Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Top 5 Movie Guide: Morgan Freeman

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we take a look at some of our favorite films featuring Morgan Freeman, star of this weekend's "Olympus Has Fallen". Known for his authoritative voice yet calm demeanor, Freeman's first love wasn't actually acting, but aviation. After attending Los Angeles Community College after high school, he served for several years in the U.S. Air Force as a mechanic. He developed a passion for the theatre while there, and eventually had to weigh a career as a pilot or that of an actor. Luckily for us, he chose acting.


He began the first decade of his career on stage, refining his craft - and picking up a bevvy of awards along the way. He appeared in various television shows and TV movies throughout the late-1970's and early-1980's, eventually earning his big break in 1987 (and more commercially, a few years later in 1989). He earned Oscar nominations for his performances in "Street Smart" (1987) and "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989). These roles established Freeman as a go-to actor of the 1990's. He continued his rise over the decade, picking up another personal Oscar nomination for his work in "The Shawshank Redemption" (1997), and also appearing in another Best Picture winner, "Unforgiven" (1992).

Cited by many circles as the "greatest living actor in film", Freeman is the only African American actor to appear in three different Best Picture Winners (the third being "Million Dollar Baby" in 2004, a film which also provided him his first personal Oscar win). In his 35+ year film career, he's never went more than ten years between Oscar nominations. And while now in the latter stages of his career, at age 65, he continues to be a force on screen.

A quick note of reference before we get started: If you recall, "The Shawshank Redemption" was enshrined on our Prison Movies list in April of last year. While all of us would have surely loved to include it below, as is customary, we removed it from consideration to make way for new titles. So when you don't see it anywhere below, it's not because it was forgotten, instead because we collectively loved it too much.

Still, plenty of variety to choose from this week; hit the jump to see which films made our lists!


Alex Schopp -
I generally enjoy watching Freeman act, but that being said, I'm not really loving the overall grouping of films he's been in. I'd love to see a few more titles in his filmography that just blow you away.

     1. Unforgiven (1992)

An epic western. I actually just re-watched this film a few weeks back. I love the classic story arcs here; I will never get tired of a one-last-hurrah theme. Clint Eastwood did a beautiful job with the direction, as the tone and pace are exactly what I want in a modern western (actually, I think we can probably give this film credit for starting that trend).
     2. Se7en (1995)
It's been a few years since I've revisited this film, but I definitely don't forget the tension or the graphic imagery present. Strong performances by both Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, and director David Fincher nails the tone. If you're looking for a great thriller, this should fit the bill.
     3. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
I'm not sure if most people like this movie or hate it (what year was it that everyone decided it was fashionable to hate Kevin Costner?), but I enjoy this film quite a bit. I've always liked the Robin Hood story, and a team-up of Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman always works for me.
     4. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
While some of the moral politics that center around the film's final act aren't of much interest to me, most of the movie tells a really great story with some strong relationships. All three main characters in this film - Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank, and Freeman - are well developed and provide something important to the story. Plus I enjoy the underdog sports premise more than most.
     5. Unleashed (2005)
This film came out the summer I worked at our local movie theater. I really enjoyed the plot and the characters, especially after expecting next to nothing from it beforehand. This was an easy film to watch multiple times. And the nostalgia of one of the best summers of my adult life was too much to pass up.

Ben Foutch -
I've seen most of his work and am generally happy to see his name on the bill. However, I don't really love any of his movies. This list doesn't necessarily represent his best performances or quality of films.

