There’s no joint like a Spike Lee joint, but what other movies does the director like?
Over four decades and 30 films, the Brooklyn-raised Lee has established himself as the type of director whose work cannot be replicated. The characteristics that make Spike Lee Joint a Spike Lee Joint are easy to spot: the fiery and often political subject matter, the mix of humor and drama, those iconic floating doll shots, and the anything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to stylistic experimentation.
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Lee’s fearlessness as a director makes for a fascinatingly mixed filmography. The director has at least three undisputed masterpieces under his belt: 1989’s Do the Right Thing, a searing drama about police brutality and racism; 1992’s “Malcolm X,” an epic starring Denzel Washington as the titular civil rights leader; and 2002’s The 25th Hour, the ultimate portrait of life in New York after 9/11. Depending on who you ask, many of his other films — “She’s Gotta Have It,” “4 Little Girls,” “Inside Man,” “BlacKKKlansman” and “Da 5 Bloods” — also qualify as great and poorly received films like “Bamboozeled” and “School Daze” have since been re-evaluated and vindicated by critics.
Even Lee’s lapses (and it’s hard to deny that he has lapses) are usually worth watching, regardless of his “Oldboy” remake. “She Hate Me” and “Girl 6” are undeniably rough, but they’re clearly personal pieces that only Lee could make, and secondary titles like “Mo’ Better Blues” and “Chi-raq” have their strengths. that are worth supporting.
It’s unclear when Lee will return to theaters after his latest film, “Da Five Bloods,” hits Netflix in 2020. He has three projects lined up — the hip-hop “Romeo & Juliet,” a retelling of “Prince of Cats,” creating the Viagra musical “Boner” and the Broadway satire “Da Understudy” — but neither has started filming, and the fate of “Da Understudy” appears to be up in the air following the arrest of star Jonathan Majors on domestic abuse charges. All that is guaranteed is that when Lee makes his next film, it will definitely be an event.
Unlike, say, Martin Scorsese, Lee is not the kind of director who talks freely or often about his favorite films; he is one of the most acclaimed American directors who did not submit a ballot for the 2022 Sight and Sound Best Films vote. One of the most notable moments in which he spoke publicly about what he considered to be great cinema of all time landed him in hot water. In 2013, Lee published a list of 87 “essential” films that he provides to his students at NYU Film School each year; as many have noted, exactly one film, City of God, was directed by a woman (Katya Lund). Lee eventually apologized and amended the list to add eight films by women directors, including Jane Campion’s The Piano and Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust.
Still, the films that Lee discusses as his influences are really big, and they provide a window into how the master approaches his craft. It’s no shock, for example, that a politically minded director like Lee would gravitate toward the films of Elia Kazan, whose On the Shore and A Face in the Crowd influenced his approach to the form. Other film favorites include widely respected mainstream films such as Rashomon and Lawrence of Arabia, cult classics such as Ganja and Hess and Sean Connery’s role as James Bond.
Here’s a list of just nine of Lee’s favorite movies, plus a fantastic TV show, compiled from interviews the director has given over the years. Entries are listed in no particular order.
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