Streaming: the best Sidney Poitier films | Sidney Poitier

SIdney Poitier’s death in January was one of the most disconcerting celebrity losses of the year. Living luminaries of classic Hollywood cinema are few and far between, and Poitier was the key bridging figure between that era and the industry’s more progressive present. This feeling of a broken link with the past is reinforced by sydney (Apple TV+), a new documentary made with his participation shortly before his death. Directed by veteran black filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, it’s a warm and generous, if not particularly penetrating, portrait that serves at best as an introduction for younger audiences to Poitier’s pioneering status as a leading man in Hollywood. under white domination.

Talking heads like Oprah Winfrey testify to her famous dignity and diplomacy in a difficult symbolic position, as well as the flamboyant on-screen charisma that drew conservative audiences to films then adventurous about American racial inequality. sydney is unsurprisingly more circumspect when it comes to accommodating Poitier’s criticisms, ironing out certain nuances in his relationship to the civil rights movement, and nodding to James Baldwin’s thoughts of Poitier as a problematically sanctified figure without include the writer’s actual arguments. Poitier’s presence is the film’s strongest asset: his retelling of his impoverished upbringing in the Bahamas and his first encounters with Jim Crow racism in America is moving and resonant, that wondrous voice reaching and teaching his audience for the last time.

‘Livewire turn’: with Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle. Rex/Shutterstock

Hudlin’s documentary will hopefully bring uninitiated viewers into Poitiers’ fascinating filmography – beginning with a gripping appearance as a young county hospital doctor facing racial hatred in the unusually political film noir of Joseph L Mankiewicz. No Exit (Apple TV), in some ways a tougher and braver film than the liberal-message movies Poitier made as his biggest star. Other notable early credits of his – including edge of town, something of value and even Otto Preminger Porgy and Bess – are frustratingly unavailable to stream legally, but you can see his livewire become a gifted and recalcitrant student in the influential class drama blackboard jungle (AmazonPrime).

Full-fledged stardom came with his rousing partnership with Tony Curtis in the prison breakout drama The defiant (another title inexplicably absent from streaming services), a more muscular film and role than the one that ultimately won him a historic Oscar – the brilliant but toothless field lily (Apple TV), who isn’t averse to the “magic ghostwriter” stereotype in his story of an itinerant worker helping a group of European nuns build a chapel.

Films that cast Poitier in predominantly black stories – such as Porgy and Bess and the moving social-realistic family drama A raisin in the sun (Amazon Prime) – has never done better for him. Poitier’s career moved increasingly towards films in which he was a black figure isolated from integration and oppression, culminating in 1967 with a trio of box office hits. Pit the Charm of Poitier Against the Waspy Thrill of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Interracial Romance Guess who’s coming to dinner (Google Play) is now the most fiery of them, with the London set To sir, with love (Apple TV), which overthrew Poitiers blackboard jungle role by making him the teacher of undisciplined young people, just as naive and sentimental but rather more endearing. Concise and taut, with a tough foil for Poitier in Rod Steiger’s racist police chief, the Oscar-laden Southern crime drama In the heat of the Night (Apple TV) remains the best of them.

Poitier with Katharine Houghton, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
Poitier with Katharine Houghton, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Features of Rex

That year marked the peak of Poitier’s career, which slowed in the post-Civil Rights era. Except a cover sound In the heat of the Night role in the least They call me Mr. Tibbs! (Google Play), the 1970s lacked iconic roles, but Poitier turned to directing, often displaying a levity and humor in his own films that Hollywood hadn’t quite adapted. The Merry Black Western Buck and the preacher (Amazon Prime), the sweet romantic melodrama A hot December (Amazon Prime) and Frenzied Prank stir crazy (Chile) all holding up, though Bill Cosby’s unassailable fantasy ghost dad (Apple TV, if you dare) was at a career low. And even though Poitier only became the most casual actor from the 1980s, the star turns effortlessly in films such as the spry hacker caper Sneakers (Amazon) were reminders of what Hollywood had and, for all the reverence, perhaps never fully appreciated.

Also new in streaming and DVD

Elvis
(Warner Bros.)
Rarely has the inspiration-starved musical biopic genre proven so ideal between creator and subject as Baz Luhrmann and Elvis Presley – two big, serious showmen who aren’t afraid to cap excess or bad taste in pursuit of their audience. Thrilling, at times gripping, and ultimately deeply moving, this study of celebrity life as a constant, rolling montage wobbles and misses on occasion, but more often connects dramatically, through Luhrmann’s scintillating aesthetic and Austin Butler’s megawatt performance.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley.
“Megawatt” Austin Butler as Elvis Presley. Alamy

Athena
(Netflix)
Famous for his propulsive and provocative music videos for MIA and Justice, Romain Gavras – son of Greek author Costa-Gavras – had yet to make a feature film with equal sparkle and excitement. That changes with this technically exhilarating and politically rabid action flick about a Parisian suburban uprising against unconscionable police brutality. Co-written by The setmaples director Ladj Ly, it’s kind of a reverse shot of this film, its perspective driven by the victims rather than the authorities, and with the making of the film dialed up to 11: some jaw-dropping choreographed long takes here can be timeless.

Nitram
(Picturehouse)
Justin Kurzel’s chilling and demanding anatomy of Tasmania’s 1996 Port Arthur massacre – the largest mass shooting in modern Australian history – takes a high risk by focusing on its perpetrator, probing mental illness and domestic upheavals that led to the event. It pays off: A character study that manages a delicate balance between amorality and compassion, it’s grounded in heartbreaking performances from Caleb Landry Jones as Bryant, and Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia as his parents from increasingly desperate.

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