"The Butler"

Robin Williams, left, and Forest Whitaker star in "The Butler." (Anne Marie Fox / Weinstein Co. / September 19, 2013)

In "The Butler," director Lee Daniels sets the table with a great deal of care, especially because it unfolds during the volatile years of desegregation. It stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a White House butler privy by sheer proximity to a series of presidents during the contentious Civil Rights era. Wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) keeps the home fires burning, while the irony in her observations is stinging. The film tackles the big picture of changing race relations, a time awash in protests and flames. The smaller story, which is arguably more distinctive, examines an African American family's internal warfare. The battle is generational. Cecil, the son of Southern sharecroppers, holds his dreams in check. For his son, Louis (David Oyelowo), things can't move fast enough. Their fractious relationship is a candid window into a divide rarely examined by Hollywood. It is Daniels' best film yet. Serious and refined, entertaining and insightful, plenty of food for thought left on the table.