Best Washington Movies

Earl Hamilton
• Tuesday, 27 October, 2020
• 9 min read

Synopsis: A national health care crisis in the United States yields this tense drama from screenwriter James Kearns and director Nick... Critics Consensus: Woefully deficient in thrills or common sense, Virtuosity strands its talented stars in a story whose vision of the future is depressingly short on imagination.

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Critics Consensus: Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington are a compelling team in the overlong Pelican Brief, a pulpy thriller that doesn't quite justify the intellectual remove of Alan J. Paula's direction. Synopsis: Embroiled in an affair with Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepherd), her alcoholic professor, precocious 24-year-old Tulane University law student Darby Shaw...

Critics Consensus: Despite a strong cast, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 suffers under the excesses of Tony Scott's frantic direction, and fails to measure up to the 1974 original. Synopsis: The ordinary day of New York City subway dispatcher Walter Garber is thrown into chaos by an audacious crime: the...

Critics Consensus: The Magnificent Seven never really lives up to the superlative in its title -- or the classics from which it draws inspiration -- but remains a moderately diverting action thriller on its own merits. Critics Consensus: Mo' Better Blues is rich with vibrant hues and Denzel Washington's impassioned performance, although its straightforward telling lacks the political punch fans expect from a Spike Lee joint.

Synopsis: Trumpeter Bleak Gilliam has many problems: his jazz quintet is troubled by internal rivalry, his manager and friend is deeply... Critics Consensus: Robert Yemenis makes a triumphant return to live-action cinema with Flight, a thoughtful and provocative character study propelled by a compelling performance from Denzel Washington.

Synopsis: In this action-packed mystery thriller, Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot, who miraculously... Critics Consensus: Philadelphia indulges in some unfortunate clichés in its quest to impart a meaningful message, but its stellar cast and sensitive direction are more than enough to compensate.

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Synopsis: A psychological thriller in which a career soldier, Army Major Bennett Marco, grows suspicious about his experiences in Desert Storm... Critics Consensus: Thanks in large part to one of Denzel Washington's most powerful on-screen performances, The Hurricane is a moving, inspirational sports drama, even if it takes few risks in telling its story.

Synopsis: A US Army officer, despondent about a deadly mistake he made, investigates a female chopper commander's worthiness for the Medal... Critics Consensus: As fast, loud, and relentless as the train at the center of the story, Unstoppable is perfect popcorn entertainment -- and director Tony Scott's best movie in years.

Synopsis: In this action thriller from director Tony Scott, rookie train operator Will (Chris Pine) and grizzled veteran engineer Frank (Denzel... Critics Consensus: Spike Lee's energetic and clever bank-heist thriller is a smart genre film that is not only rewarding on its own terms, but manages to subvert its pulpy trappings with wit and skill.

Critics Consensus: Boasting taut, high energy thrills and some cracking dialogue courtesy of an credited Quentin Tarantino, Crimson Tide finds director Tony Scott near the top of his action game. Critics Consensus: A deft hybrid of laughs, espionage, and music, The Mighty Quinn is a smart, pleasant entertainment that offers an early example of Denzel Washington's onscreen magnetism.

Synopsis: On a small Caribbean island, police chief Xavier Quinn investigates a murder where the prime suspect is Maumee, a charming... Critics Consensus: Humor, interesting characters, and attention to details make the stylish Devil in a Blue Dress an above average noir.

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Critics Consensus: A meticulously-crafted murder mystery with incisive observations about race in America, A Soldier's Story benefits from a roundly excellent ensemble and Charles Fuller's politically urgent screenplay. Critics Consensus: Anchored by a powerful performance from Denzel Washington, Spike Lee's biopic of legendary civil rights leader Malcolm X brings his autobiography to life with an epic sweep and a nuanced message.

Critics Consensus: Bolstered by exceptional cinematography, powerful storytelling, and an Oscar-winning performance by Denzel Washington, Glory remains one of the finest Civil War movies ever made. Critics Consensus: From its reunited Broadway stars to its screenplay, the solidly crafted Fences finds its Pulitzer-winning source material fundamentally unchanged -- and still just as powerful.

