I'm no fan of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, but when I watch Morgan Freeman steal scenes with his omniscient air as Batman's gadget-master, I sometimes think, "Maybe Morgan Freeman really is God."

A few days before the opening of his latest movie, "Red," Freeman has been named the 39th recipient of the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award, which he will be given in June.

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Looking over Freeman's long and often surprising career, I realized that several of my favorite Freeman performances were in movies that were overlooked or underrated and forgotten, including his breakthrough movie, "Street Smart," in which he played a very scary pimp. A couple of months ago I wrote about his unsung, stunning acting duet with Forest Whitaker in Walter Hill's film noir "Johnny Handsome," which also included Mickey Rourke's best pre-"Wrestler" star performance (you can see it now on Blu-ray).

And Freeman was quietly galvanizing in Steven Spielberg's least-talked-about epic, "Amistad." When Spielberg's writers introduced a fictional black abolitionist named Joadson into the true story of a revolt on a slave ship and the rebels' trial in America, it may have been a nod toward political correctness. But Freeman's towering presence turned it into a soul-quaking affirmation. (You can even sense that in the still above.) Freeman is rending when Joadson searches the slave ship "La Amistad" and this free black man imagines the horrors that it held. His mournful, appalled eyes prepare you for the molten core of the movie - its wrenching revelations of the slave passage to America.

What are your favorite Freeman performances? And, by the way, are you looking forward to "Red?"

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