Say it with me,
All Hail the Queen on Her Birthday!!!
Queen Latifah is one of those artists who grew up with me. We're about a year apart in age, and she hit the spotlight way back when she was 18 years old. I've gone from seeing her as the latest in a growing pool of female rappers that were holding their own against the boys to viewing her as one of the most important hip hop artists of all-time. Her importance comes not only from what she's done within rap music, but what she's managed to do outside of it. One of those things is become an award-winning actress. Since this is a movie blog, that's where I'll focus my attention for this post. I am taking a look at...
Queen Latifah's Top 10 Performances
The key word here is "performances." This is not a ranking of her movies, but of her acting within those movies. And yes, I am only considering her work in movies. Therefore, you won't see her work on her current dramatic musical series, Star, her hit 90s sitcom, Living Single or the 1998 TV Miniseries, Mama Flora's Family. TV Movies are okay. That said, I will own up to not having seen 2007's TV movie Life Support for which Latifah's performance earned her a Golden Globe and a SAG Award. Enough with the excuses, let's get to the list.
10. As Georgia Byrd in
(2006)On its surface, Last Holiday is your run-of-the-mill rom-com with Latifah starring as a woman who discovers she doesn't have long to live and decides to go out in style. Nothing happens that isn't syrupy-sweet. The testament to Latifah is that she, along with the rest of a game cast, elevates the material from just plain sappy, to enjoyable.
9. As Liz Bailey in
Living Out Loud
(1998)The Queen plays a lounge singer who befriends the troubled Judith (Holly Hunter), a club regular. The movie itself received mixed reviews, but Latifah's work earned her much acclaim. None other than the legendary Roger Ebert had this to say about what she accomplishes: "Queen Latifah shows here that her screen presence makes a scene stand up and hum. Anyone who can steal a scene from Danny DeVito (who plays the male lead) and Holly Hunter can do just about anything in a movie."
8. As August Boatwright in
The Secret Life of Bees
(2008)Dakota Fanning stars as Lily, a girl who is trying to escape her troubled past and flees her home with her caretaker Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). Together, they wind up on the doorstep of the Boatwright sisters, who take them in. The Boatwright's are lead by August, played by none other than the Queen. For this performance, Latifah calls on that same screen presence Ebert praised to dominate the screen. It's near impossible to take your eyes off her, no matter what else is happening.
7. As Vi Rose Hill in
(2012)This time, the Queen is the mother of a teenage girl who is a talented singer and falling for the local bad boy. She is also mom to a boy struggling with Asperger's Syndrome and the church's tyrannical choir director. As was much hyped before the film's release, she also gets to verbally square off with Dolly Parton, mother of the aforementioned bad boy. Latifah simply dominates every scene in which she appears, outshining each of her co-stars, including Miss Dolly. Click here for my full review.
6. As Gina Norris in
Barbershop 2: Back in Business/Beauty Shop
(2004/2005)The Queen introduced us to Gina during a fantastic cameo in Barbershop 2. It was so good, the character was given her own spin-off. It was the first time Latifah was allowed the opportunity to carry a film on her own and she proved more than capable of doing the job. Like Last Holiday, it's pure rom-com fluff, but the Queen owns it. She makes Gina strong and emotionally complex.
5. As Lashawn in
(1991)While Gina was given her own movie, the Queen's work as Lashawn remains only a cameo. She is a waitress who doesn't take too kindly to our hero Flipper (Wesley Snipes) bringing a white woman into the diner where she works. It's only a couple minutes of film, but Latifah sets the screen on fire in what is, amazingly, her acting debut. Had it been a bigger part, this performance may very well be sitting at the top of this list.
4. As Motormouth Maybelle in
(2007)If you can't tell, Latifah has played a number of characters who qualify as wise matriarchs. Motormouth Maybelle is another of them. What places this performance above most of the others of its ilk is that the full compliment of the Queen's gifts are on display. Her presence is as commanding as ever, her personality as striking, she gives an otherwise farcical film a base in reality, and injects life into the music.
3. As Matron "Mama" Morton in
(2002)If there is one matriarchal character Latifah plays better than Maybelle, it's the matron of the Cook County Jail affectionately known as Mama. This is fitting because she is most certainly a nurturing, if duplicitous character. As in Hairspray, the Queen puts all of her tools to use. The result is her only Oscar nominated performance.
2. As Cleopatra 'Cleo' Sims in
Set it Off
(1996)This is an odd thing to say about a rapper, but the role Latifah played in her one true blue 'hood movie (not counting her cameo in Juice) is the one that most opposes the persona she's crafted for herself. That's also a large reason it gets such a lofty ranking. She is never less than authentic as the beer swillin', tough talkin', bank robbin' Cleo. To seal the deal, Latifah nails her character's big moment, going from heartless thug to sympathetic figure, in no time flat.
1. As Bessie Smith in
(2015)Bessie is a film the Queen tried to get made for over 20 years. I'm glad it took her so long because every experience and bit of maturity she's amassed in the interim is put to dynamic use in the biopic about the Blues legend. No warm, motherly figure, the bawdy Smith is the most complex person Latifah has ever played. The Queen nails every part of it. Her work earned her an truckload of nominations and her second win at the SAG Awards. Click here for my full review.
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