McQueen. McQueen has the latest debut of any auteur on this list thus far (2008). He burst on the scene with Hunger- a film that landed solidly in the top 500 of all-time on my most recent update—the only film of McQueen that is eligible for the all-time top 500 since I have a 10 year moratorium on all new films. He’s started his career with 4 straight top 100 of their respective decade films and there’s no film in there that’s fringy—they’re all in the top 50 of their respective decade actually. It’s one of the strongest starts to a career an auteur has ever has (the handful with stronger starts would be guys like Welles, Truffaut, Godard– maybe Mike Nichols, Malick and Tarantino— you could argue Ari Aster, maybe Mendes, Tarkovsky but you get my point—rarified air.

Best film: Shame

  •  brave unflinching character study directed with such stylistic bravado
  • New York City looks incredibly harsh here—severe- punitive— McQueen shows this with the lighting, the architecture, (that boat shot in isolation) but also in the high-rises, the running at (always alone even in a sea of people) and in the haunting rendition of “New York New York” sung by Mulligan
  • Mulligan- in that scene is both acting and singing well- hard to do and it’s in a long take chopping off her forehead.
  • Dogged, painful and real—the entire first date with Nicole Beharie. Wow. 6 minutes long with the waiter coming in and out. The best of neo-realism with clear improvisation and the duration of the shot working on you.
  • The cold exacting Bach piano selections on the soundtrack
  • McQueen uses a color palate similar to Eastwood’s run in the early 2000’s (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby)- it’s gorgeous, greys, blues, greens—he’s one of the most talented photographers in cinema- how many other auteurs if any could make the bed sheets looks like that
  • Formally wonderful subway non-dialogue sequences bookend the film (though I think Fassbender’s character seems like more of a cab guy- but what do I know?)
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Formally wonderful subway non-dialogue sequences bookend the film — from the color palate to the graffiti– there’s no detail too small for McQueen
  • Sterile—white, clear blues, grays
  • more than one critic correctly points to American Psycho for a comparison to the character and all around project—I think Taxi Driver is another—you could write an amazing piece comparing
  • he’s like a functioning (barely) alcoholic
  • formal editing in the beginning—the blinds go up, walking around his sterile condo naked, turning on the shower, Mulligan playing on the voice mail, back to the subway in cross cut
  • Fassnbender’s best work to date and that’s saying something
  • There are narrative and psychological cues like Mulligan’s (his sister) not afraid of her nudity in front of her brother. McQueen keeps the camera on that. And then, more readily, she says “we’re not bad people- we just come from a bad place” which is haunting
  • Long tracking shot of running in isolation.
  • Character through architecture. Dazzling shot of Fassbender in the foreground with a few window lights on in this huge high-rise with people having sex over his shoulder
  • Glass again and again- mirrors
  • Nastiness in the dialogue- a fight between the two siblings shot in one take from behind their heads on the ouch- Bergmanesque punch in the dialogue- he eviscerates her like Winter’s Light
  • Brave and uncompromising: NC-17, Fassbender doing the sex scenes- male and female
  • It’s an art film- long silences, great shot of him waiting for the elevator for forever fearing for his sister
  • MS/MP border- leaning masterpiece

total archiveable films: 4

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  1 (Hunger)

top 100 films of the decade: 4 (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave, Widows)

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tableau shot to open 12 Years a Slave

most overrated: Nothing here for McQueen. Not surprising with how recent these all are that Hunger is the only McQueen film to land on the TSPDT so far—it’s at #772 on the consensus list. I have Hunger 400 slots higher but #772 for a film from 2008 is great—6th of 2006 on TSPDT which is a little underrated but close. 12 Years a Slave is #4 for 2013 when you look at the 21st century TSPDT list and that’s good with me, too.

most underrated: Hunger and 12 Years a Slave are doing fine here- tons of respect from the consensus. Shame and Widows are not—both woefully underrated. Shame currently sits at #22 of 2011 on the TSPDT 21st century list—- ugh— it belongs where  have it at #20 for the ENTIRE 2010’s decade. Widows is way down at #28 of 2018 on TSPDT and I’m at about 5th—this is on Widows:

