Steve McQueen

Oscar Predictions 2014: Best Director

Best Director is a strange category, particularly because of its tenuous relationship to Best Picture. Does it refer to the best cohesive film, under the assumption that the director is responsible for overseeing nearly all aspects of how that film comes to be? Or does the award refer to a film’s most conspicuous control of visuals, tone, and style – the things that we most associate as evidence of a director’s guiding influence? The vague sense of what qualifies someone as worthy of honor in this category (we, of course, only assume what the director did by virtue of the finished product) is perfectly on display in one of this year’s most heated competitions: between Alfonso Cuarón’s enthralling real-time spectacle of a woman lost in orbit and Steve McQueen’s intricate, decade-long depiction of one man’s harrowing subjection. But let’s take a look at how the five nominees shake out, with my surprise predicted winner in red…

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If you were talking about Steve McQueen five years ago, it was probably about Bullitt jumping over Nazi barricades on a motorcycle and stealing art from museums. Either that, or you were plugged into the museum scene and had an eye for experimental short films. While you were failing to stop Thomas Crown from pilfering priceless work, you were discovering a new Steve McQueen. The rest of us had to wait until 2008. In the past five years, the new McQueen has translated two decades of success within docent-tinged walls into indie film domination and, now, mainstream emergence without compromise. That’s a simmering, meteoric rise into a cultural place that few filmmakers ever go. The new McQueen was born a year after the old McQueen became Crown and Bullitt, but in a small amount of time, he’s solidified himself as a cinematic voice to take very, very seriously. In other words, if you’re talking about Steve McQueen today, there’s an odds on chance that you’re dissecting Shame or Hunger or 12 Years a Slave.

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Scene of 2013

Far more movies than any one person can watch get produced and released every year. That’s why film fans get so anal retentive and self-important when they’re trying to decide what they’re going to declare their favorite film of the year. When you take movies as seriously as people like us do, year-end ratings and rankings can get pretty stressful. So just imagine how much harder it is to try to narrow down every scene that gets shot for every movie each year to one, definitive, best scene of the year. It’s enough to produce a healthy layer of flop sweat. Last year it was an accordion interlude, but this year we’re naming two scenes as our Scene of the Year because of how closely they work in tandem with one another. They’re also about the furthest from last year’s winner as you can get. Without further ado, the FSR staff has chosen The Hanging Scene and The Whipping Scene from director Steve McQueen’s affecting historical drama 12 Years a Slave as the Scene(s) of 2013.

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Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave

Yesterday, Steve McQueen was named Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle for 12 Years a Slave, and while that doesn’t make him a lock for the Oscar, the group’s track record of matching Academy choices is a good sign that he’ll become the first black director ever to win the coveted statuette. In the past 10 years, the NYFCC has differed from the final Oscar pick 4 times (in 2003 when they picked Sofia Coppola, 2008 when they picked Mike Leigh, 2010 when they picked David Fincher and 2012 when they picked Kathryn Bigelow). If statistics were a real factor here, that would mean a 60% shot at McQueen winning, but the true takeaway is that the win provides a significant launchpad going into awards season.

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Roots

Though Steve McQueen‘s latest film debuted less than three weeks ago, it feels safe to say that we now live in a post-12 Years a Slave era. The black British director, a descendant of Caribbean slaves, put forth a vision of “the peculiar institution” so harrowingly realistic and so convincingly nuanced that his film sets a new standard for what every subsequent slavery movie should look like and do. It’s also easy to imagine that McQueen’s film will be the image of slavery this generation will have as a reference point when it inevitably ends up in high-school history classes all over America. Challenging 12 Years a Slave‘s near-guaranteed hegemony – and taking advantage of the current “slavery trend” that Deadline identifies, between Django Unchained, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Lincoln, and McQueen’s masterpiece – is the History Channel’s planned remake of Roots. The 1977 miniseries was enormously influential, seen in whole or in part by eight-five percent of all homes with televisions during the initial airing. Home to UFO Hunters and Pawn Stars, however, the History Channel’s past programming inspires little confidence that it can do justice to the original. But the larger question is whether TV can do justice to the dehumanizing brutality of slavery.

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Lightning McQueen

“Six Degrees of Separation meets Shame.” Sounds like a decent idea, no? A few high society hijinks here, a touch of devastating emotional trauma there, and all wrapped up in a fancy New York-tinted bow. The only thing better would be if you could somehow include Shame director Steve McQueen in the process. Conveniently enough, that’s exactly what’s happening over at HBO. McQueen has assembled a motley crew that includes hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, Matthew Michael Carnahan (co-writer of World War Z) and a handful of The King‘s Speech producers for a TV drama described as “Six Degrees of Separation meets Shame.” According to Deadline, the project is “an exploration of a young African-American man’s experience entering New York high society, with a past that may not be what it seems.” McQueen will direct and will share writing duties with Carnahan.

