I call these Nia Long movies because for a while there, you just couldn't make a decent New Jack/Neo-Soul movie without Ms. Nia. The New Jack/Neo-Soul Movies were during a semi-Urban Hollywood Renaissance of the 1990s where movies, music and TV shows spotlighting black culture (in all its nuance) were plentiful. In order to be a true New Jack/Neo-Soul movie you needed three things: 1) an ensemble cast full of popular talented pretty black people, 2) a plot tied to the black experience but relatable to all races, and lastly 3) a slamming soundtrack. Sometimes I had the soundtrack memorized before I even saw the movie. Embedded video below safe for work or young ears:
It was way too hard to pick my top five favorites in this category so I just chose five at random out of my top fifteen. Here, in no particular order are some the great New Jack/Neo-Soul movies of the 1990s. (We could use some like this today!):
Love Jones: Nia Long and Larenz Tate are young game-playing up and comers in Chicago. If they had Facebook statuses back then, theirs would have been: It's Complicated. Never the less, in a very basic yet entertaining Boy meets Girl plot, you feel like you are watching people you know (well) as they try and get their love jones on. Additional cast members of note are Isaiah Washington, Bill Bellamy and Lisa Nicole Carson (where is she now?). Led by the power vocals of Lauryn Hill and Dionne Ferris, this soundtrack is timeless. Cassandra Wilson's "You Move Me" is one of the sexiest songs ever. Ever I say.
New Jack City: Wesley Snipes as Nino Brown is one the most quintessentially evil villains to ever grace a film screen. Allen Payne, Michael Michelle, Bill Nunn, Mario Van Peebles, Ice-T, Judd Nelson and Chris Rock (as cursed crackhead Pookie) round out the cast. Based (loosely) on the exploits of real-life gangster Nicky Barnes (and others) and law enforcement's determination to bring him down, New Jack City is one long (well-scored) anti-drug commercial. Directed by Mario Van Peebles, he said he wanted to make sure that every major character that touched drugs died… in case you missed the lesson. Christopher Williams' "If I'm Dreaming" is a favorite, Keith Sweatt's "There you go (telling me no)" ranks on my least favorite songs of all time but "I Wanna Sex You Up" by the now defunct Color Me Badd stayed in my head for years.
Mo' Better Blues: Denzel states, "The mo' betta makes it mo' betta." Need we say more? Okay, a few things, this Spike Lee joint is about a jazz musician Bleek Williams (Washington) who is your basic talented but conflicted dude with doggish tendencies. His partner, friend, rival and nemesis, Shadow (Snipes) wants everything that Bleek has. A story of professional and personal jealousies and demons, it's not the easiest of Spike's films to watch but it's still beautiful in its well-acted, well-written complexities. Supported by Cynda Williams, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, Wesley Snipes, Joie Lee, the late Robin Harris and Spike Lee himself, this is Spike's "prettiest" film from a strictly cinematographic point of view. The soundtrack is not full of poppy hits but lovely and memorable jazz highlighted by The Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terence Blanchard's rendition of the title track "Mo' Better Blues".
Boomerang: Bless the person who greenlit this film… I can hear the pitch now: Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrewnce and David Alan Grier are best friends. Eddie is a marketing exec who chases women. He is chased by Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt and Lela Rochon. He falls for Robin Givens who dogs him and ends up with Halle Berry who he dogs. Also, Tisha Campbell and Chris Rock will have small roles. We're gonna bring in Geoffrey Holder and John Witherspoon to hold things down – sold? SOLD! Toni Braxton, Babyface and Boyz II Men have hits on this album but my favorite song (I'm sure this says something about me) is the less appreciated "Hot Sex" by a Tribe Called Quest.
Boyz N the Hood: Every time I watch this movie I wish Ricky would run a little faster. Looking back now, this was a cast of brilliant proportions (Angela Bassett, Laurence ishburne, Morris Chestnut, Cuba Gooding Jr, Nia Long, Regina King, even Ice Cube). The story of young people just 'trying to survive in South Central' was smartly written included a moral (for any who cared to learn it) and a soundtrack that stands the test of time. Where is John Singleton now? There is not a song on the soundtrack that I didn't love. Tevin Campbell, Yo-Yo, Toni Tony Tone all contributed songs I love but my favorite cut is the Quincy Jones/Take 6 interlude called "Setembro".
Most Slept on in this Genre: Hav Plenty
Fails in this genre: Juice (which I always confuse with Above the Rim) and Two Can Play that Game.
[pause for the 'pay the bills' cause: All of the movies and soundtracks listed in this post are available at the OneChele Amazon Store]
Back to business... And the floor is yours, what's your favorite New Neo movie of the 1990s and why? What's your least favorite? And which soundtrack do you still play today? Take the poll, leave a comment, share!