Friday, March 20, 2015

Pointless Lists: Spike Lee's Top 5 Performances

Happy Birthday, Spike!!!

Today, Mr. Lee turns 58. Some of you may know that he is my favorite director of all-time. I understand he has plenty of supporters and detractors and occasionally rubs people the wrong way. However, his movies speak directly to me, to the environment I grew up in. Yup, I'm a native New Yorker. Spike's got a little more than a decade on me, but the city as he presents it is largely the way I remember it. He has put the world that I knew on the screen in a way no one else has. For this, I'll be forever grateful.

In honor of his birthday I wanted to do a list of some sort. I had a few ideas, but none were quite ready. I'll get to them at some point. The one that I decided to run with is one I haven't seen anywhere else. It's all about Spike's acting. Particularly early in his career, Spike had major parts in his own movies. Those became cameos as his filmography grew. Here's what I think are

Spike Lee's Top Performances

This is the smallest of Spike's roles to make the cut. However, it's also his most effortless performance. Snuffy spends all day getting high and trying to get money to get high. He provides a rather scary moment for our pint sized stars. Spike's work behind the camera, with the mighty aid of cinematographer Arthur Jafa, intensifies the moment and makes it far more surreal than anything Lee has done. As viewers, we see that brotha on the screen and instantly know that his brain is fried.

Mo' Better Blues
Giant is the best friend/manager to our hero Bleek, a wonderfully talented jazz musician played by Denzel Washington. Giant has Bleek's ear and bends it relentlessly. He also has a gambling problem. Spike plays the role perfectly, giving us a guy we kinda like, but kinda can't stand all at the same time.

School Daze
Here, Spike plays a guy whose whole life revolves around pledging to the most popular fraternity on campus. What I love about this performance is that it's the character that appears to be least like the Spike Lee we've come to know over the years. This is a guy who seems destined to forever be someone's flunky. Here, he becomes a mere pawn in the game played by his would-be frat brothers.

Do the Right Thing
Mookie is at the heart of the swirling tornado we know as Do the Right Thing. He gives us a main character that is clearly intelligent yet just as clearly irresponsible. He's a guy that loves, but is still selfish enough to alienate those who love him. Lee conveys all of this perfectly and provides the story with enough glue to hold it all together. By the way, he would reprise the role with a cameo in his 2012 film Red Hook Summer.

Mars Blackmon
She's Gotta Have It
That's right. Spike's best performance is his first. He's not the protagonist, but one of her boyfriends and is often called upon for comic relief. There is good reason this nudges out his work in Do the Right Thing for the top spot. In that movie he was more or less the axis for a troupe of characters more amazing than he to revolve around. His story was the main one, but these other people are what make the movie memorable. Here, Spike's character does this. He practically explodes onto the screen whenever he appears. He is the most colorful character by far and he makes it work. And it doesn't hurt that this is his most lasting character, the only one that's transcended the medium. He only became the most well-known shoe salesman selling only the most popular shoes on the planet.

Honorable Mentions:

Jimmy, Girl 6
Cyrus, Jungle Fever
Shorty, Malcolm X
John Jeffries, Summer of Sam

Check Out Some of My Other Lists:


  1. I'm so glad you went this route! I saw your title and figured it was 'best performances in a Spike Lee Joint', but I'm glad that you highlight he himself as the actor. I'm not always a fan of Lee's films, to be honest, but I've often found him a very good actor. In many ways, I think he's the best thing about Do the Right Thing.

    1. I've always thought of him as an underrated actor. His legacy as a director and his overall persona overshadows this part of him. He certainly anchors Do the Right Thing.

  2. My top Spike Lee performance was him versus Reggie Miller and the Pacers :P

    In all seriousness tho, nice post. I'm fairly sure I haven't seen a Spile Lee movie... I'll have to change that!


    1. Excellent choice! If you haven't seen the ESPN doc Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks, check it out. Both Spike and RM are great as they relive those moments.

      And yeah, see a Spike Lee movie.

    2. Hehe, I shall, I'll use this post as a guide. And yeah, LOVED that documentary. Was great to hear it from both sides

    3. The most accessible of his movies are 25th Hour and Inside Man, neither mentioned here. Do the Right Thing is essential viewing. AFI has it ranked as one of the 100 best movies of all time, and it's my personal favorite.

  3. 58! Christ. I've got a soft spot for Do The Right Thing myself.

    1. Glad to hear it. It's such a great piece of cinema.

  4. Is that his recent photo? Spike still looks pretty good for his age!

    1. Not sure when that pic is from, but I think it is fairly recent.

  5. Great list. It'd definitely come down to Mookie and Mars for me, but I love your reasoning for giving Mars the top spot. You're right, that guy explodes off the screen. So happy Shorty got an Honorable Mention as well. I love that film.

    1. Thanks! Shorty was on the list until the last minute. Just couldn't deny Snuffy. But, Malcolm X is still the far better film.

  6. Mookie is such a memorable character. I go on for hours about that swirling tornado you explained as Do the Right Thing. That movie is an F5 tornado where most other that tackle those subjects don't even register. Really glad that Spike is your favorite director!

    1. Thank you very much for this comment! Always happy to hear someone who loves Do the Right Thing!