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Watching Hunger for the first time is not an experience that I’ll soon forget. British video artist-turned-director Steve McQueen imbued this vision of the 1981 IRA hunger strike with such a potent visceral sense, with such a rich and detailed tapestry of sound and image, that watching it is truly a corporeal endurance test of stark immediacy. McQueen’s approach didn’t require traditional methods of character identification and narrative pathos – he simply used the reality of shared flesh and blood to connect the viewer with the events depicted onscreen. The result of McQueen’s efforts carries a profoundly haunting, disturbing, and ultimately revealing insight into the politics of the body, told through a symphony of blood, shit, and urine. McQueen’s latest reportedly doesn’t pull its punches. I have yet to see Twelve Years a Slave, but it is hardly surprising that an artist whose life of work has been so invested in exploring the human body’s use as a device for subjugation, domination, and othering has created such an affecting vision of the horrors of American slavery and institutionalized racism. While Twelve Years a Slave is by most accounts McQueen’s most “accessible” work to date, he doesn’t seem to have lost the touch that made his museum-based work so unique during his quick rise in mainstream critical consensus. So here’s some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from not that Steve McQueen.

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This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career. Before he started making features, like his new release 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen was a celebrated visual artist known primarily for film installations. His “short start” was 20 years ago with a 10-minute work called Bear, in which he and another black man wrestled in the nude. After that, he made the shorts Five Easy Pieces (1995), Just Above My Head (1996), Exodus (1997) and Deadpan (1997), the last of which involved a recreation of Buster Keaton’s famous falling house facade stunt from Steamboat Bill Jr. You can see an excerpt of that film, with McQueen pulling off the dangerous bit himself, here. While many of his shorts can be seen in the occasional museum exhibit, most are otherwise pretty rare. Meaning not available to be viewed online. There are, however, a few instances of incomplete cellphone captures of his films from their installation projections. You can see parts of Girls, Tricky (2001), the 9/11-inspired Illuminer (2002) and Static (2009), which was made following his feature debut, Hunger. Others, including Charlotte (2004), featuring just an enlargement of Charlotte Rampling‘s eye, and Caribs’ Leap (2002), are only to be seen in stills. Interestingly, the latter is typically screened as a companion to the only film found in full on the web, Western Deep.

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12 Years a Slave

Editor’s note: Our review of 12 Years a Slave originally ran during this year’s TIFF, but we’re re-posting it as the film opens today in theatrical release. In certain circles, the excellence of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has just been assumed for months now – after all, how could a film that features such a talented cast, a gifted director, and a dramatically ripe true life tale not be a masterpiece? It’s a dangerous business, the kind of prognostication and hype that can exist before even one frame of a film is shot, but McQueen’s latest is the rare bird that lives up to its hype (and then some).

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12 Years a Slave Violin

12 Years a Slave tackles many issues throughout its narrative, doing so in the elegant and unflinchingly honest way only director Steve McQueen can deliver. Hans Zimmer’s score works well to reflect the action on screen, playing almost like a horror score at times, but music becomes more than just something accenting the background and driving the emotion, it is also a major part of the story. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a violinist and his talents have not only helped provide him a comfortable life, they have made him a respected member of his community. Solomon is certainly skilled, but it is also clear that he simply loves to play. Unfortunately, that love leads him down a path that changes his life forever. In Saratoga, New York, Solomon is a free man who plays for pleasure and additional income, but once he is kidnapped and shipped south, all the talents and skills that made him a valued member of society could now get him killed. Freeman (Paul Giamatti), the slave trader in charge of getting the highest price for his latest “stock,” quickly utilizes Solomon’s talents and has him play during his human auction as those around him are sold off and families are ruthlessly broken apart. The idea that upbeat music would keep those being sold and separated seem less upsetting is the first glimpse both Solomon and audiences get of the logic existing south of the Mason-Dixon line. The image of Solomon playing as people scream for […]

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paulson

In Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave the main Louisiana plantation we see, run by Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), is an authentically cruel environment. McQueen makes you feel the heat, tears, and fear there. Among all that sweat is Marry Epps, an Ice Queen played by Sarah Paulson. She’s unfazed by the sweltering brutality, engaging in it in a way that’s as terrifying as her husband Edwin, if not more so. McQueen and Paulson turn her movements into moments of pure tension. She’s a villain seemingly without remorse, making her a character most actors might shy away from. Paulson, though, isn’t afraid of taking on the challenge. Speaking with her, it was obvious that under the right circumstances she’d be game for almost anything.

