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Entries in Spike Lee (26)


Spike Lee Coming to Netflix

by Kieran Scarlett

It was recently announced that Netflix has ordered ten episodes of a TV series adaptation of Spike Lee’s 1986 debut feature film She’s Gotta Have It.  Lee will direct all ten episodes.  The age of prestige television truly allows for more fluid movement (at least behind the camera) from film to TV and back again. Spike Lee’s last few features (despite good notices for Chi-raq) have had trouble catching fire outside of the arthouse the way his earlier work has, for this reason or that. He’s certainly a polarizing figure and resistance to his work is built in to certain audiences.

Tracy Camilla Johns and Spike Lee in SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986)

Have you seen She’s Gotta Have It? It’s a very fascinating piece, both on its own and in the larger context of Lee’s filmography. There’s a beautifully bare-bones energy to it that one would expect from a debut, but it still retains Lee’s voice, vigor and artistry. It’s also has a refreshing focus on female characters in a way that even ardent fans of Lee’s work can’t argue is missing from much of his filmography.

Lee’s previous notable foray into television gave us the beautiful and vital “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” his in-depth and personal HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath (if you haven’t seen it, get thee to HBO on demand as soon as possible). Spike Lee adapting his voice for television is definitely something that could yield interesting results.

“She’s Gotta Have It” is expected to premiere on Netflix next year. Will you be watching?


The 50 Greatest Films by Black Directors

Slate magazine has drawn up an interesting list of great black films, the twist being that they have to have been directed by a black person rather than about the black experience so out go Old Hollywood musicals like Carmen Jones or Cabin in the Sky or Oscar favorites like Sounder.  In the wake of recent conversations about Hollywood's power structures and overwhelming whiteness, Slate assembled a field of critics and filmmakers and scholars to produce the list.

Eve's Bayou

I need to get cracking on my gaps in knowledge from this list, especially because of the titles I've seen from this list several were great and the ones I didn't personally connect to were still interesting (Night Catches Us) or memorable (Eve's Bayou - I've been meaning to give that another shot now that I'm older). Unsurprisingly Spike Lee has the most titles with six. Curiously, though I've seen many Spike Lee joints (and tend to like them - I'd have included Chi-Raq on this list), I've only seen half of his titles that actually made it (gotta get to Mo' Better Blues, Crooklyn, and When the Levees Broke soon). The list is after the jump...

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Looking Back, With Anger: Inside Man (2006)

Eric Blume here to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Spike Lee's Inside Man, which remains his biggest box office hit. 

When this tightly-plotted bank heist movie was released a decade ago, it promised a heavenly trio of huge stars:  Denzel Washington, two time Oscar winner; Clive Owen, fresh off his first nomination for Closer; and Jodie Foster, coming off two solo box office successes (Panic Room and Flightplan).  A decade later, only Washington (the least interesting actor of that trio) still works with annual frequency in major pictures.  He lends effortless dynamism and charisma in his usual everyman role. Unfortunately its been lazy sailing for him ever since with one major exception (Flight).

Watching Inside Man again, it’s the loss of both Owen and Foster as regular cinema fixtures that burns, which is ironic since the film demands little from them. [More...]

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Podcast: The Danish Girl, Youth, Macbeth, Chi-Raq

Nathaniel, Nick, Katey, and Joe all return for the latest episode of the podcast in which we discuss four new films that definitely bear their auteur's signature for better and worse. Listen in and continue the conversation in the comments. The more the merrier.

42 minutes 
00:01 NBR & NYFCC debrief
05:40 The Danish Girl
16:28 Macbeth's feeling of inevitability...or is it monotony?
22:56 Paolo Sorrentino's Youth, a bit of The Great Beauty and a lot of Jane Fonda
33:00 Spike Lee's new urgent joint Chi-Raq
39:45 Joe's new job & Nick's sudden activity

Further Reading for Context:
Nick's Danish Girl tweet
Nathaniel's Category Fraud Screed
Nick's "Favorites" Countdown

You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunes

Youth, Danish Girl, Macbeth


Spike Lee's Overlooked and Exuberant "Crooklyn"

TFE is celebrating the three Honorary Oscar winners this week. Here's Kieran discussing one of Spike Lee's warmest and most underappreciated films.

For better or worse, you can often feel a larger thesis statement, be it about race and/or American culture at large, running through much of Spike Lee’s work. His films also feel incredibly male in their perspective. Even his few films that foreground women (She’s Gotta Have It and Girl 6) feel enveloped by the male gaze, despite their many other virtues. These are just a couple of reasons why Lee’s semi-autobiographical slice-of-life dramedy Crooklyn feels like a bit of a curio.