  • McQueen continues the streak– of one of the most promising starts to a career (he’s 11 years in now and 4 films) in cinema history
  • He’s great at capturing places, a great photographer—this captures Chicago as well as he did with NYC in Shame
  • Neeson again plays a memory or figment like he did in Gangs of New York (spoiler I know) but at least mostly shown through flashbacks
  • Great shot of the ceiling of some of Chicago’s historic buildings and beautiful architecture– the Alderman speech specifically near the beginning
  • It’s more plotted than McQueen’s other film and the sprawling ensemble is as large if not larger than 12 Years. It’s a great narrative- engaging, intelligent-and it moves– but if you had to ask me if I hoped his next film was co-written by Gillian Flynn (who I like) I’d say no. I like the pauses the rest of his work has and the camera that inhabits
  • Like 12 Years a Slave there are two jaw-dropping cinematic sequences here—there’s the long tracking shot fixed on the car (Farrell’s) as we go from the “projects” if you will to his house. It’s masterful. It’s using film style to make a social/racial statement. It’s cinema, it’s narrative (meaning it’s not just style for show)- god I love it— the other is the 360 camera shot on the basketball court with Kaluuya– wow
Standout sequences-the 360 shot murder on the basketball court by Kaluuya in Widows
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the long tracking shot fixed on the car (Farrell’s) as we go from the “projects” if you will to his house. It’s masterful. It’s using film style to make a social/racial statement.
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McQueen uses long takes and duration for affect. He makes us uncomfortable. He’s editorializing and it’s powerful
  • I thought Kaluuya was as strong as Davis (who does some of her best work) if not stronger. He lights the screen on fire in his minutes. That said- I was disappointed with his death. It wasn’t as bad as Bane’s in Dark Knight Rises but needed more.
  • Hans Zimmer’s score is great- driving- not quite Dunkirk but what is?
  • I believe it’s Van Morrison’s “Madame George” at the bowling alley- well done
  • Again- it’s plotted- but it pulls it off- I could still use another 20 minutes from McQueen to slow down and show off
  • It tackles a lot- racism, feminism, greed and political corruption, violence, police— and it all works
  • Reminds me of a 70’s film- against the system– everyone here is a bastard
  • Love the wallpaper vs. art scene and discussion between Duvall and Farrell. Clearly McQueen has had this one before- haha
  • Crisp bed sheets like all of McQueen’s work.
  • the opening parallel editing sequence with the heist (en medias res) may be the third display of just brilliant filmmaking from McQueen here– we get another quick parallel editing sequence during funerals
  • A focus on hands- something Bresson did
  • Mirrors the ending and windows—such fascinating angling
  • I’m not sure about Duvall here- I need another look but I thought he was a weakness in this otherwise superb cast
  • There are fitting comparisons with Heat. Stylistically superior auteur-driven heist genre film that
  • an Altmanesque sprawling ensemble– the preacher  (Jon Michael Hill) and his scene are awesome- totally corrupt
  • the green/teal is an ongoing visual motif here in Widows and in McQueen’s body of work- the Fassbender character from Shame would be right at home (from a color standpoint) with the men’s warehouse here- both Davis (above) and Elizabeth Debicki (couldn’t find shot) have scenes where they stare out the window and we get the teal/green from the city — the train is the “Greenline” and you can see it,
  • Michelle Rodriguez’s SUV thing is teal and that’s no mistake
  • Must-See quality film

