Category Archives: Lists

My Best of 2015 (And a Few I Saw So You Don’t Have To)

My best of 2015!!! On the last #CinNoir chat of 2015, my co-hosts and I listed our favorite films of the year.  In case you missed it, check it our here.

Here are my choices for the best of 2015:

  1. Advantageous

Best of 2015Hands down, one of the best of 2015. Great story, talented cast, people of color portrayed in the future; this sci-fi indie flick is awesome on many levels.Side note: We chatted with director Jennifer Phang this year. See what she said about the film here.

2.  Ayanda

Best f 2015

A vibrant coming of age story set in South Africa. Filmmaker Sara Blecher shows a side of South Africa that Americans rarely get to see on the big screen.

3.  A Ballerina’s Tale

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One of my favorite documentaries of the year.  The film follows the amazing career of ballerina Misty Copeland. Four reasons you NEED to see it here.

4. Brotherly Love

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A Romeo and Julietesque love story/crime drama.  The film is actor Cory Hardict’s best work in my opinion. Brotherly Love is suspenseful and has a great plot twist at the end. My #CinNoir review here.

5. Creed 

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The latest installment in the Rocky franchise, Creed is the boxing film for people who don’t like boxing films and for those who love them. The film boasts amazing performances from Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone and Tess Thompson.

6. Dope

Dope-movie-poster (1)Dope is a fresh look at the lives of  three black geeks who find themselves in a sticky situation when they are forced to become drug dealers. I love the film because of it’s exploration of the black nerd, a side of our culture we rarely get to see in the big screen. You can hear my #CinNoir review here.

7. Lila and Eve

Lila-and-Eve-MovieI had some reservations about this one but was pleasantly surprised. And the plot twist in the second half really elevated the film beyond my initial Lifetime movie label. Viola was great in the film and this is my favorite JLo performance in years.

8. Room 

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Rarely is the film adaptation of a story as good as the book.  But this is one of those exceptions. Brie Larson’s performance is pitch perfect.

9. Straight Outta Compton

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One of the top grossing films of the year, it chronicled the history of one of rap’s greatest groups. And despite a few flaws, the cast delivered amazing performances.

10. What Happened, Miss Simone

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My other favorite documentary of the year.  The film is great because it shows the trials and tribulations behind Nina’s genius.

Last, and MOST certainly, the least.  Here are my picks for the worst of 2015:

Paul Blart Mall Cop II – Self explanatory

Get Hard – Will Ferrel and Kevin Hart…what could go wrong? Everything.

The Man in Apartment 3 B – Think BET Arabesque film. Yep. For real.

Blackbird – I wanted to like this film. But it fell flat.

What films are on your best of list for 2015? Worst?

Cinema in Noir – The Best Films of 2013 (ICYMI)

As 2013 rapidly comes to an end, many will be recapping their favorite films of the year. On the latest edition of Cinema in Noir, we added our top picks to the growing “Best of” lists. There are some films that will come as no surprise (like 12 Years a Slave and Fruitvale Station) but also some films that you may not expect (like the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom and the biopic 42).

RA 20 Feet

We were joined by Fariha Roisin of the Two Brown Girls podcast and Whitney Greer of The Cinefille.com. I for one added several films to my “must watch” list after hearing these women’s diverse selections for the Best of 2013.  And we could not resist mentioning a few of our least favorites of the year.

LISTEN HERE:

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15 Essential Womanist Films You Need to See

Earlier this month, I was inspired by a conversation on my podcast, Cinema in Noir  to outline Six Characteristics of a Womanist Film. Since then, I have started a list of the womanist (and a few feminist) films that I think are essential viewing.  Here are the first 15 films.

1. Imitation of Life (1934) – Directed by John M. Stahl and Written by William Hurlbut

A Imitation

In my opinion, this adaptation of the novel is far better than the 1954 version.  In this version, Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers star as single mothers who become business owners while trying to raise their children.

2. Claudine (1974) – Directed by John Berry and Written by Lester and Tina Pine

A Claudine

Diahann Carroll stars as Claudine,  a single mother who struggles to keep her family afloat.  Despite the difficulties she faces, she refuses to become a statistic or a victim.

3. Nuts (1987) – Directed  by Martin Ritt and Written by Tom Topor

A Nuts

 

After a violent encounter with a client, high end call girl Claudia, played by Barbra Streisand, fights for her right to stand trial after her parents try to have her declared insane.

4.  The Joy Luck Club (1993) – Directed by Wayne Wang and Written by Amy Tan

A Joy

Four Chinese American women explore the pasts of their mothers who were all born in China. While learning more about their mothers they are able to better understand them and the complicated relationships they have.