Largo International NV/Getty ImagesWhile Denzel Washington made his first big screen appearance in 1981 (Carbon Copy) as the long-lost young Black son of a successful white businessman (George Legal), he is more likely remembered early in his career for portraying Dr. Philip Chandler in the television series, St. Over the course of his big screen career, Washington has played some extremely memorable roles and has been nominated for eight Oscars though he has only walked away with two.

His first Oscar came in 1990 for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of a private in the Union Army in the historic epic, Glory (1989). Throughout his long and successful career, on the big screen (and off), Washington has played an array of characters including a high school football coach, airline pilot, civil rights leader, boxer, submarine officer, corrupt detective, and an airline pilot (just to name a few).

Washington received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of former middleweight boxer, Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter. Private Trip (Washington) joins the Union’s first all-black unit, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, amidst the American Civil War.

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This crime drama features an all-star cast including Clive Owen, Christopher Plummer, Willem Daphne, Chinese Editor, and Jodie Foster. New York City detective, Keith Frazier (Washington) must race against the clock to foil a robbery of a Manhattan bank that results in a hostage situation.

This nuclear thriller pits a submarine commander (Gene Hackman) against his second-in-command (Washington) when an order comes through to fire a preemptive strike against a radical Russian leader. The film begins in 1969 with Bleak Gilliam as a young boy who has to continue his trumpet lessons despite his friends wanting to play ball.

Through a series of events and bad decisions, Bleak is on the cusp of destroying his relationships with both his band mates and that of the women in his life. Airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington) crash lands a plane that has suffered a mechanical failure.

Despite saving most all the plane’s passengers, Whitaker is confronted with a blood test obtained while he is hospitalized that indicates he had alcohol and cocaine in his system at the time of the accident. Rookie Jake Host (Ethan Hawks) is partnered with veteran officer Alonzo Harris (Washington) who has highly questionable methods that begin to unfold during his first day on the job.

Washington teams up with Spike Lee again for this biographical drama that arguably should have won the actor an Oscar for his portrayal of the controversial activist. The film chronicles Malcolm Little’s (his birth name) life from a childhood shaped by racism, time spent as a criminal, imprisonment, conversion to Islam, Black Nationalist leader, and his subsequent assassination in 1965.

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When a man with HIV is fired by his law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small-time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit. The story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer wrongly imprisoned for murder, and the people who aided in his fight to prove his innocence.

An outcast New York City cop is charged with bringing down Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, whose real life inspired this partly biographical film. Robert Gould Shaw leads the U.S. Civil War's first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices from both his own Union Army, and the Confederates.

A drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Olson, a professor at Wiley College Texas. In 1935, he inspired students to form the school's first debate team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.

The true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit. A police detective, a bank robber, and a high-power broker enter high-stakes negotiations after the criminal's brilliant heist spirals into a hostage situation.

A rookie cop spends his first day as a Los Angeles narcotics officer with a rogue detective who isn't what he appears to be. A post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind.

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A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life. A Florida police chief must solve a vicious double homicide before he himself falls under suspicion.

A man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him cannot stand idly by when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters. On a U.S. nuclear missile sub, a young First Officer stages a mutiny to prevent his trigger-happy Captain from launching his missiles before confirming his orders to do so.

In the midst of the Gulf War, soldiers are kidnapped and brainwashed for sinister purposes. In Mexico City, a former CIA operative swears vengeance on those who committed an unspeakable act against the family he was hired to protect.

Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers' hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garber into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime. With an unmanned, half-mile-long freight train barreling toward a city, a veteran engineer and a young conductor race against the clock to prevent a catastrophe.

A District Attorney is terrorized by the criminal he put away years ago when he was a cop. Two hardened criminals get into trouble with the US border patrol after meeting with a Mexican drug lord, and then revelations start to unfold.

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“Many” is not really a “making of” film at all; it’s a collection of puzzle pieces in the life of a man on the first floor of a booming industry who sabotaged his own career with booze and shame for his creative vocation. First is Spike Lee’s war joint “The 5 Bloods,” the much anticipated follow-up to his long overdue Academy Award win for “BlacKkKlansman” (2018).

