Lee Daniels’ The Butler (A) is a heart-wrenching Hollywood epic about American race relations through the lens of pacifist father (a solid Forest Whitaker) and action-oriented son (a revelatory David Oweloyo). Even Oprah Winfrey gets every note right as the mighty mom of a great American family. What may be dismissed as overly polished is actually one of the most stirring, touching films of the year. Civil rights teachers will be showing this to students for generations to come.
Shockingly efficient in its character building and its 90 minutes of sustained dread, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station (A) tells a true story plucked from today’s headlines about the plight of young black men in America. Michael B. Jordan is a revelation as Oscar, a 22 year old father trying to reform after jail time, whose slow-burn collision with contemporary destiny is sealed from the film’s first frame. His charismatic demeanor – he calls everyone “bruh” – is just seconds away from reverting to his powderkeg past, and he is alternately “hella” humorous and heartbreaking throughout. Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer are outstanding as the women trying to anchor and protect him. It’s a tough and essential experience.