The late Fall/Early Winter film seasons offer a wide array of films that will make you laugh, cry, cring, sing, and more. Hopefully those emotions will be from a positive and not negative reaction to the performances and film direction. Here is our list of some Black film highlights for the remainder of 2013 with the latest Tyler Perry/Madea film curiously missing.
Go For Sisters
Written & Directed by John Sayles
With LisaGay Hamilton, Yolonda Ross, Edward James Olmos, Harold Perrineau and Isaiah Washington
Limited NYC release; opens November 15th in Los Angeles
The newest film from Academy Award nominee John Sayles marks his return to the American/Mexican border he reflected so well in Lone Star (1996) and the buried secrets its constant conflicts hide so well.
Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) and Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) grew up so close people said they could “go for sisters”, but time sent them down different paths. Twenty years later, those paths cross: Fontayne is a recovering addict fresh out of jail, and Bernice is her new parole officer. When Bernice’s son Rodney goes missing on the Mexican border, his shady associates all in hiding or brutally murdered, Bernice realizes she needs someone with the connections to navigate Rodney’s world without involving the police… and turns to her old friend. The pair enlist the services of disgraced ex-LAPD detective Freddy Suárez (Edward James Olmos) and plunge into the dim underbelly of Tijuana, forced to unravel a complex web of human traffickers, smugglers, and corrupt cops before Rodney meets the same fate as his partners.
First Impressions: Sayles is a master at writing and portraying complex relationships and is able to often bring the best work out of his actors. While some of his latest work felt off the beaten track, including the Danny Glover starring Honeydripper (2007), Sisters looks to be a return to the form that so many of his fans prefer; the crime drama angle as a way to explore Bernice and Fontayne’s broken relationship may well be a winner. And Edward James Olmos elevates most every project in which he appears. This is one to look forward to.
The Best Man Holiday
Written & directed by Malcolm D. Lee
With Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Harold Perrineau, Regina Hall, Monica Calhoun and Melissa De Sousa
When college friends reunite after 15 years over the Christmas holidays, they will discover just how easy it is for long-forgotten rivalries and romances to be ignited.
First Impressions: I don’t have a good feeling about this. The movie feels forced, and using the Christmas holiday format is emotionally manipulative. The Best Man was an original, cross-cultural hit because it was a sexy comedic drama with honest, familiar and funny characters coupled with a talented and ultimately high-profile cast. Holiday comes off like most reunions – something that too many people asked for and will most likely regret. It may well be entertaining, I certainly hope it is as I enjoy the continuous work of most of the cast, I just hope Lee and his actors are able to bring something fresh to the relationships.
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Mark Protosevich (The Cell, I Am Legend)
With Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olson, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Hannah Simone and Lance Reddick
An adaptation of the original manga, this film tells the story of an advertising executive (Brolin) who is inexplicably kidnapped and held captive for 20 years. When he’s unceremoniously released, he goes on an obsessive quest to find out who did this to him and why, enlisting the help of a young social worker (Olsen) before he eventually tracks down an enigmatic man who may have all the answers.
First impressions: Most of the people hyped to see this film are probably less familiar with the serialized Japanese manga series written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi and more familiar with Chan-Wook Park’s 2003 movie version Oldeuboi, a visual and story-telling masterpiece that made Park a crossover star director. Nonetheless, Lee’s adaptation looks to be just as thrilling, though perhaps less gritty, and the casting itself seems masterful. Sam Jackson seems to be as cameo compelling as usual, but I look forward to seeing what Lance Reddick, more known for his TV roles (Fringe, The Wire) will bring to the film.
If you’ve never seen the original, the ending will shock you. But frankly, I just want to see the action with that hammer. As much of an auteur that Lee is, his work-for-hire films like Inside Man (2006) are among his best technical work. Oldboy is the action thriller to look forward to this season.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons
With Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jacob Latimore, Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese Gibson, Nasir Jones, Mary J. Blige
In a contemporary adaptation of Langston Hughes’ celebrated play, the holiday musical drama Black Nativity follows Langston (Jacob Latimore), a street-wise teen from Baltimore raised by a single mother, as he journeys to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged relatives Reverend Cornell and Aretha Cobbs (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett). Unwilling to live by the imposing Reverend Cobbs’ rules, a frustrated Langston is determined to return home to his mother, Naima (Jennifer Hudson). Langston embarks on a surprising and inspirational journey and along with new friends, and a little divine intervention, he discovers the true meaning of faith, healing, and family.
First Impressions: If you like musicals, you’ll like this movie. And if you love gospel music, then you will definitely love this film. The acting from Whitaker and Bassett, which is always good, looks especially solid here, even though it is a bit odd to see them both playing grandparents. Jennifer Hudson, in her third film in as many months, here gets to spread her acting and singing skills to their award-winning limits audiences love her for. It may also be worth sitting through the film just to see rapper Nas, who seems out of place here, act in a starring role for the first time in over a decade.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
Directed by Justin Chadwick
With Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa and Terry Pheto
Idris Elba leads this film which chronicles Nelson Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Naomie Harris (Skyfall) co-stars as Mandela’s wife Winnie.
First Impressions: This film looks a lot more powerful and captivating than the Jennifer Hudson starring Winnie Mandela film released in September. No offense to J-Hud, but Noamie Harris will act her under the table on any given day. But its Elba’s Mandela that will sell this film to audiences that are looking for a deep and what I hope is mostly accurate biopic. The fear is that it will be as stale as most of the films in this genre, having little in the way of storytelling structure.
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Executive Produced by Joakim Noah
In 2001, Lenny Cooke was the most hyped high school basketball player in the country, ranked above future greats LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. A decade later, Lenny has never played a minute in the NBA. This quintessentially American documentary tracks the unfulfilled destiny of a man for whom superstardom was only just out of reach.
First Impressions: I won’t say too much here as we have a full review coming up in a month, but I will share that this film is not told in a way one would expect, which on its own makes it appealing. Even more than the trailer allows, there is a lot be said in this film about fate, celebrity, and the expectations grown people put on child athletes, putting it very much in line with its oft compared film, the modern classic documentary Hoop Dreams (1994).