Oceans Apart

Widows

by Hope Madden

There are few films I have been more geeked to see than Widows.

Co-writer/director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame) and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects) update a British miniseries from the ‘80s about a heist.

Wait, Steve McQueen made a heist movie? A filmmaker so punishing you watch a little Lars von Trier to lighten the mood?

He totally made a heist movie. It is a layered, deeply cynical, wildly faceted take on politics, organized crime, familial grief and the plight of a powerless woman. So, OK, maybe not your run-of-the-mill Liam Neeson flick. But Liam Neeson is in it.

Neeson is Harry Rawlings, top man in a group of criminals who hit vaults around Chicago. This last hit went south, though, and the bad men he fleeced need that cash back. Poor Mrs. Rawlings (Viola Davis, glorious as is her way), is handed the bill.

McQueen has not made an Oceans 11. Widows is not fun. It is smart, riveting entertainment, though.

McQueen’s Chicago landscape is peopled mainly with folks desperately in need of a change: the criminal trying to get into politics (Brian Tyree Henry), the career politician with daddy issues (Colin Farrell), but mostly the widows of Harry’s crew (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki), all left as cash-strapped as Mrs. Rawlings.

It does not pay to marry a criminal.

Every member of the enormous ensemble runs with the opportunities this script allows, no matter how much or how little their screen time. Daniel Kaluuya relishes every sadistic moment he has as an enforcer, while Jacki Weaver establishes one character’s entire history with her two fascinating minutes onscreen.

But it’s Viola Davis who anchors the film. She is the grieving heart and the survivor’s mind that gives Widows its center and its momentum. She wastes nothing, never forgetting or allowing us to forget the grim reality of her situation.

There is a heist, don’t get me wrong. There are double crosses, flying bullets, car chases, explosions—genre prerequisites that feel like new toys for the super-serious director. McQueen proves a versatile a filmmaker, though he has certainly left his own distinctive mark on the action flick.


Countdown: Who Wins the Oscars?

 

 

Sunday night, we invite you to join us at the Drexel Theatre, as we are once again pleased to host their annual Red Carpet Oscar Bash! You’ll have a chance to win great prizes if you can correctly pick the most winners, and on that note…here’s how we think the night will go:

Best Film

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

American Hustle and Gravity are strong contenders, but we think voters will do the right thing and award this magnificent piece of filmmaking with its just due.

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Though the year offered a boon of wonderful, imaginative, powerful films, nothing quite compares to the meticulously created, absolutely visceral period piece.

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey will be rewarded for turning a career’s worth of lazy rom-com roles into two of the most impressive years in any working actor’s career.

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Unfortunately, McConaughey’s achievement will be at the cost of a phenomenal talent’s most blistering and brilliant performance, and hands down the best lead turn from an actor this year.

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

From her opening moments as Jasmine, the wildly talented and uniquely versatile Blanchett owned the film and the audience.

Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Amy Adams is going to have to take home an Oscar one of these days, and her turn in American Hustle certainly deserves consideration, but Blanchett took a gift of a part and created an unforgettable character.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Leto brings tenderness and tragedy to the belt-buckle-and-cowboy-hat tale Dallas Buyers Club with a beautifully dimensional performance, and his win is the second surest bet this awards season.

Should Win: Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave

Fassbender will be ignored again by the Academy (who failed to even notice his devastating turn in 2011’s Shame), and that’s a shame in itself because his performance in 12 Years a Slave was more explosive, fearless and honest than anything he’s done, which is saying a lot.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Hope Says

Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave

She won the SAG, Golden Globe, and even the coveted Central Ohio Film Critics Association award for her work. Oscar will follow.

Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o

At first glance, Nyongo’s performance as field slave Patsy seemed a tad heavy handed, but as the character’s hellish existence is slowly revealed, we realize that this performer has found a way to make the unimaginable a reality.

George Says

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Nyong’o does win, I just have a hunch that Lawrence (who also won a Golden Globe as American Hustle was in the comedy category) will prevail.

Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence

It really is a toss up, but I give JLaw the edge for stealing the movie right out from under the the best ensemble cast of the year. “Science oven” for the win!

