best film:  Malcolm X is a masterpiece. It’s different than David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia in some ways (lush 70mm exteriors, how much of the life is covered) but similar in others (aggressively stylistic from the auteur, tour-de-force from the lead). It’s Spike’s second best film (Do the Right Thing) and I’m pretty sure it’s the best film of 1992 but I oscillate between this and Unforgiven. Denzel’s second best film is either Philadelphia or He Got Game—I’ll get back to this in a second but this isn’t overwhelming for an actor this great so it’s crucial to Washington’s case that he has Malcolm X.

best performance:  Malcolm X. There’s no debate here either. Denzel’s portrayal of Malcolm X is multiple performances in the same movie as it covers so many years in his life and different stages (criminal, prison, activist/leader). There’s plenty of debate to be had for Denzel’s second best performance or third best performance but this one is a walk-off. Strictly on the male side Hopkins gives a great performances in Silence of the Lambs, Pesci and Liotta in Goodfellas, and a few others—but I think you can make a strong case that Denzel gives the best male performance of the 1990’s.

stylistic innovations/traits:  Denzel is an immensely talented actor. He has 17 movies in the archives, two Oscar wins and a total of 8 nominations. Occasionally he can slip inside a character (Cry Freedom) but by and large he’s a big figure with a commanding presence that doesn’t need range. His strengths are his work with Spike Lee and the depth of the solid tier 3 and 4 performances (Crimson Tide, Devil in a Blue Dress, Flight). His weakness is the quality of films (similar to some issues with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole earlier on this list). He’s a solo artist and there’s one film, ONE, that has made the top 10 of its respective year. I feel like outside of his top two films with Spike and Philadelphia (which is all Hanks) mainly you can sum up the others by saying “he’s great but the overall film is just ________ (“good” or “so-so”).

directors worked with:   Spike Lee (3) and this partnership is key, Norman Jewison (2), Demme (2), Edward Zwick (2) and then once with Ridley Scott and Robert Zemeckis

Top 5 Performances:

  1. Malcolm X
  2. He Got Game
  3. Glory
  4. Training Day
  5. American Gangster


Archiveable films

1984- A Soldier’s Story
1987- Cry Freedom
1989- Glory
1992- Malcolm X
1993- Much Ado About Nothing
1993- Philadelphia
1995- Crimson Tide
1995- Devil In a Blue Dress
1996- Courage Under Fire
1998- He Got Game
1999- The Hurricane
2001- Training Day
2004- The Manchurian Candidate
2006- Inside Man
2007- American Gangster
2010- Unstoppable
2012- Flight