gem I want to spotlight :  Hunger

  • Stunning debut McQueen- up there with the best of the 21st century
  • McQueen clearly shows off his art background- he does fine some amazing visuals in the most squalor of settings and utilizing whatever resources at his disposal here- a prison cell, cafeteria, hallway, hospital room—using foulness like blood, feces, urine, as his tools- it’s remarkable
McQueen clearly shows off his art background- he does fine some amazing visuals in the most squalor of settings and utilizing whatever resources at his disposal here- a prison cell, cafeteria, hallway, hospital room—using foulness like blood, feces, urine, as his tools- it’s remarkable
  • Visceral, formally rigorous and brutal in its depiction
  • Fassbender doesn’t show up for 26 minutes- odd structure that absolutely works
  • 17 minute continuous unbroken shot—priest and Fassbender in a dialogue sequence. Camera is sedentary—it’s bold——the writing in that scene is brilliant- that helps—it’s well acted and good writing. And it’s jolting when McQueen chooses to break. We get the foal story directly after this time facing Fassbender and that’s a longish-take tool. Awesome filmmaking
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17 minute continuous unbroken shot—priest and Fassbender in a dialogue sequence. Camera is sedentary—it’s bold
  • The opening is on a prison guard- again an odd choice- but we juxtaposed his warm home with Fassbender’s Sands—he’s eating a magnificent breakfast. Then we get the first of three bloody knuckles into the water shots (form!) and a snowflake
  • Snowflake on a bruised knuckle later. Beautiful
  • McQueen shows the guard again in soft focus- he’s losing it—and McQueen shows this without dialogue
the bulk of Hunger is without dialogue– this is a beautiful frame here, fits in with McQueen’s color palate
  • The prison wall- covered in feces—is clearly done by an artist- it fits this film
  • Elliptical editing, strange angles, I love it- McQueen also has Bressonian focus on hands and feet
  • The hall shot with the pools of urine coming out- he goes back to it again- it’s wonderfully done- great filmmaking
  • Bloods, maggots, vomit, sores, bloody toilets- its formally and thematically so well crafted
  • 30 minutes in with almost no dialogue—and it’s fantastically well done
  • Fassbender- I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned him yet. Weight-loss but it’s more than just a gimmick. He’s dynamic.
  • Formally the film goes silent—big long dialogue shot— then back again to silent
  • Hallway urine shot 3x- stays there longer later as they clean it up- another breathtaking long take- I would’ve gone even longer
  • Don’t love going to the voice over late
  • He also goes to twilight birds at the end- a beautiful image- I believe it’s set up at least once before. So formally sound
  • Must-See top 5 of the year quality

stylistic innovations/traits:

  • McQueen uses a color palate (especially Shame, Widows) is similar to Eastwood’s run in the early 2000’s (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby)- it’s gorgeous, greys, blues, greens
  • he’s one of the most talented photographers in cinema- how many other auteurs if any could make the bed sheets looks like that
  • Bressonian focus on hands and feet
  • long takes—the entire first date with Nicole Beharie in Shame—6 minute long take with the waiter coming in and out—same with 12 Years a Slave holding on Eijofor’s hanging—the long take 17 minute shot in Hunger, the long shot of the car showing the two neighborhoods in Widows
  • The best of neo-realism with clear improvisation and the duration of the shot working on you.
  • punishing films that are equally depressing and beautiful to look at
  • McQueen uses long takes and duration for affect. He makes us uncomfortable. He’s editorializing and it’s powerful
  • Uncompromisingly harsh
  • Standout sequences-the 360 shot murder on the basketball court by Kaluuya in Widows–  the one-shot flogging of Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years–  it’s dazzling (and of course horrific). It would not have this affect if shot differently.
 the one-shot flogging of Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years–  it’s dazzling (and of course horrific). It would not have this affect if shot differently
  • formally rigorous—McQueen juxtaposes the two very different Chicago’s in Widows, the beauty of the trees in the south vs. the harshness of the life of a slave in 12 Years a Slave, the life of a guard in Hunger vs. Bobby Sands’ life, his dedication to shooting Fassbender in solitude even in NYC in Shame— running alone in long take and the pairing of the character with the set piece boat
Fassbender in solitude even in NYC in Shame— running alone in long take and the pairing of the character with the set piece boat

top 10

  1. Shame
  2. Hunger
  3. 12 Years a Slave
  4. Widows

By year and grades

2008- Hunger MS
2011- Shame MP
2013- Twelve Years a Slave MS
2018- Widows MS

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives