Saturday, March 18, 2017

Queen Latifah's Top 10 Performances


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
Last Holiday
(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
Joyful Noise
(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
Jungle Fever
(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
Hairspray
(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
Chicago
(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
Bessie
(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.


Click Below for more Queen Latifah Related Posts


25 comments:

  1. There are a few films here I have not seen but I love everything she does. I find her a true renaissance woman who can make anything golden. I need to see her as Bessie Smith because that is another legendary lady and I am proud to say I have a record of hers. I can't think of the name of the movie but she did a good comedy with Steve Martin as well. She is an under-rated actress who needs to have a film she can sink her teeth into...she can easily win an Oscar if given the chance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bringing Down The House is the name of the comedy with Steve Martin. That's a great movie.

      Delete
    2. Latifah certainly seems to have the Midas touch. Dare I say that if Bessie were a theatrical release and not an HBO movie there would've been been some Oscar buzz around it. She's that good in it. The Steve Martin movie you're referring to is Bringing Down the House. Not one of my faves. Too many racial/racist stereotypes presented as comic fodder for me. However, it was a hit, so what do I know? Props to you for having a Bessie Smith record.

      Delete
  2. I haven't seen a lot of her work but I've enjoyed her presence in movies. She has this charisma that just draws people to her. My favorite of hers is Just Wright; it's a lovely movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Her charisma is off the charts. No doubt about it. Just Wright is a solid flick.

      Delete
  3. I love Queen Latifah. I'm not very well versed in her rap music but I love her acting. She's my favorite Motormouth Maybelle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She's excellent at everything she does, it seems. And she's definitely my favorite Maybelle, too.

      Delete
  4. I actually haven't seen a lot of these films. Shame on me! I think her turn in The Last Holiday was one of my favourites. I wasn't a fan of the movie at all but she made up for its many flaws. She's truly class. I would have listed her work with Steve Martin in Bringin Down The House, that's one of my favourite films from when I was younger - she's hilarious in it. Great list, Dell!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you catch up with the ones you haven't seen. The Queen is routinely excellent. That said, I can't say I'm a fan of Bringing Down the House. See my comment above for more clarity on that matter. Thanks!

      Delete
  5. Great post. What a range. I liked her (in a smaller role) in Stranger than Fiction too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. Her work in Stranger Than Fiction is very good. It's one of several roles I was considering for that 10th spot.

      Delete
    2. I would put her in for Stranger Than Fiction. It's a small role, but she makes every scene she's in.

      Delete
    3. I wouldn't argue with you. She was really good there, too.

      Delete
  6. Oh, she is great as Lashawn. That little moment was kind of scary. I also love her as Motormouth Maybelle as she is born to play that role.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Scary, indeed. She's brilliant as Maybelle.

      Delete
  7. Great post, as always. I really need to see Bessie -- it sounds like it was truly a labor of love for her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was and it paid off with a great performance.

      Delete
  8. I love Queen Latifah even though I don't always love the films she makes, I'll never be able to unsee Taxi!, but there are a few here that I did enjoy.

    She was wonderful in Chicago, easing the pain of having to put up with Zellweger, and a warm very fun Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray. I didn't love the overall film of Bessie but she was exceptionally good in it. However my favorite, even if it is silly and at times ridiculous, is Last Holiday. She's so charming in it, I enjoyed the original Alec Guinness version but it had that British reserve that held the audience at bay which her warmth overcomes and that pulls you into the film more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Taxi was terrible and The Cookout was at least 10 times worse. So glad she got out of that rut.

      Haven't seen the British version of Last Holiday, but what you say makes perfect sense. The Queen has none of that arm's length stuff with her audience.

      Delete
  9. LOVE her Georgia Byrd in Last Holiday. The movie is pure comfort food, and a large part of that is her warm, charismatic presence. That "WHY?!?!?" moment with the choir never fails to put me in hysterics.

    There's no question on that top three, though, and their order. I saw Set It Off recently on the big screen at Metrograph in NYC and WOW is it good. And the Queen is absolutely tremendous in it. Bessie is absolutely her best work, but I'll always have a soft spot for her Mama Morton. Her rendition of "When You're Good to Mama" is FIRE, and she's wonderfully subtle in the book scenes.

    Thanks for this retrospective!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Warm and charismatic are perfect adjectives for The Queen.

      Glad you got to see Set it Off on the big screen. I remember going to see it back on its opening weekend and being blown away by her performance.

      Delete
  10. Set it Off, Living Out Loud... hell yeah! Great picks here. Her cameo in Jungle Fever is so scathing. I had no idea that was her debut!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. It's amazing to think that she was so passionate and confident on her very first acting gig she nearly stole an entire movie with one scene.

      Delete
  11. I must admit I've only saw her in Chicago out of movies you listed but she was absolutely wonderful in that. Such a charismatic, gifted actress.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I LOVE Queen Latifah. I saw this on Twitter and I knew I 'd have to come back. All your picks are great (of her). Bessie #1 for sure. I'll watch anything she's in though. I loved how she recently did that lip synch battle show, and she did an LL Cool J bit (he hosts the show) - it was CLASSIC. She's the best.

    ReplyDelete