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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top 10 Black Movies Of 2008? You Be The Judge...

Last year I put out a list of the 10 Worst Black Films Of 2007. I really wanted to do the 10 best, but couldn't think of 10. This year, sadly, is not much different, but I don't want to seem whiny about how much is so wrong and nothing is right about Black Cinema, as I am very optimistic about 2009. I've seen some things stray from the norm, "Medicine For Melancholy" and "I'm Through With White Girls" just to name two, and I believe it is the beginning of a positive trend.

So there is this guy Kam Williams that I never hear about except at the end of year where he gives his opinions on the year in Black film. Here are his views as he sees fit that I saw on The Obenson Report...what do you think?

Ten Best Black Feature Films:
1. The Secret Life of Bees
2. Cadillac Records
3. The Family That Preys
4. The Express
5. Miracle at St. Anna
6. Meet the Browns
7. Never Back Down
8. Seven Pounds
9. Soul Men
10. The Longshots

Best Independent Black Films
1. I’m Through with White Girls
2. How She Move
3. Ballast
4. All about Us
5. Blackout

Best Black Documentaries
1. The Souls of Black Girls
2. A Man Named Pearl
3. America the Beautiful
4. Meeting David Wilson
5. All of Us
6. Trouble the Water
7. One Bad Cat
8. The Dhamma Brothers
9. Very Young Girls
10. Disappearing Voices

Best Actor (Lead Role)
1. Rob Brown (The Express)
2. Evan Ross (Gardens of the Night)
3. Anthony Montgomery (I’m Through with White Girls) 4. Djimon Hounsou (Never Back Down) 5. Derek Luke (Miracle at St. Anna) 6. Bernie Mac (Soul Men) 7. Boris Kodjoe (All about Us) 8. Don Cheadle (Traitor) 9. Forest Whitaker (Ripple Effect) 10. Will Smith (Seven Pounds)

Best Actress (Supporting Role)
1. Alicia Keys (The Secret Life of Bees) 2. Taraji Henson (The Curious Life of Benjamin Button) 3. Viola Davis (Doubt & Nights in Rodanthe) 4. Beyonce’ (Cadillac Records) 5. Sharon Leal (Soul Men) 6. Tre’ Armstrong (How She Move) 7. Kellee Stewart (I’m Through with White Girls) 8. Jessica Lucas (Cloverfield) 9. Tasha Smith (The Longshots) 10. Gabrielle Union (Cadillac Records)

From IW: There is so much I could say about this, but it would make me weary. What is up with that top 10 list? Seriously, Boris Kodjoe as best actor of anything? In this lifetime? In this universe? Just wow. Best actress Beyonce? Gabrielle Union? Really, dude? I know our choices are limited, but Gawtdamn. I have a hard time taking his lists seriously, and I definitely don't want him speaking for our community. I have even spotted his same lists on a couple of YT blogs--they seem to feel as if he is speaking for all of us, and the comments are marveling in what "we" consider excellence.

Please. please, please, let me know your thoughts on these lists and let me know if I'm being too harsh.

Update: Got this in my inbox this morning...apparently Mr. Williams is one of those whom Googles himself daily. Maybe I would too, I dunno. Anyhoo, for those of you who were wondering who he is, here is the deal from the horse's mouth, as well as said horse letting me know about my very opinionated self, haha!

Dear Invisible Woman,

Thanks for posting my list on your blog.

As to who I am, here's a brief bio:

Voted Best Male Entertainment Journalist of the Decade by the Disilgold Soul Literary Review in 2006, Kam Williams is a syndicated film and book critic who writes for 100+ publications around the U.S. and Canada. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Online, the African-American Film Critics Association, the NAACP Image Awards Nominating Committee, and Rotten Tomatoes.

In addition to a BA in Black Studies from Cornell, he has an MA in English from Brown, an MBA from The Wharton School, and a JD from Boston University. Kam lives in Princeton, NJ with his wife and son.

I see about 500 films a year, as many as the handful of top black film critics who also see a large number. I might be the only one who puts out a top list of black movies in addition to a general top 10 list. I do not presume to speak for black people anymore than a white critic presumes to be speaking for anyone besides him or herself in putting out a list.



Anonymous said...

out of the few films i've seen on all of the list i'm not that pleased with my viewing experience. so i feel you. how she move was an attempt at the other point of view but i'm sorry i was tired of looking at close ups of homegirl.

cadillac records was my fav.

blah blah blah

uglyblackjohn said...

