By John H. Foote
Da Five Bloods, Spike Lee’s fine haunting film for Netflix about four veterans returning to Vietnam years after the war, is among the year’s very best films, and among the best films Lee has ever made. It began streaming on Netflix in May of last year to excellent reviews, and it seemed to me Lee was headed for more Academy Award attention after finally winning his first for writing the screenplay to BlacKkKlansman (correct spelling) in 2018. His nomination for Best Director for that film was the first Oscar nomination for Best Director of his career, needless to say a slap in the face.
But a greater slap will be if he is snubbed as Best Director for Da Five Bloods!
Lee tried to make a war film in 2006 to dismal results, Miracle at St. Anna being a dreadful film that made the black soldiers look like dumb field hands. After voicing concerns that Clint Eastwood’s war films had no black soldiers, he decided to make his own, but it was a weak effort, one of his worst films.
Lee’s history with the Academy and being nominated is as spiky as Spike himself. He has been deserving so many times and been snubbed it is frankly an embarrassment to the Academy, so much so that just a few years ago he was given an Honorary Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement!
After bursting into the forefront of American film directors in the eighties, his major film, Do the Right Thing (1989) was hailed by North American for the masterpiece it was and won the Los Angeles Film Critics Award for Best Picture. Yet despite the glowing reviews, it was snubbed almost entirely for Academy Awards. No Best Picture, no Best Director despite clearly being the best in both categories. His Malcolm X (1992) was a magnificent film, anchored by a sizzling performance from Denzel Washington, but this was Lee’s film, an honest picture looking at Malcolm warts and all. Again the Academy robbed Lee, with just two nominations for the film.
And so it went.
In the nineties his seminal documentary Four Little Girls (1997) was nominated for Best Documentary Feature, but again Lee was snubbed, this time to a Holocaust film, which he predicted. In 2006 he directed When the Levees Broke, to this day the greatest documentary ever made, yet the Academy deemed it ineligible because it had played first on HBO. Ridiculous, a doc is a doc is a doc and how many get theatrical releases? It was not until 2018, more than 30 years after his breakthrough into film, Lee was finally a nominee for Best Director and won the screenplay award, both honors coming after the Lifetime Achievement Award.
With Da Five Bloods he made a searing film about veterans in Vietnam, 40 or more years after the war. In a brilliant stroke of imagination, Lee did not cast younger lookalike actors as the younger versions of the main characters, but recognizing the story was memory, allowed the 50 and 60-year old actors to portray their younger selves. It worked brilliantly, with the late Chadwick Boseman portrayed Stormin’ Norman in his twenties because he was a ghost to the men having died tragically in Vietnam. Da Five Bloods was often deeply moving, with a profoundly brilliant performance from Delroy Lindo as a man with a dark secret and tortured by his nightmares.
It was a bold move from Lee but one that worked to absolute perfection. The result was a lush, striking film about a war that divided the United States and in many ways was still harboring deep scars from the countries and people who fought it. The film is easily among the finest five films made about the conflict in Vietnam.
Why is Spike Lee not a DGA nominee?
Why is he a long shot for an Oscar nominee?
Why, yet again, is he not being recognized for being the great filmmaker he truly is?
For all the talk about recognizing women for their artistry when directing, not recognizing Lee is an abomination.
Or is this about humiliating Netflix yet again? Get used to it Hollywood, they are here to stay.
So obviously is Spike Lee, who Oscars or not is among the greatest American directors in cinema history.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.