(Continued from: Spike Lee: An Appreciation Part One)
For his 11th feature film, Lee produced and directed 1997’s 4 Little Girls. This documentary feature examines the 1963 murder of four black girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. It was originally planned to air on HBO (which also funded the doc), but it was decided that the film should play in theaters first. It grossed $130,000 from four theaters during its run, and it earned Lee both an Emmy nod as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature (his second Oscar nod overall).
Lee wrote, produced, and directed his next feature, 1998’s He Got Game. The
film centers on a prison inmate who is released on parole for a week by the
state’s governor in order to persuade his son to play for the governor’s alma mater in exchange for a heavily-reduced prison sentence. Featuring a talented cast that includes Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Milla Jovovich, John Turturro, Rosario Dawson, Jim Brown, Hill Harper, Ned Beatty, Rick Fox, and Jennifer Esposito, this critically acclaimed film had a budget of $25 million but only grossed $21.5 million. Lee had cast Ray Allen after talking to him during the halftime of a Knicks-Bucks game, and Allen spent the two months prior to filming training with an acting coach.
Lee’s first good film of the new millennium was 2002’s 25th Hour, a film that he
produced and directed. Based on the novel The 25th Hour by David Benioff
(who also wrote the screenplay), the film centers on a man’s last 24 hours of freedom in New York City before going to prison for dealing drugs, reflecting on the past and what the future holds for him. Featuring a terrific cast that includes Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, and Brian Cox, this critically acclaimed film was made on a budget of $5 million and grossed $23 million. The film was being developed when the September 11th attacks occurred, and Lee decided to incorporate that into the story.
Gunning for a big hit, Lee directed 2006’s Inside Man. The film centers on a perfect bank robbery that quickly spirals into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between a criminal mastermind, a determined detective, and a power broker with a hidden agenda. Featuring an excellent cast that includes Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Plummer, and Ken Leung, this critically acclaimed film grossed $88 million domestically on a $45 million budget (it added $96 million internationally for a worldwide total of $194 million, making it Lee’s biggest hit to date).
For his most recent film, Lee produced and directed 2012’s Bad 25 (otherwise known as the good film he made in 2012). This documentary feature celebrates the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s 1987 album Bad, looking back on the making of that album. It features behind-the-scenes footage of the recording sessions as well as interviews with those who worked with Jackson during that period. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival (where it won two prizes), and then it had a brief theatrical release in NY and L.A. An edited version aired on TV soon after.
Although I haven’t always shared his views, I’d be a damned fool to ignore the fact that Spike Lee has been one of the most thought-provoking filmmakers of the last quarter century (regardless of the quality of his films). I thank him for the good films he’s made, and I ask that he just leave Quentin Tarantino alone.