Miracle and Meet The Browns are the only truly Black films on the best-of list.
Of the two - I'm not a Tyler Pery fan and I have to watch a Spike movie at home where I can take my time and not be interupted.
Miracle - on the list
Browns - nope.

Anonymous said...

Who is this guy? Is he affiliated with a newspaper? Does he have a blog?

Urban Thought said...

I haven't seen many of these films so I couldn't give my opinion. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not. I'm in agreement with your take on certain people receiving "Best..." nods. This is, of course, based on what I've seen them do on screen.

Sergio said...

So basically he just lists every black film and black actor and actress who appeared in a movie and that's good enough to be in the top ten. It's like those crappy NAACP Image Awards. They give out an award to any black film or anybody who's black regardless how lousy it was.

And who is this Kam Williams? I've never heard of him before. Who does he write for and how come he's got freckles? Nothing creeps me more than black people with freckles!!!!!!!!!!!!

Invisible Woman said...

@MLM: blah, blah, blah...haha!

I can't believe I liked Cad. Records as much as I did.

@UBJ: I must admit, I am a bit dumbfounded about Meet The Browns as well.

@aulelia: check out my update; now we know.

@UT: I know what you mean--I haven't seen that Boris movie, but unless his acting style has changed very drastically, I think my thoughts would still stand.

@Sergio: umm...that was pretty random on the freckles--LOL!

As you can see, he is on the board for the NAACP Image Awards, so you get the clue of the day award, Sherlock :-) I am a bit surprised you're not familiar with him always seem to be in the know about such things.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ him writing out the brief bio in the 3rd person. That is not cool, mate.

and double LOL @ "I see about 500 films a year, as many as the handful of top black film critics who see a large number".
--Umm okay mate and....? It's quality, not quantity.

He's sounds quite up himself for some reason.

Qadree said...

I don't really like doing top lists, but I definitely would have included A Good Day to be Black and Sexy.

I haven't seen any of the Hollywood films he listed. I probably won't see any of them until winter is over.

I won't say that I didn't like Trouble the Water, but I wasn't impressed by it. People were talking about that film like it was the most amazing thing to come out about New Orleans after Katrina, but I just don't agree

All about Us was another film about making a film. Filmmakers seem to think that since the struggles they experience in getting a film made are so interesting to them that everyone else will will want to see it. This particular effort literally put me to sleep. You could tell there were a lot of personal moments they wanted to document and share with the world, but it just wasn't interesting to me.

For a long time I have been using terms like black cinema to describe certain films because it's the only point of reference many people have, but I growing quite weary of it. I've never believed in racial categorization as a whole, but lists like this display the futility of trying to define cinema or anything else using terms that have no real definition.

Tambay has talked about this a lot and I think it's valid to point out that many of the films on this list are the creative vision of someone who is not or African American. Does slapping a black cast onto the story make it black?

Kam's little note about being the only one who puts out a general top ten list and a black top ten to go with it is quite the symbol of our times. Assimilationist, yet separatist at the same time.

How can we preach about there being no such thing as separate, but equal, and at the same type promote separation with lists like this. I know it's probably not his intention to promote separation based on race, but that's the end result.

This way of thinking is actually more dangerous in my opinion because it skips the step of questioning, or acknowledging the separation and treats it as if it's just the natural way things should be. This naturally leads into the mindset of "Oh, this is their list, the black peoples list." It creates an assumption of validity that people don't bother questioning.

I have quite a few more issues with this list that would force me to address peculiar racial aspects of the civil rights movement among other things, but that would just take too much time and space to get into. It's a good topic for discussion though.

Sergio said...

@ Qaadee or anyone else

I don't do "top ten" lists either but I did write a "Sleeper Films of 2008 for Ebony magazine's website and I did put both Cadillac Records and A Good Day to be Black and Sexy on the list.

Check it out at:

boris said...

uuurgh still waiting to get St. Anna, Caddillac Records and the other stuff on DVD. i soo missed the St. Anna premier in London and i was furious, i sooo wanna meet Spike Lee. i may have 2 watch em online tho

i watched Seven Pounds last nite(well half of it lolz) and Will Smith gave an aaaawesome performance. especially the blind vegan scene, i was like "will you're sooo wrong". thought it would b higher on ur list :0(

im through with white girls looks funny haha. im giving my sistas more priority at the mo so im lookin forward 2 watchin it

i agree with ur actor lists too. Don was superb in Traitor. is Ripple Effect the one where Forest is in a wheel chair

and suprise suprise, a dance flick on ur list hahaha

clnmike said...