5. I Like It Like That (1994) – Directed and Written by Darnell Martin

A Like

Lauren Velez shines as a wife and mother who has to learn to support her family when her husband goes away

6. The Incredibly True Story of Two Girls in Love (1995) – Directed and Written by Maria Maggenti

A Incred

A love story between two young women of different social and economic backgrounds who find themselves going through all the typical struggles of  young love.

7. Eve’s Bayou (1997) – Directed and Written by Kasi Lemmons

A Eves

A beautiful film that explores love, lies, and the effects that secrets can have on a family.  This film boasts amazing performances from Jurnee Smollett and Meagan Good.

8. Chutney Popcorn (1999) – Directed and Written by Nisha Ganatra

A Chutney

Lisette offers to help her sister who is suffering from issues with infertility. This decision causes some problems for her and her girlfriend.

9. Saving Face (2004) – Directed and Written by Alice Wu

A Saving

A Chinese American daughter and her very traditional mother are both hiding secrets from each other.

10. American Violet (2008) – Directed by Tim Disney and Written by Bill Haney

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Nicole Beharie stars as Regina Kelly, a woman who takes a stand against a corrupt system that threatens to send her to prison for 25 years over a bogus drug charge.

11. Mother and Child (2009) – Directed and Written by Rodrigo Garcia

A Mother

This film centers around three women in different stages in life: a woman, the daughter she gave up for adoption, and another woman looking to adopt. Amazing performances all around.

12. Gun Hill Road (2011) – Directed and Written by Rashaad Ernesto Green

A Gun Hill

A young boy who is in the midst of  a sexual transformation has his life abruptly interrupted when his father returns home after a stint in prison.

13. Pariah (2011) – Directed and Written by Dee Rees

A Pariah

A young woman is exploring her sexuality while juggling the expectations of her family.

14. Middle of Nowhere 2012) – Directed and Written by Ava Duvernay

A Middle

The amazing Emayatzy Corinealdi plays a woman in limbo as she tries to live her life while her husband is away in prison

15. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (2012) – Directed by Shola Lynch

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This documentary examines the trial of Angela Davis and the media circus that surrounded her case.

 

Six Characteristics of a Womanist Film

During the latest Cinema in Noir Google Hangout, my cohosts and I discussed what makes a feminist film and how women of color fit into the discussion.  When trying to define what a feminist film looks like, every person has a different take on the idea. Even between me and my co-hosts, we each had three different definitions (although there were some overlapping points).

Womanism

I have been thinking about the topic all week and have decided to outline some of my characteristics of a feminist film.  As I began to map out my ideas and the feminist films that most struck a chord with me, I determined that my characteristics were more womanist than feminist.  In her seminal text In Search of Our Mothers Gardens, Alice Walker describes a womanist as

  • A black feminist or feminist of color
  • A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility, and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.  Traditionally universalist.

I definitely identify myself as a womanist. I first started this blog because I wanted to pay homage to women of color in film and television. I love television and movies, but felt like women who look like me and my friends are often ignored and overlooked.  This blog seeks to uplift and support those women.

So here is my personal list of the most important characteristics of a feminist or womanist film.  And just to be clear, not every feminist or womanist film has every characteristic but I think if they adhere to one or more, they qualify.

  1. A film that features a self-identified woman in the lead or co-lead role.
  2. A film that explores the interior lives of women. By exploring the everyday mundane moments as well as the larger milestones.
  3. A film that uses the female characters as instruments of change in the story rather than relegate them to supporting, undeveloped background characters.
  4. A film that addresses concern for the female character’s family (biological or chosen) as it pertains to the narrative, acknowledging the significance of inclusion in the lives of women.
  5. A film that calls for a change in the status of women
  6. A film that addresses themes have and/or continue to affect all women sexism, racism, discrimination and issues such as equal economic rights,  reproductive rights, women’s suffrage etc.

What is your definition of a feminist or womanist film?

Women of the World: Six Great Performances by Non American Actresses

 

As part of the celebration of  International Women Day and Women’s History month, I wanted to highlight some non-American actresses whose work I admire.  Here are a few of my faves, as discussed on Cinema in Noir.

Kajol as “Maya” in We Are Family

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 We Are Family is the Hindi film version of the film Stepmom.  Kajol gives an emotionally charged performance as a woman coming to grips the knowledge that her life is ending.

 

 Aishwarya Rai as “Lalita” in Bride and Prejudice

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I love a good musical and Bride and Prejudice does not disappoint.  Aishwarya gives a dazzling performance in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

 

 Sky Nicole Grey as “Trini” in Restless City

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The multi-hyphenate Sky (actress, model, singer) caught my attention with her role as Trini in Restless City. Sky takes the proverbial “hooker with a heart of gold” role and elevates it with a performance that is subtle, yet powerful.

