Well, much like I did with the worst and the middle, I'll list 5 of his absolute best. Let's take a look.

*Malcolm X (1992)

-If there's ever a movie that truly can shine a light on how great of a director Spike is, it would be this one. The story of Malcolm X is one of the greatest stories ever told in Black America and he's one of the greatest historical figures ever. Denzel Washington is amazing as Malcolm and every piece of the puzzle and the story flows together so well, as it should. Every scene captures your attention, and to this very day, I believe Denzel was robbed of his Oscar for this performance. The movie and story itself would work regardless of the actor in it (I believe there are many who could play Malcolm well), BUT there is no one in this world who could play the role of Malcolm quite like Denzel did. This is my favorite Spike film without question.

*Crooklyn (1994)

-I remember when I first watched this movie, I was instantly hooked. Another Brooklyn based movie for Spike, this follows a very close knit yet slightly dysfunctional family on their journey together and apart. The main character is the young Troy, the lone girl amongst a batch of brothers who terrorize her at almost every cause. It's a coming of age story that really drives home what life in those type of neighborhoods was like for many of us who came up in similar conditions. This is one movie that emotionally locks in with me, and I just think there's elements within it I can relate to, which is why I think Crooklyn is his most relatable movie and his most down to earth film (and also less outlandish than many of his others).

*Mo Better Blues (1990)

-My appreciation for this movie has gone up tremendously over the years. I think Denzel and Spike together is usually undefeated. And this is another example of that, maybe the best example of that. With a great ensemble cast that includes legends Wesley Snipes, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Harris, and of course Denzel, this jazz centered film is one of the smoothest films you'll ever watch. Wesley is great as Shadow, the man in the background who wants your spot and everything else that you have. In addition to this, we also see some great pieces of music played throughout the movie and if there's a role I related a lot, it's always been Bleek (Denzel) in this film, just for his dedication to music and his personal strife. While this movie isn't exactly perfect, the pacing, the story, and the characters are about as close to it as you can get.

*Do The Right Thing (1989)

-I wasn't sold on this movie the very first time I watched it. I know, I know. It's a classic. I wasnt completely sold by it because when I first watched the film, I was probably too young to understand the message within it. Regardless, the film that features the film debuts of Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez, also tackles the racial issues that Brooklyn and surrounding New York areas faced, while also summing up the issue of racism and separation in all communities. The characters of Mookie, Sal, Da Mayor, Buggin Out, and Radio Raheem are all solidified as legendary film characters, and the cultural significance of this movie and the message behind it makes it one of Spike's best from a visual and writing standpoint. A classic film.

*Inside Man (2006)

-Recently crowned as one of the greatest Heist films on our list last week on the site, Inside Man is easily one of the best Spike Lee movies. Focused on a bank robbery that had nothing to do with the actual bank itself, Clive Owen stars as the leader of a group of extremely diverse and intelligent robbers set on a mission. Jodie Foster is excellent in her role, but of course, the main star of this is the man himself, Denzel Washington. His role as Keith Frazier is executed perfectly and the maze we're taken on throughout the film is excellent. Once we reach the end, we aren't mad at anything and in some way, justice gets served. It's a very smart film, with a very good ending, and it is easily one of Spike's best works without a doubt.

Film Legacy 
While some of his other top films like He Got Game, Clockers, 4 Little Girls, Miracle At St, Anna, Get On The Bus, Bamboozled, and others weren't discussed at length in this article, they all have their place in his filmography. Whether you feel they were classics, middle of the road, or lackluster, those movies I just named are all important to the Spike Lee legacy, as are all his films. Spike is one of the greatest directors ever, and though his style of directing isn't necessarily for everyone, his genius vision should never be denied. Spike has had one hell of a career, and although his output isn't as plentiful as it once was, he's still got his legacy solidified.



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