Got to say I am not feeling anything on that list except for Miracle at St. Anna everything else was suspect.
I do want to see the documentaries.

You should of dropped the worst movies list, believe me they need to hear it.

Invisible Woman said...

@aulelia: I see my UK comrade has my back (as usual) :-)

@Qadree: where ya been? co-sign wholeheartedly with most of what you're saying...I write about Black film cause there are about a billion blogs on non-Black film. I absolutely adore all types and genres of film, except for torture porn :-(

Black Cinema encompasses so much--I guess my blog (when you get literal about it) is about Black actors, directors, subject matter, and promising auteurs, loosely based under the umbrella of "Black Cinema".

I would have definitely without a doubt included A good Day To Be Black and Sexy and Medicine For Melancholy miles before Meet The Browns.

@Sergio: on my way to read your poat; might reprint it with your permission.

@boris: Honey, this is NOT my again, babe :-)

Invisible Woman said...

@clnmike: to be honest, Ms Invisible has end-of-the-year slackitis, haha. Plus I'm a little tired of talking about lousy Black film...I've seen so much of it this year :-(

uglyblackjohn said...

Is it hard to get a film amde?
I wrote a treatment for John Hughes when I was in high school. They sent over an option sheet.
I threw it in a shoe box and never responded. I used to get asked to come in for a test shoot all the time. I figured that they were just hard-up hustlers and just passed on the offers.
Is it skill or just luck?

Karen said...

You're not being too harsh, especially when films like Meet The Browns makes it on a Best of Anything list. I'm Tyler Perry fan but it was sad to see Angela Bassett's talent being wasted in a film full of bad acting and cliqued storylines.

But we must remember for every bad black film there are like 100 bad films in general. People of all ethnicities produce crappy films.

I'm glad there are filmmakers creating solid movies like Slumdog Millionaire, Rachel Getting Married and I'm Through With White Girls. Those are the kind of movies that should be celebrated.

Things like Jessica Lucas as Best Supporting Actress for Cloverfield is really grasping for straws. (No offensive to her though, she's a young actress who could be great. I enjoyed her in Edgemont, but Cloverfield, come on!)

tamara s brown said...

No Sophie Okenedo? Jessie in Cloverfield....*tries to remember her* Hmmm...

I think these lists comprise of not only talent, but sales and popularity and oh, if you were Black and a supporting this or that or lead actor or actress, then you automatically qualify. How critically do we take these lists? How serious, even? Judging from these features, there are only a handful of Black films being produced still...and more along the same type genres, etc. I am interested in all of the documentaries; will have to add to my queue. As for the independent features---am somewhat interested as well, but How She Move...should I? shouldn't I? LOL. I've bypassed it many a time at the rental store.

Qadree said...

Sergio, I tried to subscribe to the arts and culture RSS feed on the Ebony site a long time ago and it never worked. It looks like they've taken away the ability to subscribe to a particular category and the only option is to subscribe to the Ebony site as a whole. Most of the films you listed are films that I want to see, but haven't seen. I'll probably skip Valkyrie, I'm kind of tired of Nazi movies. Thanks for posting that link.

IW, I understand what your doing. Part of my feelings just come from my personality. Some people like to keep their options open and don't feel like definitive answers and closure are necessary to move forward. I'm at the other end of the spectrum. I ask myself what the goal is and everything I do has to fall in line with that or I feel like it's pointless.

Because of that I look at things like black cinema and I inevitably think about the purpose and goal of it. By having a separate category are we trying to create a permanent space where black film can exist on it's own? Is the goal to eventually merge what we now call black cinema in with all other forms of cinema so that the racial category is no longer needed?

The questions go on and on, but we can't really answer them without clearly defining black cinema and we can't define black cinema unless we can clearly define what we are referring to when we say black.

I don't believe my way of thinking is better, it's just the way that I think. It actually gets me in trouble a lot with people thinking I'm mean, rigid, etc.

I may disappear for a minute, but as long as your up and running I'll be around.

Anonymous said...

To me, Kam's list seems rather weak since, as Sergio pointed out, it seems like all he did was list every 2008 black film and any black actor who starred in something (movie, commercial, Google ad, you name it).