 

Samantha Barks as “Eponine” in Les Miserables

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A native of The Isle of Man, Samantha gave an amazing and underrated performance in the 2012 blockbuster musical, Les Miserables.  Her performance of “On My Own” was heartbreaking and breath taking all at the same time.

 

Sophie Okonedo as  “Sandra” in Skin

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Born in London, Sophie first gained attention for her role in Hotel Rwanda.  But for me, her powerful performance as Sandra, a woman defined solely by the color of her Skin  is where she truly shines as a major talent.

 

Stephanie Sigman as “Laura” in Miss Bala

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This Mexican beauty gives a masterful performance in her first major feature film role as a young woman forced to be a drug mule. Stephanie is captivating in the role.

 

Who are some of your favorite non-American actresses?

Women’s Herstory: Eight Historic Black Women in Film

March 8th is a day of celebration.  All across the world, this day is heralded as International Women’s Day.  To honor this day (as well as Women’s Herstory Month), I am highlighting eight historic black women in the  film.

Madame Sul-Te-Wan 

Madame Sul Te Wan 3

Madame Sul-Te-Wan worked in Hollywood for over 50 years, but very few people know of her name or her extensive body of work. Born Nellie Crawford in 1873 to freed slaves, Madame began acting at a theatre company in Cincinnati. After arriving in Hollywood, she soon adopted the name Madame Sul-Te-Wan and approached DW Griffith about appearing in his film Birth of Nation. The two developed a friendship that would last until his death.  Throughout her career, Madame appeared in over 50 film and television productions, though many were uncredited.

 

Maria P. Williams

RA MAria P. WIlliams

Maria P. Williams is believed to be the first African-American female film producer.  There is very little information out there about Maria or her film.  What we do know is that Maria’s film Flames of Wrath was released in 1923. Along with her husband Jesse, she owned the Western Film Producing Company and Booking Exchange.

 

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel is the first African-American woman to win an Academy Award.  In 1939 she won for her performance as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. Throughout her career she faced criticism for portraying roles that some believed furthered the established stereotypes of black people to which she famously responded:  “I’d rather make $700 a week playing a maid than earn $7 a day being a maid.”

 

Euzhan Palcy

PHOTO Euzhan Palcy

Euzhan Palcy has the distinction of being the first black female director to have a film produced by a major Hollywood Studio.  In 1989 her film A Dry White Season, starring the legendary Marlon Brando was produced by MGM studios. Born in Martinique, Euzhan studied at the Sorbonne and was handpicked by Robert Redford to participate in the 1984 Sundance Director’s Lab. Euzhan was also the first black woman to win a Cesar Award (the French equivalent to the Academy Awards in the US) for best first feature film for her film  Sugar Cane Alley.

 

Darnell Martin

RS Darnell Martin

Darnell Martin is the first African-American woman to write and direct a feature film for a major Hollywood studio.  In 1994 Columbia Pictures released I Like It Like That, starring Lauren Velez, Lisa Vidal, and Rita Moreno. The film was a critical success and solidified Darnell as a director with talent and finesse.

 

Halle Berry

It's Oscar Night!!

Halle Berry is the first African-American woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.  She was awarded in 2002 for her role in the film Monster’s Ball. In her famously emotional acceptance speech, Halle paid homage to the black actresses that paved the way for her win, including her idol Dorothy Dandridge. In 1999 Halle portrayed Dandridge in the HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.  For her role she was awarded the Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

 

Debra Chase

Debra Martin Chase

Debra Chase is the first African-American woman to have a solo producing deal with a major studio. She ran both Denzel Washington’s and Whitney Houston’s production companies before forming her own, Martin Chase Productions in 2000. Debra’s producing credits include Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Just Wright, and Sparkle (2012).

 

Ava DuVernay

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Ava DuVernay founded AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. AFFRM is a film distribution model that works with film festival organizations to orchestrate theatrical releases for two independent films a year. AFFRMs first release, the critically acclaimed I Will Follow, was written and directed by Ava.  In 2012 she made history when she became the first African-American woman to win the Best US Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival.  She received the award for her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere.

What other historic women in film will you celebrate?

Happy Birthday S. Epatha Merkerson!

Today S. Epatha Merkerson celebrates her 60th birthday.

The actress, who has conquered the stage, television, and big screen has so many memorable roles.  In honor of her birthday and her six decades of life,  I decided to highlight six of my favorite S. Epatha roles, big and small.

