Say it with me...
Happy Birthday, Angela Bassett!!!
I know. I just did a birthday post two days ago (Halle Berry). It is not my intention to turn this into The Birthday Blog, but I couldn't help celebrating Angela Bassett, who ranks very high on the list of my favorite actresses of all time. She's proven to be amazing, time and again. What better way to celebrate than to take a look at some of her best work?
Here is where I must confess. I started looking over her filmography to make sure I didn't miss anything when making up this list and found quite a few movies I haven't seen, yet. By my count, I've seen 25 of her movies (including two made-for-TV projects). There are at least that many more films she's been in which I haven't seen. With that in mind, I'm going to make a plan. The plan is to re-do this list two years from today. Why two years? Today, Ms. Bassett turns 58. Yes, I said 58. I know, right. I really hope she doesn't mind my telling you. Anyhoo, I want to revisit this issue on her 60th birthday, hopefully, after I've watched a sizable chunk of those other films. For now, these are...
Angela Bassett's Top 10 Performances
10. As Betty Shabazz
(1992)As the wife of Civil Rights activist Malcolm X, Bassett projected the type of quiet strength clearly needed to deal with such a fiery man. Star Denzel Washington is iconic in the lead role, but he never overwhelms Bassett when they share the screen. She holds her own in his presence, ensuring we understand she does the same when we're not looking. Bassett would later reprise the role in 1995's Panther.
9. As Voletta Wallace
(2009)One of several of what I call her "mama" roles, she plays the mother of Christopher Wallace, AKA rapper The Notorious B.I.G. She's a single mom trying hard to raise her teenage son, but losing him to the lure of the fast life. Bassett gives us a wonderful impersonation of the real Ms. Wallace, as well as giving us the spirit of the woman.
8. As Reva Devereaux
Boyz N the Hood
(1991)Again, she's playing a mom. However, this is a different type of woman than the others. She is single, and struggling to raise a son. The difference is she has the strength to realize maybe her ex-husband can do a better job and sends the boy to live with his dad. As a result, this is the smallest role on the list. That is, simultaneously, what keeps it this low and gets it this high. What I mean is whenever she appears on the screen, she electrifies it.
7. As Tanya Anderson
Akeelah and the Bee
(2006)She plays a single mom...sigh. This time, her daughter has decided to pursue becoming the National Spelling Bee champ. Bassett's Tanya is reluctant to allow this pursuit because she's a pragmatic thinker unsure how this will help her child gain the skills necessary for survival and, hopefully, prosperity. Bassett conveys all of this with a heartfelt performance letting us know that what some may see as holding her child back, she knows is protection.
6. As Rosa Parks
The Rosa Parks Story
(2002)Taking on a larger-than-life icon is a tremendous burden for any actor. Bassett has taken on several such roles in her career. None were bigger than Rosa Parks, a woman whose real life exploits and impact on society have been mythologized. Bassett handles the job with ease.
5. As Katherine Jackson
The Jacksons: An American Dream
(1992)Instead of playing the larger-than-life icon, herself, Bassett plays the mother to one...or two...or five...or nine...depending on who and how you count "larger-than-life." What I'm getting at is she plays the matriarch of the Jackson family during the rise to fame of five of her six sons as The Jackson 5. One of them, Michael, would grow up to become arguably the biggest music star in the history of the world. By the way, there were also three girls before it was all said and done. By the time the film was said and done, Bassett gave us a woman with all the strength necessary to sire such a clan.
4. As Lornette Mason
(1995)In this sci-fi mind-bender, Bassett plays bodyguard/driver/friend to a troubled SQUID dealer. It's not a drug. It's a disc that when played using the right equipment allows one person to experience another person's memories and physical sensations during the moments that were recorded. Just see the movie. Bassett delivers a performance that grounds the movie even as all sorts of madness swirls about.
3. As Stella Payne
How Stella Got Her Groove Back
(1998)Bassett plays a successful woman in her forties, who of course happens to be a single mom. Go figure. However, this is more about mama sowing her oats than struggling to provide. At the urging of friend who thinks she's all work and no play, Stella takes a vacation in Jamaica where she meets and falls for a guy twenty years her junior. This is a case of Bassett being much better than the film she is in. It's an okay film, but Bassett's excellent work elevates the material to the point where we really feel for her character.
2. As Bernadine Harris
Waiting to Exhale
(1995)Bernadine, or Bernie for short, is a woman who gave up her own hopes and dreams to support her man in the pursuit of his. It seems to have paid off as they've become a wealthy couple. However, we meet her as she is being told by her husband he's leaving her for another woman. Hell hath no fury like Angela Bassett scorned. She simply lights up the screen every moment she's on it.
1. As Tina Turner
What's Love Got to Do with It
(1993)The story of music legend Tina Turner is ripe for the big screen and Bassett proved to be just the person to take on the role. Her work here is gut-wrenching, uplifting, painful, exhilarating, and just plain flawless. She was rewarded with her only Academy Award nomination, but sadly, did not get the win. For my money, it's one of the best performances of all-time.
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