I haven't seen many of the films on his "Ten Best Black Features" list, but I can say that "Miracle At St. Anna" was a damn disappointment, unworthy of any "Best" list.

But "Cadillac Records" looks like it would make for a decent rental. "The Secret Life of Bees" looks a bit too saccharine for my taste, but I'll catch it when the DVD/Blu-Ray drops.

And has anyone seen "Ballast"? It hasn't played in my area, and I'm interested to know what anyone thinks of it.

Sergio said...

I saw Ballast and to go against the grain of all the praise it's been getting, I HATE THE FILM! In every review for the movie they always talk about the characters humanity and dignity. In other words it's a movie about beat down, po' black fo' suffering nobly while staring off into the landscape. It's the kind of movie that white liberals can watch while feeling sorry and superior at the same time towards the characters since they don't rage or rebel about their situation. They just suffer, suffer, suffer, but they suffer oh so nobly

I thought I was the only person who felt the same way until I read Armond White's review of the film in the New York Press and he felt exactly the same way I did, but says it much better

Anonymous said...

@ Sergio:

Yeouch! Well, I'll wait for the DVD release and see it for myself, albeit with much lowered expectations.

Invisible Woman said...

@ubj: in your case, very, very specifically, i would think it was huge luck through and through. we should all be so freakin' lucky... parlay that baby! in all other cases (at least almost all) yes, it's that hard

@solshine: you are always so sweet and optimistic---if you say i'm not harsh i know the lists were questionable...

nothing against the chick in cloverfield, but i agree, come on! i am seeing slumdog millionaire this weekend

@madame z: "No Sophie Okenedo?"


i really have to wonder what the motivations are, or what's going on behind the scenes when tyler perry movies are given exhalted acclaim, ya know?

@qadree: thanks--and i am always interested in how you think about obviously have a mind of great intelligence!

Invisible Woman said...

@v-knowledge: i haven't seen the secret life of bees, but i feel the same about it that you do. i've seen all of the others---which is why i find this list extremely questionable. it just seems kinda lazy, as you said just naming whatever is Black.

@sergio: i've heard so much about ballast, i don't know why i haven't seen it already. i will be on one of my mini movie marathons this weekend and will review it for the blog.

Qadree said...

Sergio, I have to disagree with your take on Ballast.

I've seen and heard a few people make similar comments and it seems like the comments are not really geared toward the film itself, but are more concerned with what a white person might see when they watch the film.

I could care less what a white liberal or any other type of white person thinks when it comes to what I like. If you dislike a film because you think it caters to white liberal ideas of blacks lets hope their tastes don't become to broad because their won't be many films left for you to like.

Every film can't be a Cosby show. I liked it for different reasons than most of the reviewers, but there seems to be a great deal of shame and worry about white people seeing black people in a certain way in the negative reviews I've seen. I used to get the same type of feedback from certain types of black people when I had dreads many years ago before they were cool in the workplace. They were embarrassed for me and some of them even confronted me about what white people might be thinking when they see my hair. Things have changed a bit, but I didn't care then and I don't care now.

Once you remove the constant worry over what white people are thinking there really isn't much left in the negative reviews?

This might come as a surprise to many black film critics and academics, but beat down, po' black fo' do not need to buried and forgotten or dressed up to look middle class in order for it to be positive.

I think there are many messages in the film that are very important. The importance of black people owning their own businesses, the importance of having a strong male in the family, and the overall importance of family.

Every character played an important part in the other characters lives and unlike the overwhelming majority of films like this there was no white hero to save the day. The story remained real by not solving all of their problems at the end, but you know they have overcome enough of the other problems to work out whatever is ahead, or maybe not. That's up to the viewer to think about, but you aren't left with a vision of some white hero swooping in and saving the day, if anything you get the idea that they will have to stick together and if they don't they won't make it. It's the truth and it needs to be told.

Sergio said...

I was expecting someone to come after me after my comments about Ballast. All's fair in love and war.

First of all, I couldn't give a rat's ass what white people think about us or how we're portrayed in the media nor do I expect or want every film to be a version of the Cosby Show (which in my opinion was the overrated show in TV history). But when it always comes to how poor rural black people are presented in movies (almost always by white filmmakers) it's always skewed and distorted. O.K. fine maybe I'm too "bougie", but the characters in Ballast were the some of the most annoying, sad sack, lifeless bunch of people I've seen a movie. And that's my opinion, regardless of what any white person, liberal or conservative, may think about them. I don't care what they think. All I'm concernced about is what I think and they got on my last nerve.

