Total Recall

Danny Glover's 10 Best Movies

by | November 9, 2016 | Comments

A prolific veteran of the stage and screen, Danny Glover has been a familiar face for generations of moviegoers over the last several decades — and he’s still going strong, as evidenced by his supporting turn in this weekend’s Almost Christmas. In honor of his distinguished and still-growing filmography, we decided to devote this feature to a fond look back at some of its brighter critical highlights, devising a list that’s as eclectic as it is impressive … even without the inclusion of the Lethal Weapon franchise, which averaged out below the cut. Get ready for Total Recall!

10. Bopha! (1993) 82%

The story of apartheid, at least as told on the silver screen, is one of people on opposing sides of history, with its supporters’ dedication to racially based oppression putting them firmly on the losing end. It’s a worthy story, but one with familiar (albeit no less powerful) contours — which makes it all the more to Morgan Freeman‘s credit that for his 1993 directorial effort Bopha!, he framed the South African conflict through the eyes of a black police officer wholly dedicated to upholding the government. Loyal to the system he’s sworn to protect but understandably conflicted about its racist underpinnings, officer Micah Mangena (Glover) grapples with gnawing self-doubt as the clock runs out on apartheid, surrounded by citizens — and even family members — who view him as a traitor. It all adds up, as Leonard Klady wrote for Variety, to “a handsomely crafted, potently played drama that brings the issue of apartheid down to a visceral human dimension.”

9. Bat 21 (1988) 81%

It would be hard to persuasively argue that there aren’t enough war movies — and the Vietnam War was a subject of particularly intense fascination for filmmakers in the ’80s, especially after the outsize success enjoyed by Sylvester Stallone with the First Blood franchise. But Danny Glover and Gene Hackman are capable of enlivening even the most well-trod material, as they proved with 1988’s BAT*21, a fact-based account of a downed colonel’s (Hackman) attempts to get back to friendly territory with the assistance of a pilot (Glover) who risks disciplinary action through his dogged determination to save a fellow soldier. “BAT*21 is an exciting thriller about survival,” wrote Chris Hicks for the Deseret News. “And it also manages to say something about the victims of war, and how distance makes the difference to the soldier.”

8. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) 81%

If you’ve got a movie in which you’ve hired Gene Hackman to play a misanthropic weirdo and you need to cast an actor to play his polar opposite, who do you turn to? Just ask Wes Anderson, whose Royal Tenenbaums cast of outlandish characters was balanced out by Danny Glover as Henry Sherman, the bow-tied accountant whose quiet dependability stands in stark contrast to the psyche-warping megalomania of Hackman’s titular family patriarch. “This comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family of eccentric geniuses is exactly the kind of movie America could use,” wrote Jack Matthews of the New York Daily News. “It’s funny, poignant, laced with irresistibly flawed characters and focuses on the power of love in a family.”

7. Grand Canyon (1991) 77%

The early ’90s saw Glover pulling action thriller duty with Predator 2 and the Lethal Weapon franchise, but he still managed to make room for the occasional drama — like Lawrence and Meg Kasdan‘s Grand Canyon, which blended a starry ensemble for a thoughtful look at race and class in Los Angeles at the dawn of the decade. Playing a tow truck driver whose well-timed arrival to pick up a client (Kevin Kline) sets the plot in motion, Glover shared screen time with a cast that also included Steve Martin, Alfre Woodard, and Mary-Louise Parker, and although the movie wasn’t a major box office hit, it touched on themes and narrative techniques that would resonate throughout the decade and beyond. “It maps these dark, desperate, fearful times with comic and terrifying veracity,” wrote Joe Brown for the Washington Post, “and holds out a glimmer of hope for the soul-searching survivors of the ’90s.”

6. Beyond the Lights (2014) 83%

It might seem like Danny Glover’s been on the big screen less often lately, but he’s really working more than ever, cranking out six or seven movies a year — and picking some pretty good scripts along the way, as evidenced by his NAACP Image Award-nominated work in 2014’s Beyond the Lights. Appearing in a supporting role, Glover played the police captain father of male lead Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), a young police officer whose budding romance with a troubled pop star (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) prompts some stern paternal advice — and helps ground a picture that flirts with glitzy melodrama but ultimately sticks the landing. As Bilge Ebiri wrote for Vulture, “How bracing today to have a film that’s at once fun, patient, romantic, and real.”


