After 25 years in Hollywood, Forest Whitaker is finally getting top billing. In the last 12 months, he has picked up an Oscar for his gripping portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He caps the year with "The Great Debaters," which opened Dec. 25. An all-star collaboration, the film was directed by and co-stars Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions. It's already caught a lot of buzz, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture, despite mixed reviews. As James Farmer, Whitaker dons a Southern accent in the (somewhat) true story of a champion debate team from Wiley College, a small, historically black institution in rural Texas. Farmer is the father of a student who joins Wiley, which is led by the charismatic and polarizing poet Melvin Tolson (Washington). At first, Farmer is skeptical of the radical teacher who leads the team, but as the Wiley debaters rack up victories, he starts to change his mind. After the movie ends, the real-life James Farmer, Jr., goes on to become a leader in the civil rights movement. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the Jim Crow South, the 1935 Wiley debate team caps the film with a victory against Harvard, a match that, in real life, pitted Wiley against the University of Southern California. Some critics have said that the film plays into feel-good movie formulas, yet somehow, the cast manages to rise above the cliches of an Oprah-approved historical drama.