     1. Se7en (1995)

"Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for." I agree with the second part."
     2. Unforgiven (1992)
"No, last night I said I missed my wife, tonight I just miss my dadgum bed."
     3. Batman Begins (2005)
"Mister Wayne, if you don't want to tell me exactly what you're doing, when I'm asked, I don't have to lie. But don't think of me as an idiot."
     4. Street Smart (1988)
"Who the hell you think you're patronizing now? She might take that shit, I don't. I don't have to go to Harvard to know what you're doin'. You know what I'm tryin' to say to you man, do ya?...You don't tell me how people react to me! I know what people are doin' no matter what they say. Cause I read minds, ya dig?"
     5. Unleashed (2005)
"What I'm trying to say Danny, is after Victoria graduates, we're going to go back home. We're going to go back to New York. And, well I don't know how this would work out, but we would really like for you to come with us, because we've come to think of you as family, and well that's what families do - they stick together, at least this one does. So what do you say?"

Derek Clem -

     1. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991)

I think this was my introduction to Morgan Freeman. If it wasn't, it's the time I was like, I need to know this guy's name, he's awesome.
     2. Se7en (1995)
I really dig the twisted tone in this movie.
     3. Lean On Me (1989)
This man knows how to get things done!
     4. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
He's a man of great patience.
     5. Bruce Almighty (2003)
He's in a lot of better movies than this, but I just love the way he plays God. So charming and confident.

Nathan Hinds -

No entries this week.

Tracy Allison -

     1. Se7en (1995)

This movie is extremely clever with a dark tone. You might want to plan something fun to do after you see it though, because otherwise you could end up depressed with maybe even a few nightmares. Morgan Freeman’s relationships with both Brad Pitt’s character and Gwyneth Paltrow’s character give this movie the lift it needs after dealing with some pretty heavy and gruesome matter. Pitt and Freeman are great together, playing off one another.
     2. Unforgiven (1992)
When I first started watching this, I didn't understand what all the fuss was about, but there’s a turning point in which you can’t help but get invested. I like the vintage vibe of this Western and I also like the characters and their varying degrees of moral character. To me, it seemed to be a study on morals. Morgan Freeman’s character serves as a catalyst for the actions leading up to the end of the movie.
     3. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
I love movies about friendships and this subtle movie is poignant without hitting you over the head with politics. It allows you to discover what it’s about without explicitly saying so. The payoff for me happened in the very last scene. It was so beautiful, but the movie wasn't trying to manipulate you into feeling something like so many do with over-the-top music and obvious writing. It was a simple scene, and you get to make of it what you will.
     4. The Dark Knight (2008)
This box office monster had a large cast and the longest line for a premiere midnight showing that I've ever seen. Bruce Wayne didn't have many friends that he could trust, but Morgan Freeman’s character was one of them. People love the updates done to the Batmobile and all of Batman’s gadgets and Freeman was the guy responsible for all of that. With so many roles and powerful performances, Freeman got a little lost in the mix, but it was still nice to see him in this.
     5. Invictus (2009)
I think I thought what everyone in the world thought when they heard that a movie about Nelson Mandela was coming out and Morgan Freeman was playing him, “Who else could have even done the job?” That being said, it’s a solid performance about an important time. I love the rugby aspect of this movie too. It makes it more fun and gives you that inspirational sports movie vibe that’s kicked into a higher and more politically and socially aware gear.

There we have it, folks. Even without one list this week, there were still twelve different films featured above. Plus, here's a fun fact: outside of "The Shawshank Redemption" - which we'll remind you again was enshrined in 2012 and thus not eligible for this post - the our four films which earned Freeman an Oscar nomination all appeared above.

Five films appeared in multiple variety, but only one managed to hit on all four lists: "Se7en". This dark thriller was expertly crafted, and is not easily forgotten. Strong performances by Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Gwyneth Paltrow make this one of the more memorable thrillers to come out of the 90's. The film grabbed two of the four first-place votes above, and hit in the #2 spot on the others.

Otherwise, "Unforgiven" was the only film to appear on three lists, while "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", "Driving Miss Daisy", and "Unleashed" rounded out the group, each grabbing votes on two lists apiece. As usual, this section featured a wide variety of films, but all definitely selections that might provide a bit more overall enjoyment than some other films from Freeman's filmography.

As always, we hope that each of these selections helps you to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that Morgan Freeman has provided over the years, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!