There's no such thing as a Steven Spielberg Joint. There's no such thing as a Peter Jackson Joint, or a Kathryn Bigelow Joint, or even an Alfred Hitchcock Joint. There are only Spike Lee Joints, now and forever.
It's easy to typify Spike Lee's movies as kinetic, socially conscious meditations on the African American experience, but it's just as hard to pigeonhole the man born as Shelton Jackson Lee. He's explored everything from the heist movie to the war movie, the biopic to the documentary. With a penchant for experimentation and a resume that runs about 20 features deep, Spike's flicks -- which are no stranger to divisive opinions -- run the gamut from interesting but disjointed to absolutely legendary Joints. Here are just a handful of the latter to celebrate.
'Do the Right Thing' (1989)
Is there ever really any other way to start this list?
"Do the Right Thing" wasn't Spike Lee's first movie, but it was his first explosion, the breakthrough movie that became his ticket to immortality. On the hottest day of the year in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, pizza boy Mookie (played by Lee himself) navigates his way through a sea of electric, eclectic, and super memorable characters as racial tensions rise with the temps at the local pizza shop. Mookie never really figures out what the "right thing" is, and neither do we -- but we're left thinking that there's got to be a right thing out there, and we're gonna find it.
'Malcolm X' (1992)
On paper, "Malcolm X" is one of Spike's most conventional Joints. It's an uncompromising and -- at about three hours and 20 minutes -- incredibly comprehensive biopic of its subject, played with incomparable intensity by the one and only Denzel Washington. But peel the paper away and you've got a tooth-and-nail passion project made possible by sweat, tears, blood, and celebrity donations when the studio got cold feet. And that passion shows in all 300,000 or so frames of "Malcolm X."
Now let's get right back into the unconventional -- 2015's "Chi-Raq" didn't quite capture the media heat that some of Spike's other movies have generated, but it might just be his best 21st-century feature. Lee's 21st-century reimagining of "Lysistrata," in which a group of women withhold sex in protest to violence, is messy, raw, and even a little sloppy at times. Or at lots of times. But it also represents a recapturing of the verve, vigor, and vision of the director's early work. Meet the new Joint -- same as the old Joint.
'When the Levees Broke' (2006)
From hissy fits at Cannes to lawsuit-inducing Twitter gaffes, Spike doesn't exactly have a reputation for levelheaded nuance. But his four-part HBO documentary, "When the Levees Broke" is just another one of his many contradictions. As it explores every facet of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath -- from the micro to the macro, from hands-on human stories to clips of Kanye West and George Bush -- "Levees" reveals Lee as a hugely emphatic, detail-oriented filmmaker with more than enough heart and sadness for his fellow man to go around.
'She's Gotta Have It' (1986)
"She's Gotta Have It" was Spike's first Joint, a movie made in two weeks' time on a budget of $175,000 -- begged and borrowed -- that went on to become one of the highest grossers of 1986. If you haven't caught this one yet, imagine all the electricity of "Do the Right Thing" channeled through the hunger of a first-time filmmaker -- the story of a sexually liberated Nola's (Tracy Camilla Johns) complex love triangle features a similar frenetic balancing act of quirky comedy and gritty, searing drama.
Lee famously said, "I think it is very important that films make people look at what they've forgotten." We're 30 years in, and no one's planning to forget this one, Spike.
- Spike Lee Films, Ranked from Worst to Best
- Ranked: Spike Lee Films from Best to Worst
- Top 10 Spike Lee Joints
- Spike Lee Biography
- Spike Lee Quotes
- Spike Lee on his Trayvon Martin Tweet: 'I Did a Stupid Thing'