Crooklyn is set in the summer of 1973 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Lee himself grew up. Nine-year-old Troy Carmichael (Zelda Harris) is the only girl in a brood that includes four rowdy brothers. Though often put-upon and teased, Troy is tough, clever, funny and every bit the daughter of her equally strong-willed mother, Carolyn (a radiant Alfre Woodard). More so than any other film Lee has directed, Crooklyn is wholly interested in the inner-life, motivations and perspective of its female characters. Even Woody (Delroy Lindo), the family patriarch and easily the most fleshed out male character in the joint still feels like an afterthought compared to how focused the narrative is on Troy and Carolyn. How Alfre Woodard's anchoring performance failed to garner any Oscar traction, especially when one looks at the outlet mall fire sale irregulars that were the Best Actress nominees of 1994 is confounding.


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Spike Lee's "Bamboozled" - Still angry, still timely

TFE is celebrating the three Honorary Oscar winners this week. Here's Lynn Lee on one of Spike Lee's most controversial joints...

Is Spike Lee an Angry Black Man?  Reductive as the label is, it’s hard not to associate with an artist as reliably outspoken as he is accomplished—if only because so much of his best work is fueled by genuine anger at the condition of African Americans and the state of American race relations generally.  The irony of having achieved major critical and commercial success by channeling those frustrations surely hasn’t been lost on him, even if it’s done nothing to diminish them.

Bamboozled (2000), an incendiary, balls-to-the-wall satire about a disaffected black man who creates a pop culture monster, shows Lee at his angriest and most conflicted.  The film takes its cue from Malcolm X’s famous wakeup call:

You’ve been hoodwinked.  You’ve been had…You’ve been bamboozled”

It tells the tale of a Harvard-educated black TV writer (Damon Wayans, sporting a deliberately outlandish pseudo-French African accent) who pitches a hideously racist modern-day minstrel show as a fuck-you response to his white boss’s demand for “blacker” material—only to have the show become a megahit despite, or rather because of, the controversy it causes.  [More...]

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And The Honorary Oscars Go To... Debbie Reynolds, Gena Rowlands, and Spike Lee.

No sooner had I published a list of speculation / suggestions for November's Honorary Oscars then the actual awards were announced. (I  must have misread the date on the Academy's meeting about this so we've unpublished and will revisit that topic at a more appropriate time.) For now, a hearty congratulations to a satisfying trio of recipients with very different appeals. We're throwing streamers and popping out of (okay eating) cakes this afternoon to celebrate!

Our Oscar Theme Song

All I do... is dream of you... the whole night through
with the dawn... i still go on... and dream of you
you're every thought... you're every thing
you're every song i ever sing
Summer. Winter.... Autumn and Spring 

DEBBIE REYNOLDS, "America's Sweetheart" back in her heyday (roughly speaking the 50s through the mid 60s), is your populist choice, not unlike Maureen O'Hara last year. Well liked showbiz legends that were never really critics darlings or in the Oscar hunt competitively can win Honorary Oscars if they stick around long enough. So here's to longevity! Reynolds, who is 83, made her first credited movie appearance in 1950, received her sole Best Actress nomination for the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)... and has literally never stopped working. This is a true showbiz trouper.

OF NOTE # 1: Carrie Fisher is going to be much in demand for the next several months given a) her mom's Honorary Oscar victory lap, publicity for her new memoir, and her own return to her signature Princess Leia this December in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

OF NOTE # 2: Postcards from the Edge, the thinly veiled Carrie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds comic biopic starring Meryl Streep and Shirley Maclaine hits its 25th anniversary in a couple of weeks and we'll be celebrating that too.

GENA ROWLANDS was a regular Oscar player in her heyday (roughly speaking the late 60s through the early 80s) and is easily your aesthete's choice this year. She's a hugely influential actor and cinephiles have been bemoaning her Oscar losses for years, due in large part to her groundbreaking early indie work with her husband John Cassavettes. She's also worshipped by discerning film buff actors. Consider Tilda Swinton's quote on her film Julia, which was a loose remake of Gena's earlier film Gloria.

One's always downloading one's heroes, I suppose, all the time.  I remember being asked whether I thought about Gena Rowlands for "Julia" and thinking 'well, I think about Gena Rowlands all the time!' Not just for 'Julia'.

SPIKE LEE you could safely and cynically call this point in the 2015 honorary triangle their diversity choice but he's also entirely deserving so bless the media for putting so much pressure on Oscar voters to diversify! There's more to cinema than old white men (many of them are worth celebrating, too, but Oscar amply covers that without prodding). What's more, unlike Debbie Reynolds and Gena Rowlands, who couldn't really be called mistreated by the Academy for various reasons, AMPAS truly owes this maverick auteur. His indisputable classic Do The Right Thing (1989), his biopic epic Malcolm X (1992), his late career best 25th Hour (2002), and his biggest hit Inside Man (2006) have a measly 4 Oscar nominations between them with no wins. His only nominations to date were for his documentary 4 Little Girls (1997) and the screenplay of Do The Right Thing which, insane as it may sound, both lost. 


Last year we did mini-retrospectives on the Honorary winners when we noticed a dearth of coverage on movie sites (for shame) beyond obligatory news posts of the names and the later ceremony. Which films from each of their filmographies would you most like to revisit or discover for the first time with us before the ceremony on November 14th?