What is the next McQueen project and when is it coming out? Truly one of the most important questions concerning film today. He may not get as much hype as Fincher, Joon-Ho, Gerwig, and other contemporaries but McQueen is one of the most formidable auteurs working today.
He is a man synonymous with quality. When he has something in the works, there is a high chance it will be good. And considering Small Axe came out in one year, there really has not been a McQueen project that has been outright bad yet. This is a guy who has been pumping out quality for fourteen years. And these are his projects, ranked.
9. Alex Wheatle (2020)
Alex Wheatle still has some damn good directing moments from McQueen and is energized by its soundtrack, but God is it McQueen playing by the books. Down to the orphanage cruelty, so much of Alex Wheatle is tired and textbook.
It’s a real-life story that, with the right mind, could have been a genuine best-of-the-year contender. And maybe McQueen is that mind, but the roughly hour runtime is a gross disservice to the character development of Wheatle himself. The film is a sprint through his most defining moments but said moments are rendered in such a plain way that not a second of this feels like remarkable filmmaking.
8. Red, White, and Blue (2020)
McQueen is at his worst when he feels like other filmmakers. When Red, White, and Blue’s dialogue isn’t ruined by being overly dewy-eyed it’s boringly snappy. Almost always, it feels either like the type of miscalculated sappy Biopic or the miscalculated biopic trying way too hard to break from the mold. Boyega is a delight here and the characters interactions with his father occasionally feel unique enough to be worthwhile but Red, White, and Blue is mostly McQueen playing it safe.
7. Education (2020)
Education is not a knockout conclusion to Small Axe but it’s hard not to see value in it. First off, it’s a moving dedication to the Black women in 1970s Britain who relentlessly fought for the education of their children. Secondly, Kingsley is such a sympathetic character that one cannot help but be invested in his aspirations. It’s the timeless anguish of a kid having big dreams and then facing the possibility they may never be realized.
Like the two previous Small Axe entries, it’s a character study through and through. But Education has the advantage of being consistent in dialogue quality the whole way through and being inspired enough to not come off as a film not made by McQueen. Even without some of his signature tendencies, Education works quite well despite not having a single quality likely to blow your socks off.
6. Shame (2011)
Shame is a divisive movie. If you really love it, you likely find it to be an oppressive masterwork. Never has New York been so shallow and beautiful at the same time. Never has an infatuation with sex been handled with such coldness yet empathy at the same time. If you really don’t like it, then you’re likely to have a hard time with the subject matter, Carey Mulligan’s performance, and McQueen feeling even more purposefully detached from his characters than usual.
Shame ends up on the lower half of the list but it’s still a great movie. McQueen, as per usual, directs a static long take like nobody’s business and throws in practical classes in how to direct a dialogue-less scene for free. The train scene is an arguable best from him. The cinematography is a delight to look at especially with that selective color palette, and Fassbender steals the show once again. At the same time, Shame is not always profound as it thinks it is. Some of the dialogue either does not ring true or comes out awkward, with Mulligan having some rough patches of delivery here and there.
The film also does not nail the transition from Brandon’s torturous lustful cycle and the greater look at the people in his life. It is not as bad as its most ardent haters say it is, but Shame is McQueen at a less pristine, less dynamic level. But that also says a lot about the director that it stands so tall over so many other movies being made today.