forest whitaker (lee daniels the butler)*August 16th saw the release of one of the most anticipated movies of the fall – “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” the ambitious historical epic from the “Precious” director that tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a butler who served the presidents that held office from 1952-1986.

The movie is populated by big-ticket stars playing different historical figures – James Marsden as JFK, Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber as LBJ, John Cusack as Nixon, Alan Rickman as Reagan – and features the big-screen return of Oprah Winfrey as Gaines’ wife, Gloria.

However, the movie belongs to Whitaker, and rightfully so. His performance as Gaines (based on the real-life story of White House butler Eugene Allen) is fantastic; it’s an affecting, heartfelt portrait of a man who had a first-hand glimpse into the minds of the men who helped to shape the 20th century. It’s a crowning achievement for Whitaker, who’s been one of our generation’s greatest actors – memorable in everything from big-budget epics like Good Morning Vietnam and Panic Room to meaty television roles in The Shield and ER and, of course, his crowning, Oscar-winning role as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

However, there are several other lesser-known gems in this versatile actors career. Here’s our picks for the hidden diamonds on the IMDB page of the great Forest Whitaker:

  • BIRD – This shamefully little-seen biopic of the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker could have easily brought Whitaker his first Oscar. Ably directed by Clint Eastwood, Bird is one of the great musical biographies ever put on film.
  • GHOST DOG: WAY OF THE SAMURAI – Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, this intriguing action film features Whitaker as a shadowy, Samurai-like Mafia hitman. It’s a cool, stylish film with a soundtrack by RZA.
  • STREET KINGS – Another underrated crime film, Street Kings is directed by Training Day writer David Ayer and written by the pulp author James Ellroy; it’s a hard-bitten and gripping L.A. street story, with Whitaker stealing the show as a villainous police captain.
  • BODY SNATCHERS – Yet another adaptation of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers book, this 1993 film directed by Abel Ferrara (King of New York) is a scary alien flick, with Whitaker giving another fantastic performance as an Army officer.