5. John Grisham's The Rainmaker (1997) 82%

Glover was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his work in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker, a critical and commercial hit whose success proved that in the right hands, even a bestseller from an author perceived as a lightweight can make for compelling cinema. Matt Damon toplined as Rudy Baylor, a young and (at least temporarily) naive law school grad who ends up filing a lawsuit against a shady insurance company, and Coppola put him in very good company, surrounded the young star with a supporting cast that included Glover (playing a judge who takes over the case), Danny DeVito, Jon Voight, Roy Scheider, Mickey Rourke, and Claire Danes. Critics might have gone in expecting something that would live down to Grisham’s lowbrow reputation, but they came away pleasantly surprised — as Madeleine Williams of Cinematter observed, “With numerous entertaining subplots, plenty of well thought-out characters, brought to life by talented actors, and an invigorating trial, what more do you want from a Grisham film?”

4. To Sleep With Anger (1990) 88%

One of the less discovered entries in Danny Glover’s filmography, To Sleep with Anger is also one of the more distinctively enjoyable — and a rare showcase for Glover’s gifts in a leading role. He stars here as Harry Mention, a traveler whose past with married couple Gideon (Paul Butler) and Suzie (Mary Alice), earns him lodging in their Los Angeles home when he passes into town on his way to San Francisco. Their good deed doesn’t go unpunished, as Harry’s arrival immediately begins wreaking potentially supernatural havoc on the lives of everyone around them — all stemming from Harry’s seemingly innocuous yet ultimately malevolent presence. Glover won an Independent Spirit Award for his portrayal of the interloper, along with praise from critics like the Washington Post’s Rita Kempley, who called the movie “A universal look at familial dynamics, articulated from a uniquely black, warmly poetic perspective.”

3. The Color Purple (1985) 81%

Glover’s mid-’80s hot streak reached its arguable zenith with a major role in 1985’s The Color Purple, a prestige project from blockbuster savant Steven Spielberg that united an incredible cast in service of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-winning novel about an African-American woman’s experiences in the rural South during the early years of the 20th century. Defying pundits who suspected Spielberg lacked the gravitas to tell a serious story — or who took issue with a white director telling a story pulled from the pages of black American history — Purple reaped nearly universal critical acclaim, made more than $140 million at the U.S. box office, and racked up 11 Oscar nominations. “It is a great, warm, hard, unforgiving, triumphant movie,” wrote Roger Ebert, “and there is not a scene that does not shine with the love of the people who made it.”

2. Witness (1985) 93%

Glover hasn’t played a lot of really bad guys in his career, but with 1985’s Witness, he took on a doozy — a crooked cop who’s not only out to put the hurt on Harrison Ford for ratting him out to a superior, but willing to kill a young Amish boy who happened to witness (get it?) his murder of an undercover officer. Ford’s character, wounded after being attacked by Glover, recuperates in the care of the boy’s community, setting up a tense thriller that unfolds against a fish-out-of-water tale and a love story with Kelly McGillis — as well as one of the year’s bigger critical and commercial hits. The end result, as Filmcritic’s Pete Croatto argued, “takes a high concept idea and turns it into a character study more suspenseful and more rewarding than the anticipated norm.”

1. Places in the Heart (1984) 89%

Glover scored his first substantial role in a major picture with Places in the Heart, playing a handyman who latches on with a widow (Sally Field, who won a Best Actress Oscar) struggling to keep her Texas farm afloat during the Great Depression. The kind of film whose plot doesn’t seem to cover a lot of ground, but which deals with some unmistakably weighty themes (in this case racism, adultery, and family commitment), Places in the Heart wasn’t necessarily one of the most exciting pictures of the year, but it was an Academy favorite — Field’s Best Actress win prompted her oft-lampooned “you like me” speech — and a source of admiration for critics like Vincent Canby of the New York Times, who wrote, “Out of the memories of his boyhood in Waxahachie, Tex., during the Great Depression, and within the unlikely tradition of the old-fashioned ‘mortgage’ melodrama, Robert Benton has made one of the best films in years about growing up American.”

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