The June release starred Elroy Linda, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Norm Lewis as Vietnam vets searching for the remains of their fallen officer, played in flashbacks by Boseman. Little did we know that he would pass away just months later, making his role eerily prescient as he returns from the dead in rays of angelic light to say, “I forgive you.

Based on the second of 10 plays in August Wilson’s renowned Century Cycle, the story is set on a hot day in the 1920s Chicago, where the so-called “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainy records her newest album. Viola Davis is a tour de force as the impossible diva demanding Coca-Cola, while showing empathy toward her stuttering nephew.

It’s hard to watch this beloved man dying before our very eyes, lending a transcendent power to monologues challenging God as if Boseman himself is shouting, “Why me?” on death’s door. Just as Troy’s baseball dreams were stolen in “Fences” (2018), Levee’s hopes are dashed here, but Boseman’s greatness is forever frozen in time on screen in a final performance that deserves to win a posthumous Oscar.

The deep cast boasts Frank Angela as the judge, Mark Ry lance as the defense attorney and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the lead prosecutor, but the real standouts are Eddie Redman as academic Tom Hayden and Sacha Baron Cohen as activist Abbie Hoffman, who dropped f-bombs in a flag shirt in “Forrest Gump” (1994). Their clash of ideals explodes as Redman confronts Cohen: “My problem is that, for the next 50 years, when people think of progressive politics, they’re going to think of you and your idiot followers passing out daisies to soldiers and trying to levitate the Pentagon.

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“Do you have contempt for your government?” Gordon-Levitt asks, to which Cohen replies, “I think the institutions of our democracy are wonderful things that are right now populated by some terrible people.” Rio Ahmed brilliantly expresses emotion with his face, Olivia Cooke is believably torn as his girlfriend and Paul Race is an Oscar dark horse for Best Supporting Actor as the wise operator of a remote home for deaf folks, teaching sign language through tough love and total immersion.

The final shot is perfection, reminding us to block out the noise and enjoy the silence, knowing that true peace is the ability to sit with one’s self. While it takes place almost entirely inside a Miami hotel room, Kemp Powers’ screenplay is surprisingly engaging as it imagines the conversation between Malcolm X (Kingsley Benjamin), Cassius Clay (Eli Gorge), Jim Brown (Al dis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) in their real-life meeting in 1964.

As the four very different men discuss the civil rights movement, their personalities shine and clash as they rib each other, question themselves and break down the state of race relations from various perspectives. Regina King is on fire after her Oscar for “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018) and her Emmy for “Watchmen” (2019), so it should be no surprise that her directorial debut is dynamite, turning an intimate chamber piece into an electric proving ground for symbolism, foreshadowing our heroes’ doom by filming them behind wooden bars.

In the end, Malcolm X closes his eyes as Cooke sings “A Change is Going to Come” on national television for his first public political statement. The song swells with the same smooth voice that Odom brought to “Hamilton,” proving once again in this Miami hotel, it’s thrilling to be in the room where it happened.

The film follows Fern, a drifting widow who becomes a van-dwelling nomad after losing her husband, her factory job and her identity during the 2008 Great Recession. Surrounded by real-life nomads, Frances Command is utterly vulnerable in a role reminiscent of Harry Dean Stanton in “Paris, Texas” (1984).

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As for Zhao, she’s an early favorite to win Best Director for capturing the plight of Americans displaced by technology and globalization, as Fern works an assembly line at Amazon and stocks shelves at Walmart. It all builds to a trio of silent scenes at an empty Thanksgiving table, an abandoned factory office and a foreclosed home, giving smart viewers credit to decipher Fern’s thoughts: it’s time to let go of her grief and carry on.

Reinhardt’s pacing is blissfully patient as her camera holds for painterly compositions where the natural world exists before and after the humans enter and exit the frame. Set in the 1820s Oregon, it’s a tranquil tale of frontier friendship between a fur-trapping chef (John Mataró) and a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee), who plot to steal milk from the region’s first cow to make delicious baked goods to sell.

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