I promised my brother I wouldn’t say a word about “Widows” until he’d seen it, and he took his sweet ass time, but I can finally lift this self-imposed embargo. If you are the OTHER person I made that promise to, you have chosen your own fate in continuing to read this. I always try to keep it spoiler free but proceed with caution nonetheless. Or just skip this.
“Widows” directed by Steve McQueen is my favorite film of the year.
It was my most anticipated film of the year and I wasn’t let down. It’s smart, always interesting and beyond that, it’s full of the kind of social commentary you never find in genre films. An intense heist film where the stakes truly matter, where you care about the characters and feel the very real danger of each choice, every action, and every bullet.
I wondered why Steve McQueen, coming off his Oscar win for “12 Years A Slave” would choose to shoot a feature film remake of an ’80’s TV miniseries about a robbery gone wrong; in hindsight, it was an absolutely logical next step. The man excels at deconstructing genres like he did with the slave movie, and the sexual thriller before that (“Shame”) and the prison film even before that (“Hunger”). He breaks down the structures of those genres, sifts through the tropes, redesigns the cliches and builds it all back up in such a profoundly organic way that you feel like you’re watching this kind of film for the first time.
Listen, there is a sequence in this movie… dammit, I don’t want to spoil it cos it gave me the chills when I realized what he was doing. There’s a scene where a couple’s argument inside a moving car is shown to us from OUTSIDE the car, like on the hood of the car but we can’t see inside through the tinted windows, so all we can do is listen to them argue and take in the streets of Chicago passing by. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it, the scene stands out. But note where the car starts off and then where it eventually comes to a stop. Then ask yourself why.
They simply don’t make films like this every day. There are so many ways it could compromise and be more appealing to a wide audience but they’ve stuck with a film that challenges us to fully invest our attention, to wrestle with the ideas it presents and then decide in the end what constitutes a Win.
Shout out to a stellar cast: Viola Davis is almost certainly headed for another Oscar nomination for this but the performances all through are just *chef’s finger kiss*. Shout out Kaluuya as Jatemme! Shout out the superb screenplay by Gillian Flynn who truly excels at writing women that are very hard to like yet remain entirely sympathetic and/or relatable. That’s such a tough balance to pull off.
Blacks in cinema have had a great year, especially behind the lens… I mean a truly outstanding year when you think about it. “Black Panther” definitely led the way as the All-star black cultural event of the year, but Spike Lee had one of the biggest hits of his career in “BlackKklansman” too this year. And Boots Riley knocked everyone’s socks off with his debut feature “Sorry To Bother You”. Kevin Hart successfully launched his HartBeat Production shingle with the hit movie “Night School” which just eclipsed $100m in worldwide box office. Steven Caple Jr’s “Creed 2” just exceeded all expectations and logged the highest grossing live-action debut for Thanksgiving weekend. Ever. It’s just getting started. Ava DuVernay just signed a $100m contract with WarnerTV. George Tilman Jr had one of the most critically acclaimed wide releases of the year in “The Hate U Give” (97% on RT and one of a handful of movies to register an A+ cinemascore).
(By the way, I always forget to mention this, but if you’re a casual moviegoer, the most useful rating to pay attention to is the Cinemascore rating. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to go see a movie, watch the trailer, then check its Cinemascore rating and see how it compares with your own desire/interest in seeing that movie. Basically, the Cinemascore is derived from polling audiences on their way OUT of the cinema on the night the movie opens. This tends to be a crowd that had great interest in seeing the movie and so if they give the movie an A or A+, it means they got exactly what they came for or even better it exceeded their expectations. If it gets an A- or B+, it was pretty good. B means it was okay. Anything below that, they’re generally disappointed. It won’t reflect if a movie is good or bad; that’s entirely subjective. BUT it’s a great indicator on whether or not you’ll like a movie if, having watched the trailer or heard about the cast, etc, you’re interested but still on the fence. The other ratings like RottenTomatoes or Metacritic are for critics and cinephiles. The IMDb rating is broken is so many ways, don’t ever rely on it for anything. Cinemascore is the clearest indicator but you have to apply it to your own anticipation of the movie after having watched the trailer. That’s very important.)
Anyways, blacks in cinema are having a stellar year. Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” is swimming in Oscar buzz and opens soon. Shout out “Crazy Rich Asians” man. I love seeing the table broaden out to explore more stories. And it hasn’t taken away from anyone else, now has it? That was the whole goddamn point! Let me not get mad about this again. Shout out “Blindspotting”. Mad talented Latino director, Carlos Lopez Estrada, turned heads with his feature film debut. What a year for feature film debuts, by the way! It’s crazy difficult to make a good, successful film at any point in one’s career but to do so on your first try? Just all the way bananas. Probably the 2 films that have stayed with me the longest, and I watched them months ago but just can’t stop thinking about them, were actually from first-time directors: the bone-chilling “Hereditary”, and the superb, heartbreaking, hilarious, brilliant “Eighth Grade” starring they-better-fucking-nominate-her-or-else-we-riot Elsie Fisher. “Eighth Grade” is a truly special film. Shout out Bo Burnham who seems to be fucking brilliant at everything he does. Fuck him and all his talent. The other one, “Hereditary”, managed to do what 99% of so-called horrors fail to do: it got under my skin and creeped me the fuck out.
Go see “Widows” y’all. Some of you won’t like it. My brother didn’t. The audience I watched it with clapped when the credits rolled. They do that down here for some reason and I love it. They clapped after “BlackKklansman”, “The Hate U Give” and “Green Book” too. I’ll get into “Green Book” next time but fear not, you’re gonna be hearing loads about it over the next few months cos it’s destined for gold.
Be nice to each other.