Our progression through AFI’s list has brought us to back-to-back films that were
underappreciated in their time. Last week was #97 Blade Runner and this week we have Spike Lee’s 1989 dramedy Do the Right Thing. Both were nominated for just two Academy Awards, and both left the ceremony empty-handed. And while the retrospective outrage over Blade Runner’s Oscar snubbage is deserved, it should be even more so when considering Lee’s 1989 masterpiece. The film follows a day in the life of Mookie (played by Lee), a slacker pizza-delivery man living in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The seemingly lighthearted story turns dark when racial tensions between Mookie’s white co-workers (John Turturro and Danny Aiello in an Oscar nominated performance) and his African-American neighbors grow uncontrollably large. The film is jaw-droppingly poignant and eloquently interweaves formal film styling with a moving message on the dangers of prejudice and intolerance.
Do the Right Thing is the first film we’ve encountered so far whose directing style is intentionally experimental. Unflattering close-ups, a purposefully disorienting sound-design, and the occasional breaking of the “fourth wall” all point to Lee’s innovative methods of communication. And while some choices may be polarizing amongst viewers,
they all seem deliberate and purposeful, rather than original just for the sake of being original. Lee shows a propensity for everything, from the creation of dozens of brilliantly compelling characters (Samuel L. Jackson’s performance of Mister Señor Love Daddy is one of the most memorable), to the attention to the smallest details: like the Jackie Robinson jersey that Mookie wears throughout the film.
Spike Lee’s magnum opus is simply a great example of what film has the potential to do. A film can make us laugh, make us gasp, make us cry, but all of that is ultimately fleeting if a film doesn’t make us think; doesn’t have us re-examining our lives outside of the theater. Do the Right Thing masterfully combines these elements of raw emotional reaction with thought-provoking content, and for that it receives a giant A. The film also gets an 8.5 on the Liberty Scale for calling into question the “innocence” of small prejudices. I had not seen Do the Right Thing before I started the 100 Movie Challenge, and it affirmed my faith that this is going to be one incredible ride through film.
We’re 5 films in! Next is #95 The Last Picture Show.
100. Ben Hur 99. Toy Story 98. Yankee Doodle Dandy 97. Blade Runner 96. Do the Right Thing
- 95. The Last Picture Show
What did you think of Do the Right Thing? Were you struck by the social commentary? Or were you less inclined to buy into Spike Lee’s directing style? Let us know!
To see the rest of the list click here.