 

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

This is a tough call. Basically, we think the best directing and best film nods will be split between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Last year, Ang Lee took the honor mostly for the technical/craftsman merits of his Life of Pi. We think Cuaron will receive the same treatment for the unarguably superior Gravity.

Should Win: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave

It’s McQueen’s first dance with Oscar, and though his efforts in drawing performances, staging an epic, and keeping dusty old history as visceral and present as any other film this year are magnificent, we think the voters might side with Cuaron’s technical mastery.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: American Hustle

It’s a dazzling work of writing, heartfelt and character driven, funny and touching, full of excitement and spot-on with period. Plus, David O. Russell’s never cashed in on his 5 nominations, so it’s probably time.

Should Win: Her

Spike Jonze’s uncommon voice and vision turned out the year’s loveliest and most original love story, and the sheer uniqueness of the project deserves the Oscar.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

It’s simply the strongest contender.

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

The ability to take a text more than a century and a half old, and from it create multi-dimensional characters and achingly relevant conflict, is a talent that needs to be recognized.

 

Enjoy the Oscars!

Transcendent Filmmaking

12 Years a Slave

by Hope Madden

Remarkable, isn’t it, that it took a foreign-born filmmaker, with the help of a mostly foreign-born cast, to properly tell the shamefully American tale 12 Years a Slave.

Steve McQueen is the British director who artfully and impeccably translates Solomon Northup’s memoir of illegal captivity to the screen. Northup, played with breathtaking beauty by Chiwetel Ejiofor, was a free family man in New York State, a violinist by trade, duped, drugged, shackled and sold into slavery in Louisiana. We are privy to the next 12 years of this man’s life, and while it is often brutally difficult to watch, it’s also a tale so magnificently told it must not be missed.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is an intense talent, though you have likely never heard of him and have possibly never seen him. But if you happened to have come across Britain’s 2002 thriller Dirty Pretty Things and spied his tender, heart-wrenching turn as Okwe, a Nigerian immigrant fallen into sketchy company in London,  you knew he was destined for great things.

He’s found that destiny in 12 Years a Slave.

The clear Oscar frontrunner, Ejiofor is not alone as a favorite this award season. McQueen populates his understated, graceful picture with one of the most perfectly chosen casts in memory. Even the smallest role leaves a scalding impression. Whether it’s Paul Giamatti’s casual evil, Benedict Cumberbatch’s cowardly mercy, Paul Dano’s spineless rage or Adepero Oduye’s unbridled grief, there’s an emotional authenticity to the film that makes every character, no matter how brief their appearance in Northup’s odyssey, memorable – sometimes painfully so.

But there are three performances you will likely never forget. Principally, there is Ejiofor, a performer who expresses more conflict, anguish and thought with his eyes than most actors can hope to share in an entire performance. His work roils with emotions few would care to consider, and never does he bend to melodrama or overstatement.

In her film debut, Lupita Nyong’o’s almost otherworldly performance marks a profound talent.

Meanwhile, as the sadistic Master Epps, Michael Fassbender’s performance guarantees to be the most brilliantly unsettling piece of acting found onscreen this year. There is no stronger contender in this year’s Oscar race for best supporting actor, and likely none will show himself. He’s terrifying, and his performance feeds off the talent around him. The raw energy among the three – Fassbender, Ejiofor and Nyong’o – is sometimes too much to bear, and the three share a few scenes that are nearly too powerful to take in.

McQueen does not let the cast run away with his picture, though, and he mines a deep human beauty from Northup’s journey. He never forgets that while justice requires that Northup be delivered from slavery, it remains blind to all those people left on Epps’s plantation, many of whom faced a far more dire existence than Northup.

No romanticizing, no comic relief, just the abject truth of what will happen to a man, a woman, a young boy, and a little girl who is owned outright by the kind of human who believes owning another human is justified. It’s almost beyond comprehension, due not only to the fact it happened for 250 years in our own history, but  because across the globe, it still happens every day in the world’s booming sex trade industry.

12 Years a Slave transcends filmmaking, ultimately become an event, one that is destined to leave a profound, lasting impression.

Verdict-5-0-Stars