 1. Reba the Mail Lady – Pee Wee’s Playhouse

Every child of the 80’s and fan of Pee Wee fan alike remembers Epatha as Reba, the mail lady in the belovedly wacky show.

Check her out:

2. Lt. Anita Van Buren – Law and Order

No doubt her most recognizable role, Epatha played Anita Van Buren for over 16 years and over 300 episodes making her the longest-running African-American character on television, male or female.  Epatha played the tough but fair lieutenant with perfection.

Here Epatha discusses the iconic role:

  3. Maggie – Radio

In Radio Epatha gives a solid perfomance as the tireless mother of Radio, a special needs son who finds his voice on a high school football team.

4. Ms. Rachel ‘Nanny’ Crosby – Lackawanna Blues

Epatha gives an amazing lead performance in the HBO film Lackawanna Blues.  As the matriarch of a boarding house for wayward folks, Epatha earned numerous awards for her performance including an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

5. Host – Find Our Missing

Epatha’s latest TV role is not one of the amazing characters that she transforms in to but rather as a real life agent of change. As the host of TVOne’s Find Our Missing, Epatha lends her talents to the underexposed plight of the black and brown women, men, and children who have gone missing in the US with little or no national attention.

Check out the show’s promo from earlier this year:

6. Lydia Smith – Lincoln

Epatha’s role in Lincoln is very small.  But she ultimately serves as the inspiration behind one of the main character’s passion for reform.  And although the character is on screen for less than five minutes, as usual, Epatha gives her all in role.

What is your favorite S. Epatha Merkerson role?

My Favorite Whoopi Goldberg Performances

Happy Birthday Whoopi!!!

Whoopi Goldberg has always been a favorite of mine. She is one of those unique and talented women who can traverse between comedy and drama with ease. Whoopi has unbelievable range and over the course of her career, she has played many diverse and varied roles. Many will cite her award winning role of Oda Mae Brown in Ghost among their favorite Whoopi Goldberg role. And while the acclaim she has received for the role is deserved (she was only the second African-American actress to win an Academy Award for the role), the following are the roles and movies that made my personal list of favorites.

Celie, The Color Purple:

Who doesn’t love The Color Purple? Whenever it comes on TV, everyone I know stops what they are doing to watch. It is one of the most beloved and oft quoted movies ever.  And Whoopi’s performance as Celie is one of the best debut performances in cinematic history.

 

Clara Mayfield, Clara’s Heart:

I think this is the first Whoopi movie I ever saw (I watched The Color Purple much later). I remember being very impressed by Whoopi . Before Clara’s Heart, I only recognized Whoopi as a comedienne. This film changed my perception of Whoopi, the actress.

 

Rose Schwartz, Soapdish:

I love soap operas.  So a film about a  soap opera can do no wrong in my book.  And Soapdish is everything I wanted it to be.   The film boasts an amazing ensemble cast that is bolstered by the comedic chemistry between Whoopi and Sally Field.

 

Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence, Sister Act 2:

I think I am one of the few people who enjoyed the sequel more than the original.  But how could you not? I am a sucker for a good musical and the music in the film is awesome.

 

Shenzi, The Lion King:

I love The Lion King.  And Whoopi’s performance as Shenzi, one of the hyenas is a big reason why. She provided some of the more memorable (and quotable) lines in the film.  I had the opportunity to revisit the movie when it was re-released in 3D this year, and it was just a great the second time around.

 

Edwina Franklin, Eddie:

No one ever talks about Eddie, but I think it’s a really funny movie.  Whoopi is believable as the Knock fanatic turned honorary coach turned head coach. I also have fond memories of the movie because parts of it were filmed in Charlotte, and I am one of the thousands in the stands during one of the basketball games :-).

 

Valerie Owens, Girl Interrupted:

Angelina gets all the praise for her role in the film, but I think Whoopi’s performance is also impressive.  Portraying a nurse at a mental facility, Whoopi exudes both caring concern and understated fierceness.

What is your favorite Whoopi Goldberg performance?

Four Reasons You NEED To See Middle of Nowhere

Yesterday,  I went to go see Middle of Nowhere for the second time in four days.  The first time I saw it, I enjoyed it.  But I wanted to watch it again, to pin point why I found it so appealing.  I have literally been waiting to see this film since writer and director Ava DuVernay announced that the project was happening.  I absolutely loved her first feature film, I Will Follow and became an instant fan.  So, I wanted to see Middle of Nowhere again to make sure that I wasn’t caught up in my own excitement. And I have to say that I enjoyed it more the second time than the first. Here are my top four reasons that you need to see Middle of Nowhere.

