Pssst, want to check out Malcolm X in our new look?
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A criminally unappreciated film at the time of it's release (only two Oscar nominations, seriously?) and still today. Incredibly powerful film that stands both as a perfect biopic and a remarkable message of understanding.
Also this film is proof the Academy is completely inept in what they are doing. How Denzel didn't win for this layered smart performance but did win for his ludicrously showy role in Training Day shows how idiotic they are in judging acting talent.
While I've often said biopics weren't my thing, Spike Lee's rousing Malcolm X has just enough of the mythical, and such a great central performance, that I can't help but love it. In a way, Lee plays it as an American gangster film. A natural born leader, "Red" Little gets into the Harlem rackets and eventually gets too big for his britches, and so we have the quite familiar rise and fall of the gangster, with lavish dance numbers in the middle, right out of Scorsese. But that's just act one. And if that rise, betrayal and fall play out in the political and religious sphere later, we nevertheless have the sense that Lee has co-opted an American movie trope to tell a different story, a Messianic one with Malcolm X a polarizing figure to be martyred, with his former church playing the part of the Jews who allegedly sold out Jesus and White America as the Roman Empire. Malcolm X is his own message, so in elevating one, Lee elevates both, and while you could claim he spends too much time on his early, criminal life, I dare say it's all of a piece. Starved of opportunity, ambitious black men took what they could, even if it was under the table, and Malcolm X lived it so he could later identify and reject it. Those uncomfortable with the extremity of his arguments (and Lee's) should check their privilege at the door, and recognize that the film is tracking the evolution of a man's thought as much as the biographical details of his life, and that extremity has value, and the pendulum will swing back from it. A powerful lesson in questioning so-called truisms handed down by the founders of our society (what is has to say on language alone is worth the price of admission).
Tbh, Denzel should have won for this.
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In 5 official lists
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This movie ranks #26 in Slate's The Black Film Canon
This movie ranks #52 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films: 1001-2000
This movie ranks #519 in The New York Times's Book of Movies
This movie ranks #569 in Library of Congress's National Film Registry
This movie ranks #932 in David Thomson's Have You Seen?