I remember many years ago when Sounder came out and everyone praised the film as if it was the Second Coming. But I read a piece by someone who actually grew up in the Mississippi Delta during the time when Sounder took place and he described how the film got literally everything wrong. It was a complete distrortion by white filmmakers who thought they knew how black people lived at the time. Granted, I know nothing about poor rural life, but Ballast (which was written and directed by a white guy who has a movie special effects background and who got the idea for the film while driving through the Soth once) rings hollow. The characters weren't real to me but but were architypes for the filmmaker to project his own attitudes about how he thinks their lives are led.

When I look at Charles Burnett's minimalist masterpiece Killer of Sheep, a relentingly bleak film about urban poverty I see a brilliant piece of filmmaking.. A film with no "happy" ending and as far from an uplifing "feel good" movie as you can imagine. I'm totally unconcerned that some people will see the film and be embarassed by it, that it shows the "negative" aspects of black life in America. I see a remarkable film about real people with hopes, dreams and bitter disappointments struggling just to make it day by day with no hope of a brighter outcome. It's a tough harsh film but very rewarding as well. It's a film that is without question one of greatest black films ever made. (and I'll put Super Fly on that list too) My problem with Ballast isn't about the chararcters or their wretched lives but because for me it was a badly made, badly written film

Qadree said...

If you have problems with the writing and directing then talk about the writing and directing. going on and on about what white people think when they see it tells me nothing about why the writing and directing, in and of itself, is of such low quality. I can't form any coherent picture of how you judge the writing and directing without filtering it through your concerns about white liberals.

How exactly is this film different from Killer of Sheep in terms of quality. Would you have a different opinion of Killer of Sheep if it was made by a white liberal?

Most of your arguments against this film can be used against Killer of Sheep. Many of the reviews I've read about Killer of Sheep that were written by white critics express the same sentiments that you believe white audiences feel when they watch Ballast. Can you be more specific about the ways in which the two films diverge from one another?

Ballast (which was written and directed by a white guy who has a movie special effects background and who got the idea for the film while driving through the Soth once)

From what I know about Ballast it was not originally supposed to be a film about a black family and it wasn't supposed to take place in the south.

I can't believe that you trumpet the virtues of good writing and follow that with the proclamation that Superfly is one of the greatest black films ever made. I like Superfly, but excellent writing? Come on now.

As an experienced film critic you should be able to articulate your views of a film with clarity, but there is very little criticism of the actual writing and directing in what you say. Even in your rebuttal you remain focused on what white people see and think.

po' black fo' suffering nobly while staring off into the landscape. They just suffer, suffer, suffer, but they suffer oh so nobly

Are you saying that black people don't suffer, shouldn't suffer, or that they shouldn't appear noble when they do?

It's the kind of movie that white liberals can watch while feeling sorry and superior at the same time towards the characters since they don't rage or rebel about their situation.

Rage? How will that solve any of the problems these characters face? The anger and frustration is there, but I guess it wasn't explosive enough for you.

The characters face problems in the beginning of the film that they no longer face at the end, how did this happen if they didn't rebel against their situation?

I remember many years ago when Sounder came out and everyone praised the film as if it was the Second Coming. But I read a piece by someone who actually grew up in the Mississippi Delta during the time when Sounder took place and he described how the film got literally everything wrong.

People say the same thing about Do the Right Thing, what's your point?

It still sounds like your worried about what white people think, trying to rationalize it doesn't change what it is.

Sergio said...

We'll have to continue this another time. Bit I still think the film is crap.

Invisible Woman said...

@sergio and quadree: a very interesting discussion! i planned on seeing it this past weekend, but didn't quite make it--i guess i know how i feel when i see it :-)

Shani15 said...

Gabrielle Union... number 10... alicia keys number 1... beyonce.... number 4.... hav we been watchin da same moveies or r u blind?... im sooooo stuck on alicia keys bein number 1 its makin my head hurt!!! it dont matter whether ur black white or purple u would b able to see that alicia keys isnt even CLOSE to gabrielle union!!!... wow wow wow

Mayo said...

Excellent list. Over 100 Black Movies! I want to add this list on my collection.

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