What makes Denzel Washington one of the greatest actors of all time? His cold, authoritative gaze? Its magnetic way? The rapid and incisive manner in which he delivers the dialogue, his voice skating on the surface of the stillness? Hes confident as a simple flame is confident; one wrong move, and it will reverberate, reminding you that it is made of fire. He burns ; it shines.
This fall, Washington returns to the screen in Macbeth’s tragedy, playing the titular role alongside Francoise McDormand like his Lady Macbeth. In anticipation of that upcoming release, here’s a list of must-watch movies from the two-time Oscar winner. The list is presented in chronological order and does not claim to be exhaustive; rather, it’s a guide, highlighting some of Washington’s most important, beloved, and important works. There are Denzel Washington movies for all moods, for all tastes, for all occasions. Here are some suggestions on how to navigate his decades-long career.
In this historic war drama, Washington plays Private Trip, a brash and mocking soldier who trains to fight for the Union during the Civil War. Washington’s instinct is to play the character as a volcanic force, calm and menacing, prone to prying eyes on his enemies in staring gazes. The movie itself has its issues, namely its overly Hollywood decision to focus the narrative on the good whites rather than the black soldiers at the heart of the story, but when it’s on screen you can’t leave. Washington’s eyes. Although he was still a fledgling movie star at the time of Glories out, it was a consistent performance, which earned the actor his first Oscar victory just a year after his first nomination, for the biopic Cry out for freedom (another watch from Washington that is worth the effort).
Mississippi Masala (1991)
Realized by Mira Nair, this film features Washington in a crush mode. He plays Demetrius, a tender-hearted carpet cleaner from Mississippi who falls in love with Meena (Sarita choudhury), an Indian girl whose family runs a nearby motel. Washington sensually flirts and vanishes in nature, every image practically glows with its easy chemistry and that of Choudhury.
Malcolm X (1992)
If there’s one gem among Denzel Washington movies, it’s this one Spike lee-An epic about the life and loss of Malcolm X. Washington plays the minister throughout his adult life, from his early days in Harlem to his life-changing prison time to his fateful induction into the upper ranks of the Nation of Islam. Washington is sublime, slipping into X’s shoes and creating a rich, layered portrait of a complicated and beloved historical figure. Many Washington acolytes rightly believe he should have won a second Oscar statuette for this performance; he was nominated in the category of best leading actor, a first in his career, but lost to Al Pacino in The perfume of a woman.
Either way, the film is a classic in the Washington canon. It’s also the best movie he’s made with Lee, although all the other projects they’ve done togetherMo Better Blues, He has a game, Inside manis also worth watching and debating. (Mo Better Blues when you’re in the mood for artistic, musical and feminine Denzel; He has a game when you crave more drama; Inside man for a big, intelligently constructed thrill of action.) For the sake of brevity, these movies will stay here on this list. But they’re also all must-haves, each containing very different performances in Washington.
Crimson Tide (1995)
Speaking of Washington’s Favorite Directors: No analysis of his filmography would be complete without director Tony Scott. This macho drama marked Washington and Scotts’ first collaboration, starring the actor as U.S. Navy tactical officer Ron Hunter, who is aboard a submarine caught in a nuclear dance with Russian forces. Hunter immediately disagrees with the leader of the submarines, Captain Frank Ramsey (a Gene Hackman). Crimson Tide worth the trip just to see Hackman and Washington go head to head, clashing over their different views on the war. Washington would continue to work with Scott on several other films before the director’s death in 2012, including the remarkable Two-Handed movie. unstoppable, one of the best films of the 2010s.
Devil in blue dress (1995)
Washington takes on the neo-noir genre in this thriller, playing Easy Rawlins, a man who loses his job and is gently muscled in private investigative work. Rawlins is reluctant, but desperate to pay his mortgage (he loves his house!). He’s got a knack for the job, but as he goes deeper into the underworld he needs some extra muscle, appealing to his unhinged old friend Mouse (Don cheadle). Come for the cool Washington performance; stay for Cheadles stage robbery as a passionate henchman.
The preachers’ wife (1996)
Light and saccharin are not words often used to describe Washington movies. And yet this is the app of perfection for The preachers’ wife, a beloved holiday classic (with an equally beloved soundtrack) that stars Washington as Dudley, an angel sent to help a struggling preacher (Courtney B. Vance). Along the way, Dudley falls in love with the preacher’s wife (title publication date), performed by the dazzling Whitney Houston. It really is his vehicle, but Washington charms throughout this superbly stacked film.
The opening minutes of this scorching biopic alone show why Washington landed another Oscar nomination for his performance as Rubin Hurricane Carter. The first scene takes place between Carter in his past glory days as a boxer and his current time in prison. (The boxer was wrongly jailed for murder and released after 20 years.) In his cell, Carter prepares to fight an enraged gang of correctional officers. He’s gritty and wild-eyed, an intense man with nothing to lose. His masterful work of Washington, which navigates the rest of the epic, twisty drama with as much arrogance as grace.
Training day (2001)
In many quarters, this is Washington’s best-known performance. The film and its subsequent reception have a complicated legacy, but it’s distinct from Washington’s irresistible, Oscar-winning ride as a crooked cop who flies too close to the sun. Realized by Antoine Fuqua, Washington plays the dangerous detective Alonzo Harris, who takes on the naive Jake Hoyt (Ethan hawke) for a series of increasingly infamous getaways. It’s funny, terrifying, and doomed, with Washington imbuing the character with a selfish magnetism.
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