Tim Gordon of FilmGordon.com has been reviewing movies for 22 years so he’s seen a LOT of movies so you don’t have to. We caught up to this film expert to find out what he liked among this year’s Black film releases. Here’s his list of the best Black movies of the year and as an added bonus, we asked him what his top 5 were overall.
1. SELMA – Written by Paul Webb, Directed by Ava Duvernay, starring David Oyewolo, Carmen Ejogo and Tessa Thompson
“I try to dial down my expectations when I’m really anticipating a movie,” Gordon says. “I came in with high expectations and Selma exceeded my expectations. The story is narrow but it feels big. It’s shot by the same cinematographer who shot her other three films and it looks great. Selma is a fantastic movie. Ava Duvernay has delivered a top 5 movie of the year, easily.”
2. TOP FIVE – Written and Directed by Chris Rock, Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union “This movie is sooo New York and as a guy who grew up in New Jersey, I get the humor. Rosario Dawson is journalist who hangs out with Chris Rock for a day to write a piece for the New York Times. The joy of the movie is in all the places and the experiences that they have over that day. If not for Selma, this is my top movie of the year. I’m just worried that there are people [outside of NYC] that that humor may not work for.”
3. BEYOND THE LIGHTS – Written and Directed by Gina Prince Bythewood, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver and Danny Glover
“It opened between Interstellar and The Hunger Games. I think that Relativity, who released the movie, kind of slotted it in between because it was a change of pace. I think this movie is fantastic. It reminds me of Nicholas Sparks and all these syrupy movies, but much better. Prince-Bythewood is a master director who knows how to get the most out of a story. On the surface it looks like something that’s totally dismissible, but once you watch it you appreciate the great leading and secondary performances. It’s more than solid and worth seeing.”
4. BELLE – Written by Misan Sagay, Directed by Amma Asante Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Matthew Goode and Tom Wilkinson
“If they would have switched Beyond the Lights to May and put Belle in November, it would be in the Oscar race right now. Gugu was amazing in Belle, but in both of these performances, she was fantastic. You don’t get a lot of Black period movies that aren’t about slavery. I loved the story and all the nuances Mbatha-Raw put into it. Belle was fantastic. It’s a grownup movie.
5. DEAR WHITE PEOPLE – Written and Directed by Justin Simien, Starring Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Dennis Haysbert
“This generation’s School Daze. A biting satire. Tessa Thompson is easily the best thing in that move. She’s an amazing talent. The movie has a lot of stuff going on and has a lot to say. People want things to explode and people want things they can react to. I think there are more things that work in this movie that don’t and first-time director Simien got a lot of of his cast.
6. KEEP ON KEEPING ON – Written by David Coombe and Alan Hicks, Directed by Alan Hicks, starring Clark Terry and Justin Kauflin
“This documentary was produced by Quincy Jones about trumpeter Clark Terry. He’s 93, still alive, Quincy Jones and Miles Davis were among his early pupils. Terry has taught over 100 musicians. The genius of this documentary is that Terry’s latest protégé is a 16-year-old blind piano player, Justin Kauflin, who Quincy loves so much he signs him and takes him on tour.”
7. TIME IS ILLMATIC – Directed by One9, Written by Erik Parker, Starring Nas
“ I love Nas. And I love this movie. It not only details the process of the making album but the conditions that produced the album. I really dug that documentary. As far as hip-hop documentaries go, among the top five with Jay-Z’s masterpiece Fade To Black and a Tribe Called Quest’s Beats Rhymes and Life doc.”
8. I AM ALI –Written and Directed by Clare Lewins, Starring Muhammad Ali
“This is the third documentary on Ali. What’s really interesting about this one is that this is not particularly about any one period in Ali’s life. This is about his whole life. Since he can’t really communicate and speak anymore, he had the foresight to record over 500 hours of audio for his children. I don’t know if he anticipated his current condition but it’s amazing. It’s a wonderfully edited, beautifully told portrait of a man that we don’t get to hear anymore. In this doc, we do that we get to hear the voice of the Ali we remember. It has stuck with me ever since.”
9. ABOUT LAST NIGHT – Directed by Steve Pink, Written By Leslye Headland Starring Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant and Michael Ealy
“The black remake of the ’86 film I always slam Kevin Hart because he does the same thing in every movie, but I think its probably his best work. This movie doesn’t work if Hart and Hall don’t bring the chemistry. It was one of the nice movies that came along early this year. While I don’t think it’s a super movie, it’s a very entertaining movie that I would watch over and over again.
10. GET ON UP – Directed by Tate Taylor, Written by Jez Butterwoth and John-Henry Butterworth
“ When the actor is better than the movie you get a situation like Get On Up. You can find no better example of that Chadwick Boseman. If they had maintain the note of the first scene, it would have been a great movie but it was a letdown from there. The acting is pretty good. Chadwick just needed a better screenplay. Just like Idris Elba with Mandela If you have a jacked up story, you have a jacked up movie.”
AND THE TOP FIVE OVERALL….
1. BIRDMAN – Written by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Armando Bo, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu Micheal Keaton, Ed Norton, Emma Stone
“The thing that stands out is the concept of the storytelling and the execution. The performances by Keaton, Emma Stone, and the rest of the cast are exceptional. Everybody brings their A game.”
2. SELMA – “Definitely among the top 5 movies of the year, period.”
3. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING – Directed by James Marsh, Written by Anthony McCarten, Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking is just transformative. Hawking has lived 40 years with ALS. Even though the disease ravaged his body, it never touched his mind. It’s a tenderly told, extremely inspirational movie.
4. A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
Written and Directec By J.C Chandor, Starring Jessica Chastain, David Oyewolo, Alessandro Nivola
“The story of an honorable businessman married to the daughter of a gangster in 1981 has made several best of the year lists already.”
5. NIGHTCRAWLER Written and Directed by Dan Gilroy
Starring Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhall
“That movie is so dark and gritty you feel like you need a shower. Anytime a movie can affect you and make you feel that way, it’s a great movie.”
You can argue or agree with Tim Gordon’s choices via his Twitter @filmgordon