Top Ten Tuesday: Denzel Washington Films - We Are Movie Geeks

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Top Ten Tuesday: Denzel Washington Films

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Denzel Washington has been awarded two Golden Globe awards and  a Tony Award. Along with many nominations, Washington has received two Academy Awards – one for Best Supporting Actor as  Pvt. Trip  in GLORY and the other  for Best Actor as  Detective Alonzo Harris in TRAINING DAY.

With the opening of Tony Scott’s UNSTOPPABLE on November 12th, the two have teamed up again for another high-octane thriller – only this time its not  a  movie about a nuclear sub or an ATF agent traveling back in time, but  to stop a runaway train. So it seemed appropriate to We Are Movie Geeks to have a look back at what we think are the Top 10 Films of Denzel Washington.


Credited as ‘Introducing Denzel Washington’, the 1981 comedy CARBON COPY gets our Honorable Mention slot in this week’s Top 10 Tuesday. Starring alongside big stars at the time, George Segal, Susan Saint James, and Jack Warden, Washington portrays Roger Porter, the surprise son of a white wealthy businessman who wants to be adopted. This first Hollywood experience would mark just the beginning of a successful career and Washington plays the young college student looking for acceptance to the hilt. His vibrant zest for acting overshadows the other actors as is evident in this original trailer from CARBON COPY


One of the signs of a great movie star is how they can adapt their screen personality into a classic genre story. Here Denzel effortlessly slips on a pair of gumshoes and embodies 40’s private eye “Easy” Rawlins in Carl Franklin’s 1995 film version of Walter Mosley’s DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS. Whether standing up to gangster Maury Chakyn, questioning femme fatale Jennifer Beals, or hashing out a plan with Don Cheadle(who almost steals the movie as Easy’s violently impulsive pal, ‘Mouse’), Washington honors the memory of Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe.


With his confident stride Denzel Washington compliments any military uniforms he wears, especially as Lt. Commander Hunter in his first big screen collaboration with director Tony Scott, 1995’s CRIMSON TIDE. In this tense submarine set action thriller Denzel holds his own acting with(and in many scenes clashing with)veteran screen star Gene Hackman as his superior Captain Ramsey. Rumor has it that Quentin Tarantino did a bit of script doctoring, best shown in a scene when Hunter breaks up an intense argument between two sailors before it can come to blows. The point of disagreement: Who’s the better artist on the Silver Surfer-Jack Kirby or Jean Giraud AKA Moebius? Of course Hunter’s right! Nobody beats King Kirby!


As real-life coach Coach Hermann Boone, during an explosive time in this country’s civil rights, Washington plays the stalwart leader of an integrated high school football team in REMEMBER THE TITANS. While watching all of Denzel’s interactions with the players, as well as fellow coach played by Will Patton and his young daughter Hayden Panettiere, I defy anyone not to be caught up in the story of the underdogs of T.C. Williams High School. Once again, he embodies all the strengths of a determined leader and impassioned father & husband. Along with another rousing, emotional score from Trevor Rabin, REMEMBER THE TITANS is still one of producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s best journeys yet!


In THE HURRICANE, Denzel Washington plays Rubin Carter, a boxer who overcomes his troubled youth to become a success. All his hard work is put in jeopardy when he is accused of murder. He tries to prove his innocence by writing a book, and sure enough, people come to his aid. The thing that I find most impressive about Washington in this role, and many of his roles, is that he takes on his characters to such an extent that you only see the character. You do not see Denzel Washington.


AMERICAN GANGSTER was a gritty, unglamorous look at the heroin trade in Harlem in the late 60s and early 70s. The film was based on the true story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), an ambitious and visionary African-American crime lord whose power and control grew beyond the historic grasp of the Italian Mafia in New York City. Richie Roberts (played by Russell Crowe) is the detective who follows the heroin trafficking to its unlikely source before eventually stopping and even befriending Lucas. In the end, Lucas was sentenced to 70 years in prison (he served 15 years after making a deal and is still alive), $250 million of his assets were seized, 30 of his family members went to prison, and 3/4 of the NYPD’s drug enforcement division were arrested for corruption. AMERICAN GANGSTER was a fascinating true crime epic.


The Hughes brothers chimed in on the post-apocalyptic craze with THE BOOK OF ELI, featuring Denzel Washington as the title character, tasked with protecting a mysterious book, said to have the power to save humanity. Enigmatic, calm and cool, but deceptively dangerous, Denzel proves he’s one mutha not to mess with. Pitted against the frighteningly friendly facade of Gary Oldman’s villain, Denzel not only kicks butt, but he also creates a character in Eli that we empathize with, root for and admire.


By the time PHILADELPHIA came out in 1994, Denzel Washington had already been nominated for 2 Oscars (CRY FREEDOM 1988 and GLORY 1990). He won Best Supporting Actor for GLORY. He had already proven he could go toe to toe with the best of them. In PHILADELPHIA, Washington was so perfectly cast as the ‘every-ma’ full of mis-information regarding the AIDS virus that he quietly and quite skillfully worked around the lightning rod that was Tom Hanks. When Washington’s Joe Miller says “now, explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old” he masterfully connected to audiences without coming off as trite or condescending. Washington was able to convey the genuine struggle that exists when your personal beliefs conflict with what is right. “Some of these people make me sick. But a law’s been broken here. You do remember the law, don’t you?”


In TRAINING DAY Denzel Washington gave a superb, Oscar-winningh performance as Alonzo Harris, an experienced detective whose unorthodox and corrupt methods of dealing with crime are about to come to a stop when he takes on rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke). Set in the ganglands of LA over an intense 24 hour period, Training Day is a great look at corruption, deception and disloyalty in the LAPD.  Washington’s doomed character, often interpreted as the villain, is misunderstood. Of course Alonzo Harris pushes the law further and further and his operations are unlawful but at the same time he doesn’t hesitate to do a job he is quite good at. A complex film.


Edward Zwick’s stellar portrait of the African-American soldier’s experience in the Civil War features Denzel Washington as Private Trip, a man who ran away from the slavery of the South at the age of 12, now fighting on principle. Trip is a smart man, realizing the ironic inevitability that the war could ultimately have no winner, Trip serves as an external moral compass for Matthew Broderick’s Colonel Shaw, a white officer leading a company of black men. GLORY is the film that first put Denzel on everyone’s radar, adding an unforgettable intensity to an already powerful film.


It takes a strong actor to play a character with such a dynamic life, such as Malcolm X. Washington does a fantastic job of filling his shoes. He really mastered the mannerisms and dialect of Malcolm X, and was able to bring new light to his story. Although powerful and intelligent, Malcolm X remains a controversial  figure in history.  Washington did not let that shake him, and played the character truthfully. He really is an amazing actor.

There you have it. Give us your list in our comments section below. Don’t forget to check out UNSTOPPABLE starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson, in theaters this Friday, November 12, 2010. Visit the film’s official site here, on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

The movie is rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of action and peril and some language. Here’s  just one of the many exciting  scenes from the film.


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