1. A Star is Born

Emayatzy Corinealdi completely shines as Ruby, a woman who puts her dreams on hold to support her husband who is incarcerated. Her performance is moving, understated, but extremely powerful.  Emayatzy has the most expressive and soulful eyes. In one scene in particular, her character is forced to ask her mother for help.  In that moment, the independent and determined Ruby morphs into a 12 year old child, and it’s all in the eyes.  It’s heartbreaking to watch. I guarantee that Emayatzy Corinealdi is a name that you will be hearing or years to come.

2. The Family Drama

The supporting cast in Middle of Nowhere is amazing. The always awesome Lorraine Toussaint plays the role of Ruth.  Her character is a single mother who does not want her now grown daughters repeating her mistakes.  I am a long-time fan of Lorraine, but Middle of Nowhere marks my first time seeing her on the big screen. Along with Edwina Findley, who plays sister Rosie,  the two women round out Ruby’s immediate family. What I love most about these three characters is the immediate connection I felt to them as a family. First of all, they look like they could be related in real life, which adds to their credibility.  But more importantly, the chemistry between these three women is palpable.  The scenes between Emayatzy and Edwina are filled with playful and supportive energy, like real sisters. And in every scene that features Lorraine, there is an immediate tension and a subtext of disappointment that simmers just below the surface, threatening to implode.  And at the the appointed time, a significant scene in the final act of the movie, when these feeling come to the surface, the result is nothing short of cinematic perfection. The scene is superbly well-acted, and lingers with you even after the credits roll.

3. The Subtle Core

Earlier this year, Karen Gilmore, Editor-in-Chief of Reel Artsy outlined what she calls the subtle core movement in black film.  According to Karen:

In the Subtle Core tone is key. These films ask hard questions. They’re character driven and invoke a sense of emotion, revealing unexplored spheres of black life. Sometimes they’re funny. But at their core, they reach for the dramatic moments. I like to think of them as descendents of French New Wave, in an offbeat modernized hybrid way.

In my opinion, Middle of Nowhere is an extension of the subtle core movement, and Ava DuVernay is leading the charge. I love how Ava celebrates the quiet, simple moments in the lives of black women.   Ava’s attention to detail is impeccable.  Acts as simple as applying lotion after a shower or wrapping one’s hair before bed add another layer of reality to a story that already resonates with the black female audience. The writing and direction in Middle of Nowhere is beyond deserving of all the accolades it has received.

4. Because Oprah Said So:

Okay not really because Oprah said so,  BUT it is pretty cool that she tweeted her support for Ava and for the film.  And she is not the only one.  Other well-known folks such as writers Tananarive Due (one of my faves) and Terry McMillan have also shown their support for the film as well.

If you have not seen Middle of Nowhere yet, check out the trailer below:

Middle of Nowhere opened October 12 in limited release with new cities being added weekly.  For more information on expansion cities, ticket information, and lots of other great content, check out AFFRM.com.

 

 

 

Cinema in Noir – A Celebration of Female Friendship

In honor of Women’s History Month, on this week’s episode on “Cinema In Noir” my co-hosts and I discussed our favorite films that highlight positive relationships between women.

Here are a few of my picks:

 Clueless (1995)

In 1995, Cher, Dionne, and Tai were the crew I most wanted to be down with.  I wanted to be rollin’ with the homies and hang out at parties in the valley. The girls of Clueless, played by Alicia Silverstone, an ageless Stacey Dash, and the late Brittany Murphy, were the epitome of cool to my 15 year old self. Despite the flightiness and superficiality of high-school, the friendship between the three girls was real. Forget Josh, Dionne is Cher’s true soul mate.

 Our Song (2000)

Lanisha, Maria, and Joycelyn are three friends who share a love for music. It is through them playing in the community band and their friendship with each other that they are able to traverse the very real personal issues they are facing. The friendship between the girls is not perfect.  But that is what makes it so real.  The relationship is evidence that through good and bad, true friendship endures. Also, the movie marks the feature film debut of a young Kerry Washington.

Deliver Us From Eva (2003)

Technically Eva, Kareenah, Bethany and Jacqui are sisters (played by Gabrielle Union, Essence Atkins, Robinne Lee, and Meagan Good, respectively).  But one of the recurring themes in the movie is how much Eva wants her sister’s friendship and how she values that almost over love. The Dandridge sisters are the best of friends, much to the chagrin of their husbands and boyfriends.  They have special codes that refer to specific situations and they even share a special song.  And for me, a girl who doesn’t have sisters but always wanted them, I really love the dynamic between the women.  They love, support, and respect each other unconditionally.

What are your favorite films that feature friendship between women?

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