With movie theatres reopening, and then closing, and then who-knows-what, there is comfort in knowing that, thanks to streaming and video-on-demand, we can all program our own double (or triple, or quadruple) bills at home. Here are the best at-home cinema bets for this weekend’s post-U.S. election viewing, to get a better understanding of just what a polarized and agitated America looks like today.
Steve McQueen, the Turner Prize-winning artist behind such deeply felt and challenging films as Shame and 12 Years a Slave, does not do simple genre exercises for the hell of it. And with his 2018 instant classic Widows, the director made a heist film in name only – this is actually an epic, yet still wildly entertaining, treatise on American class, race, history and who has the power to rise above their station. Loosely based on an old British television series, Widows follows four women who just lost their husbands – men who, it’s revealed in a thrilling opening sequence, were thieves who stole from those even worse than themselves. To repay this debt, the women must pool their resources and finish the job their husbands couldn’t. Led by a magnificent Viola Davis, the cast is ridiculously stacked. The action is tremendous. And the ultimate message – that nothing comes for free in America – is devastating in its swift brutality, especially after this week.
Queen & Slim, Amazon Prime Video
“So what happens tonight?” That’s a question asked early in director Melina Matsoukas’s 2019 feature debut Queen & Slim, and it’s a question that viewers will likely want to provide a million different answers for other than what actually happens in the film’s opening minutes. Not because the drama takes a wrong turn – only that what transpires is so upsetting, and not in a hard-to-imagine way either, that any other scenario would be easier to take. What happens tonight, then, is instead an extraordinarily disturbing incident of police brutality that should spark all manner of fury and anger, but not necessarily shock. Queen & Slim’s only-in-America-but-not-really finale is a powerful one, meant to be discussed and debated long after tonight is over.
Unjustly lost in the great film festival shuffle of last fall, director Chinonye Chukwu’s drama Clemency offers both a powerful portrait of America’s prison industrial complex and a tremendous lead performance from Alfre Woodard. Playing a warden tasked with overseeing the executions of her inmates, a role that leads her to all sorts of emotional and existential crises, Woodard offers raw, unmannered work. And Chukwu’s empathetic look at a system most everyone prefers not to think about is devastating.
American Factory, Netflix
While Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s 2019 documentary boasts the imprimatur of Barack and Michelle Obama, whose company Higher Ground produced it for Netflix, American Factory is not a left-versus-right tract. It is instead a complex and fascinating look at what happens when America-first elbow grease meets Chinese efficiency, with everyone learning hard lessons about the nature of contemporary capitalism.
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