The Wood: This film is hilarious while being reaffirming about not only black culture and one of the best soundtracks on this list (Dead Presidents, Boomerang, Juice and Love Jones probably are at the tops) that transcends from the 80s to 90s. Most importantly, this film highlights the bonds of friendship and is a coming of age film in every way. As such, it does a great job of being about how growing up is regardless of race from your best homies, girls, first time you have sex, and some of those dangerous times you have when you're younger. At the same time, it deals with adult friendship in how it transfers from youth to adulthood. It's pretty universal and one of the films that also succeeds in breaking out of the black film consciousness.
CB4: This was hilarious and brilliant at the same time in how great the critique of 90s music genres was. Chris Rock and his crew (Allen Payne!) is hilarious as is the social commentary on how ridiculous gangsta rap could be while at the same time contrasting everything to how crazy white boys could incite riots and mosh pits but be considered tame to the police. Furthermore, you've got a hilarious look on how people wished they were hard. It's biting satire that works on a lot of levels. Not as easy to return to, but definitely one to watch.
Juice: So I saw maybe 10 minutes of this film years ago, but in 10 minutes and thanks to the GTA soundtrack I got very into the music. That plus Tupac in the film was enough to have me return years later. Anyways, this film is not only great for its soundtrack (possibly my favorite on the list), but the element of the black struggle from the high school perspective of hanging in Harlem during the late 80s/early 90s crime struggles. Furthermore, it takes on the appearance of a horror film in how Tupac becomes a specter throughout the film (I hope I'm not the only one to make this theory, but I felt like that after awhile). There's also the great DJ battle, the arcades, how the characters get ready, and the hustle that are emblematic of black culture in making this a film that is better than you might think. Shoutouts to the Tupac acting and horror elements, Omar Epps yet again, and that soundtrack (also shout to Epps fitness lady, whoop!).
What's Love Got to Do With It: While a wonderful storytelling of how Tina Turner came to be. It is one of the most haunting biopics ever created and you've never seen Laurence Fishburne (usually the wise master) in a more evil role. At its core this film showcases the disturbing nightmare that Ike Turner took Tina Turner on. While the film goes through the 60s, 70s, and 80s to show just how talented the characters were, it also shows all the changes that happened to fashion, the music industry and the relationship of the main characters from the good to the ugly. The Turners were able to adapt and change depending on the times with music and that is a profound testament to last nearly four decades. However, if there is one defining factor besides the music and production values is the main actors performances. Fishburne is horrendous and Angela Bassett (muscles!) puts on I would argue the best performance on this list. This film also transcends the barrier due to the universality of Tina.
Crooklyn: Easily the most underrated film on this list. The reason why this film is great is because it is subtle Spike Lee. Whereas School Daze, Do the Right Thing and even the rant in 25th hour can be very on the nose, most of what occurs in Crooklyn is subtle from what the kids watch on TV (black commercials, white musical families) to how the main character interacts with her world from her up and down brothers' personalities, the woes of her parents (played by the great Audre Woodard and DelRoy Lindo), good hair, and her observations with the community. Sure it's about growing up in the 70s with a great and funky soundtrack, but it's also about how one observes their surroundings from family, extended family, racial differences, dangers, and media. Overall, this film simply makes you feel nostalgic, but it also makes you think about how black America has changed.
New Jack City: I had a weird time with this one only because I had seen more of it than I thought. I will say that this movie is certainly a black film that drops the anvil far harder than many of these other films. It critiques drug dealers, black culture, the crack epidemic and more in how it argues what exactly works for the community and who is at fault (Reagan be damned). Anyways, besides its New Jack Swing soundtrack, ambivalent Chris Rock performance, and some ingrained fashion sense of black culture in the 80s and 90s, this show is all Wesley Snipes as Nino Brown. Nino Brown is basically a drug dealer/gangsta fantasy turned reality and he practically is the movie. This movie is fun, has high production values, but is definitely still hard to crossover due to its honesty. Still Nino Brown is hard to forget.
Love Jones: For the time and place Love Jones was one of the first films to have black people acting like The Big Chill or people talking around about sex, life, and relationships. Overall, that's huge for the black community to have a simple film of bohemians who are artists, musicians and photographers discussing life. It works in that sense and Larenz Tate and Nia Long do what they need to, but I don't think it's Neo-Soul and Jazz background is infused into the narrative like hip-hop in Brown Sugar or basketball in Love and Basketball. Yes, this is a black film, but I don't think it as strong as its original debut because we have more films like it now. I respect, but the longevity and full appreciation for this film wasn't there.
Menace II Society: The last of films on the list I had never seen and easily the most known and the most raw on this list. Menace pulls no punches and has little if any hope. It is easily the bleakest film on this list and on my posts as well. Where there is a sense of black positivity happening in many of the films, there is none to be had here. The hood is a dangerous and scary place that was caused by a variety of institutional issues. From its opening scene there are gunshots and that doesn't let up. Larenz Tate puts on another stellar performance (contrast to Love Jones if you will) and the main Tyrin Turner goes through a variety of emotions. The soundtrack has the west coast gangsta sound and the filmic techniques (specifically the tracking shots) are brilliant. Jada Pinkett also throws in a good performance as do many others including the scene about open season on black men. However, there is a larger discussion to be had with this film which is not exactly a black film as it discusses a variety of moral dilemmas with the hood mentality while showcasing another aspect of black culture in its world of drugs, gangs, guns, and the hood that many people blame us for. There is so much more to dissect from single mom, religious views, and even materialism, but I somehow was desensitized to it. It is arguably the best film on my list (though the top 3 on the actual list, Pariah, Dead Presidents and What's Love can challenge it).
Anyways, these films have been an education that I have truly enjoyed the journey with. I recommend all of them for all the reasons I have stated. Now that I know, I feel a sense of pride in that while these may not be old Eurocentric black and white films, they are brilliant for what films they are nonetheless. There are about 5 I would put in my top tier list as simply films (the top 3 on the actual list are all ones that could be in a Top 20 easily) that are great regardless of being black films. With a new soundtrack and film set I'm excited to continue as a delve into Blaxploitation and other films while staying current with black films of today like Dope, Fruitvale Station and Straight Outta Compton. On a different note, none of these films were Tyler Perry, say of that what you will.