Denzel Washington’s new movie Flight just came out. Washington plays a pilot who successfully lands a plane that is falling out of the sky, and saves many (all?) of the passengers on board. It later comes to light that Washington’s character may have had alcohol in his system, which is a felony.
It’s getting some Oscar buzz, and that coupled with a recent episode of Grantland’s Hollywood Prospectus podcast had me thinking about Denzel’s filmography. I had planned to do my top 5 favorite Denzel movies, but when I realized how many of his films I hadn’t seen, I realized it was better to make a top 5 list of the movies of his I most egregiously haven’t seen. Here we go.
It would help if I clarified which of Denzel’s movies I have seen1, so that people can tell me if I screwed up this list. So here are the ones I have seen: Glory, Philadelphia, Crimson Tide, Courage Under Fire, He Got Game, The Siege, Remember the Titans, Training Day, John Q, Out of Time, American Gangster, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Book of Eli, Unstoppable.
5. Much Ado About Nothing
Probably the one I know the least about. Released in 1993, it was nominated for a Golden Globe and is based on the Shakespearian play of the same name. Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale and Keanu Reeves are listed on the cast as well. Plays based on Shakespeare, or other books, tend not to get talked about much after the fact. This movie is nearly 20 years old and I would expect that it takes a lot for this one to come up in a conversation unless you are talking specifically about Denzel’s career. On top of that, I would assume even in a discussion of his career, this one doesn’t come up all that often. Still, it seems like one of the more acclaimed movies of his I haven’t seen.
4. Inside Man
Released in 2006, one of Denzel’s several collaborations with Spike Lee. Also starred Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, both of whom I could take or leave. Apparently this has something to do with a bank robbery gone bad, which Denzel is then forced to talk down. Christopher Plummer and William Dafoe are listed in the cast, both pluses. Like many movies, it sounds like Denzel is playing a good guy, with some baggage who must overcome in order to succeed. This one sounds good.
3. Man on Fire
The late, great Tony Scott directed this 2004 action/thriller about a guy getting revenge on a gang that killed the family he was protecting. I actually thought this was a “buddy” movie with Denzel and Dakota Fanning, but maybe I was wrong. Marc Anthony, Christopher Walken, and Mickey Rourke are listed as part of the cast. Tony Scott’s movies are usually pretty exciting, and like Spike Lee, Scott and Denzel have worked together before. This seems like it has potential, and like Inside Man seems to include a guy who isn’t the perfect hero. This movie also seems to be on TV an awful lot, which is probably a good sign.
2. The Hurricane
Based on the true story of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was falsely imprisoned for murder. The rallying of fans who try to prove Carter’s innocence is the genesis for this one. It was released in 1999, and was one of the last movies directed by Norman Jewison, who I was not familiar with2. Jewison directed his share of hits and was nominated for three Best Director and four Best Picture Oscars, including In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof and Moonstruck. Liev Schreiber is one of the few names I at all recognize on the cast list. This movie is about racism in a dark and horrible time for this country, which surely can’t make it an easy watch. Denzel got nominated for Best Actor Oscar, losing to Kevin Spacey (American Beauty). This is the first movie on the list I am embarrassed for not seeing…it isn’t the last though.
1. Malcolm X
That honor, and the honor of the worst omission in my Denzel Washington viewing history, easily goes to Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic, Malcolm X. I can at least play the card “it’s on my DVR”, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Lots of recognizable names in this one, Angela Basset, Delroy Lindo and Theresa Randle. I don’t know as much about Malcolm X as I should, and there is really no reason for having missed this one. Like The Hurricane, it is also about racism and the evolution of such in the U.S.
Denzel was nominated for Best Actor, but lost out to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman. That is a another movie I haven’t seen, but Andy and Chris on the Hollywood Prospectus podcast mentioned this was more of a “make up” award for Pacino. I wasn’t aware of this, but Pacino had been nominated four times for Leading Actor (Serpico, The Godfather, Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, …And Justice for All), and three times for Supporting Actor (The Godfather, Dick Tracy and Glengarry Glen Ross), and lost all of them. He lost to a lot of legends over that time, and deserved to get one at some point, but everything I have heard points to Denzel being magnificent in this one.
How did I do?