Jenkins. It was Barry Jenkins’ second film, 2016’s Moonlight that signaled the arrival of a tremendous new talent in the world of cinema. 2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk confirmed that talent (and Jenkins’ visual and storytelling style). The close-up shot has been a tool for auteurs since before Griffith – but few possess the gift for the shot and dedication to it that Jenkins’ does. Jenkins clearly cares for the details in the frame and mood as much as story—closer to Wong Kar-wai than just about any other director.

It was Barry Jenkins’ second film, 2016’s Moonlight that signaled the arrival of a tremendous new talent in the world of cinema

Best film: Moonlight

  • A loud proclamation of a new voice in cinema- Jenkins’ debut, 2008’s Medicine For Melancholy is a C+ ugly (not his fault—it cost like nothing to make) version of Linklater’s Before Sunrise- but Moonlight is his arrival (and judging from his follow up Beale Street his aesthetic tendencies and marks of his auteur status)
  • A meditation on masculinity—and, quite miraculously, we have one of the 21st century’s best cinematic character studies and it’s about a shy character- so rare and refreshing- a counter-point
  • Apparently a 1.5 million budget which is astonishing giving how beautiful the film is- detailed as well
  • Pastels galore- gorgeous
  • From Justin Chang “With a sensual palette deeply informed by the work of world-cinema titans like Claire Denis, Hou Hsiao-hsien and especially Wong Kar-wai, the director draws out Chiron’s inner life on screen in all its roiling emotional intensity, as well as its moments of quiet, anguished introspection” Travers calls it Jenkins a major filmmakers already
  • The Boris Gardnier song opening- wonderful and then we get that long take following Mahershala Ali out of the car with a dazzling 360 shot around Ali’s dealer. We see Chiron running by in a flash
  • Chapter 1 breaks, the different names of the characters with a black screen and a flashing blue light between sequences—this is so well done formally- it’s not quite Punch-Drunk Love but still
  • Does not overdue dialogue- each scene rests
  • Mozart swells as Ali’s character teaches young Chiron to swim—the characters goodness is almost overwhelming. This is one of 3 scenes where Ali’s performance and character can bring a viewer to devastation- so well done
  • The slow-motion muted shot of Chiron’s mother yelling with the pink color splash is a stunner—along with the opening shot the film’s stylistic apex

The slow-motion muted shot of Chiron’s mother yelling with the pink color splash is a stunner—along with the opening shot the film’s stylistic apex

  • The three actors portraying Chiron are superb- they all have the hang-dog look down
  • Jenkins is already a master of the close-up much like Jonathan Demme
  • The beach scene in part 2, the yellow background then the patient montage close-up of their clothes and hands gripping sand
  • The mirror with blood close-ups—repetition in the close-ups
  • Formal brilliance: before act 3 we switch from a blue light to a red light and then flashback to
  • Character study- Chiron in act three is following in Juan (Ali’s character)’s footsteps.. he’s trapping, he’s got the car—it’s such a well-drawn character
  • There’s The 400 Blows and Truffaut here with the coming of age character, Linklater’s Boyhood, but visually there’s probably more in coming with WKW (some of the color) and Malick (Jenkins clearly has the eye of a photographer)
  • —painterly and pastel tones in the Florida locations—James Laxton as DP deserves praise

total archiveable films: 2

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0

top 100 films of the decade:  2 (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk)

most overrated: Nothing in either the overrated or underrated category for Jenkins. He’s not quite on the TSPDT top 1000 yet (Moonlight is poised to be on it soon it looks like at #1098 right now) but both it and Beale Street are doing well on the 21st century consensus list. Moonlight is #1 for 2016- and though I don’t have it in the #1 slot- I have it very near the top so we’re splitting hairs. Beale Street is #11 for 2018—just about right where I’d have it.

most underrated :  see above—nothing here.

gem I want to spotlight :  If Beale Street Could Talk

  • Jenkins, just three films into his oeuvre, has a voice- you can compare him to Demme in the brilliant close-ups, WKW in the tone, photography still and mood, but I’d also like to throw Douglas Sirk in the mix with Beale Street and it’s not just the autumnal color scheme to the set design and costume work- there’s a clear detail in the mise-en-scene that Sirk also had
  • Along with Burning this score here, from Nicholas Britell, is the score of the year. It’s lush- reminded me of 2017’s Phantom Thread from Jonny Greedwood
  • Adored the 360 shot of Stephan James with his wooden artwork
  • Close-ups galore  and they are repeated to formal effect— and the décor is so sumptuous—even the yellow brick in jail
  • Shot of them on the street with red umbrella- the film’s highlight to me after one viewing

Shot of them on the street with red umbrella- the film’s highlight to me after one viewing

  • Wallpaper in the Mexican restaurant—gorgeous
  • I had a couple small formal problems—we go split screen once, freeze frame once—these are not repeated like the décor and close-ups….
  • Jenkins holds every scene beyond comfort for effect. Maybe it’s just because I’m spoiled being in the middle of my Antonioni study but I wish there was slightly more to gaze at during these scenes—perhaps I just need a second viewing
  • Every actor gets a few moments- Regina King in front of the mirror with the wig, Stephan James is excellent here

stylistic innovations/traits:                             

  • Close-ups, Jenkins seems to be an all-time great even just after a couple of films– a proud linage from Griffith shooting Gish, to Dreyer shooting Falconetti to Demme’s work
  • Meditations on masculinity, complex romances
  • Sumptuous photography, use of color and, clothes and décor – I like both Todd Haynes and Douglas Sirk as examples — WKW a little (Jenkins is interested in mood more than narrative)- high praise indeed.

Close-ups, Jenkins seems to be an all-time great even just after a couple of films–

a proud linage from Griffith shooting Gish, to Dreyer shooting Falconetti to Demme’s work

Meditations on masculinity, complex romances

  • 360 degree tracking shots in both films

A superb opening long-take tracking shot in Moonlight— Jenkins uses a 360 degree shot in both films

  • Use of mirrors- in close-ups
  • Formal cues in Moonlight – Chapter 1 breaks, the different names of the characters with a black screen and a flashing blue light between sequences—this is so well done formally- it’s not quite Punch-Drunk Love but still
  • A superb opening long-take tracking shot in Moonlight

top 10

  1. Moonlight
  2. If Beale Street Could Talk

 

By year and grades

2016- Moonlight MS/MP
2018- If Beale Street Could Talk HR

 

*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