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December 2005


COMMENTARY by Editor Wilson Morales

As the 2005 closes, it's time to reflect on how the year was. As the year started, the biggest buzz and foregone conclusion was that no one could stop Jamie Foxx from winning the Oscar for Best Actor for his riveting performance as Ray Charles in "Ray". He practically swept most of the critics awards and was the heavy favorite. Who knew that coming out of the gate at the end of 2004 would be the film that finally netted Morgan Freeman his long overdue Oscar. "Million Dollar Baby" not only presented an Oscar winning role for Freeman for Best Supporting Actor, but the film also won Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director. Always known as one of the hardest working actors in the business, Samuel L. Jackson had a lot of films that were shown this year. He practically had a film just about every two months, starting off with Coach Carter, which opened up at #1 at the box office and ended the year with "The Man". In between were "In My Country"; "XXX: State of the Union"; and "Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith".

If 2004 was the year of Jamie Foxx, then 2005 was certainly the year of Terrence Howard. Although Howard has been in this business for more than 10 years with numerous films on his resume, 20005 is when Hollywood took notice of his superlative gifts of his talent. When "Hustle and Flow" became the hit of Sundance in January, who knew that the wave of his electrifying performance would carry this far? Not only did Howard shine in that role, but he was amazing in "Lackawanna Blues", "Their Eyes Were Watching God", "Crash", "Four Brothers", and "Get Rich or Die Tryin'". Howard also appeared with Vivica A. Fox in "The Salon", which played at Sundance, and also added to the sales of "Animal" DVD. His performance in "Hustle" should net him an invite to the Oscars as a Best Actor nominee. Produced by Stephanie Allain and John Singleton, "Hustle" also brought out the best from Anthony Anderson, Elise Neal, Taraji P. Henson, and Paula Jai Parker.

Another breakout star of 2005 was Tyler Perry. Perry had built a following and made a fortune with his plays, but when he brought one of them to the big screen (Diary of a Mad Black Woman), he SHOCKED the Hollywood community when it landed at #1 at the box office. Panned by critics and playing in limited theaters, this $5 million dollar film opened up with over $22 million and went on to gross over $50 million, making the film one of the biggest financial blockbusters of 2005. Lionsgate Films, the studio that released the film, has signed a deal with Perry to make more films of his plays, and if the investment is small and his fan base grows, Perry will be one of biggest producers in the business. Welcome to the big leagues, Mr.Perry! You hit a glam slam on your first at-bat. Keep it coming.

A lot of the first quarter films had opened up at #1 at the box office, with Coach Carter, Are We There Yet? Hitch, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and Guess Who? Will Smith, who usually comes out with a film during the summer scored another hit with "Hitch" when it opened up around Valentine's Day with $43 million. It ended up grossing $179 million and a lot more overseas.

Not only was Angela Robinson the only black female director to have a film this year, but she was the only female director to have 2 films (D.E.B.S and Herbie: Fully Loaded) out in 2005, with Herbie grossing over $50 million.

There were a couple of films that resonated with audiences and sparked many debates, and one of the films that stuck with people as they left the theaters was "Crash". While not a perfect film "Crash" certainly struck a chord amongst filmgoers in showing the subtle and not so subtle racism that permeates all of our lives. "Crash" is a film that speaks to a society still grappling with the idea of tolerance. The film does a great job in delivering its intended message that even with our perceived differences, in matters where it really counts people are more alike than we're not. The entire cast of Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Terrence Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate, Thandie Newton, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Ryan Philippe, Nona Gaye, Sandra Bullock, Micahel Pena, Brendan Fraser, Jennifer Esposito, & William Fichtner were excellent.

The success of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" propelled studios to take a look at other low budgeted films that they think can make a profit if properly marketed. After making a name for himself directing The Trois trilogy, Rob Hardy and producer Will Packer scored a hit with "The Gospel", starring Boris Kodjoe and Idris Elba. Nice to see Elba making mainstream movies now that he won't be playing "Stringer Bell" on HBO's Wire anymore. Featuring the music of today's hottest Gospel singers, the film brought many folks from the churches that helped beat the odds of its opening weekend expectations.

Speaking of music, many more talented singers and rappers decided to cross over and try acting for a change, while others improved on their acting skills. After small roles in other films, Chris "Ludricris" Bridges stepped up and was phenomenal in "Crash". Christina Milian worked along with John Travolta in "Be Cool". Andre Benjamin has a future in this business with his breakout roles in "Be Cool" and "Four Brothers". Erykah Badu was excellent "House of D", while Mos Def continued to demonstrated solid skills as in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Macy Gray was hilarious in "Domino" while Bow Wow became an adult with "Roll Bounce". In their first roles as lead actors, 50 Cent played a character based on his life in "Get Rich or Die Tryin", while Usher tangled with a mafia princess in "In The Mix". The latter two may have to stick with their day jobs as both films tanked at the box office.

For those musicians who decided to sing their way into the business, it was nice to hear voices. Give George Clooney credit for having Diane Reeves sing the music in "Good Night, and Good Luck". Other notable music performances included Yolanda Adams in "The Gospel", Tiffany Evans in "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and the cast of "Rent" featuring Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Taye Diggs, and Jesse L. Martin. If you didn't know before, these Diggs and Martin sang on stage before they hit the film world. Special shout out to Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson for their tune "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from "Hustle and Flow". It was the flavor song of the summer.

And finally, we must pay respects to the talent that paved the way for many to be in this business and helped spread the word within the black community. He wasn't an actor, producer, or director, but Ebony Magazine publisher John H. Johnson certainly helped out in launching the careers of many actors with stories and photos of their films and their struggles to be an entertainer. If there was ever an actor who blended in with the old and the new, it was Ossie Davis. Davis personified the many shades of the black male identity through his work and films such as "Let's Do It Again", A Man Called Adam" , and most recently in films like "Do The Right Thing", "and "She Hate Me" says Gil Robertson IV, President of the African American Film Critics Association. Before Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, and Chris Rock, there was Richard Pryor, whose jokes and stories were an inspiration for thousands of comedians. He gave a new meaning to the word "uncensored" and will surely be missed.

Please send any comments to Wilson@blackfilm.com


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