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There’s still a considerable stretch of time between now and when Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave wins every award under the sun. And in that stretch, things might seem a little dull. But fear not – thanks to Vulture, we’ve got our first clip from the upcoming slavery epic, and it’s everything you could want and more. As long as “everything you could want and more” was limited to nineteenth century purse shopping and racial tension. It’s not much, but it does provide a little insight on how the music, cinematography, and period style will blend together. Note that while the editing seems fairly basic (especially given McQueen’s penchant for excruciatingly long takes), that first shot clocks in at a slightly-longer-than-average twenty seconds. And the situation seen within promises plenty of the unpleasant racial realities of the 1900′s. Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) may be able to take his wife on a shopping trip, but the majority of black Americans are still snapped at like a misbehaving pet for the simple act of stepping foot into the wrong store. It’s an experience that Northrup will become far too familiar with by the end of the film. Go ahead and check out the clip after the break.

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Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes this past May, riding a wave of critical praise given towards what is, by most accounts, an ambitious, immersive epic of a tumultuous young romance. Its sexuality is frank and transparent, and no punches are pulled – this, it seems, is the type of risky, visionary cinema speaks to the very rhyme and reason why Cannes exists in the first place, especially in the context of an ever-homogenizing global market. Recent news, however, has cast a different light on what would otherwise be a surefire arthouse darling. First, author Julie Maroh (who wrote the graphic novel upon which the film is based) all but disowned the film for framing a straight male gaze on a relationship between two women – a serious critique indeed, but not at all surprising considering past Cannes darlings. Things became considerably worse when news of Kechiche’s on-set antics entered the discussion. The film’s cast and crew have attested to exploitative labor practices and possible emotional abuse directed toward the two leads, particularly during extended takes of the film’s central lovemaking scene.

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12 Years a Slave Violin

12 Years a Slave will be making some seriously big waves this fall. The early festival reviews for the film have heaped endless praises on to director Steve McQueen, the cast, the cinematography, and anything else you could possibly heap praises upon. The film releases on October 18, and until that time we can expect more and more critics to adore the film, while those of us who’ve seen Shame (McQueen’s last film) and don’t have access to early screenings will gnash our teeth and wait it out impatiently. Now Yahoo! Movies has the first featurette from 12 Years a Slave, entitled “A Portrait of Solomon Northrup,” and one which features a lot of crucial basic information. It includes the history of real-life protagonist Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in mid-19th century New York who was kidnapped and spent those titular years forced into slavery, along with some details on some of the film’s supporting characters, why McQueen pursued this particular story, and what makes his take on American slavery unique. But what this featurette primarily offers is oodles of new footage for those who’ve only seen the first trailer and are aching for more. We get a glimpse at nearly every face in the film’s near-endless cast (only Brad Pitt and Michael K. Williams are absent this time around) and get to hear the sweet strains of Benedict Cumberbatch‘s believably authentic Southern accent. Go ahead and check it out below:

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12 Years a Slave

It feels a bit like the broader movie world is about to learn who Steve McQueen is. After they have the same chuckle over his name most hardcore prestige fans had several years ago, they’ll marvel at his abilities as a dramatic filmmaker. With 12 Years a Slave, he’s partnered once again with Michael Fassbender, dragging the actor through an arduous role to come out clean on the other side. He’s also got Chiwetel Ejiofor bringing staunch prowess to the lead role of a free Northerner named Solomon Northrup who is captured and sold into slavery. In the early reviews from Telluride, critics are standing outside Ejiofor’s house with a sign that says, “To me you are perfect.” Greatly encouraging in the same vein as the early Gravity responses from Venice, this film looks poised to punch awards season in the gut and plant an accomplished yet still budding auteur into more mainstream ground. Here’s what people are saying:

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Bullitt

In 1968, Steve McQueen starred in Bullitt as a San Francisco cop whose primary job description was driving a Ford Mustang GT fastback recklessly and seeking revenge on behalf of a witness he was trying to protect. The impressive Peter Yates earned immortality as a director with a 10+-minute car chase that’s effectively what people are talking about when they ask you to cut to one. For some, it’s the best (often trading out that top spot with Ronin). At the very least, it’s in the Top Five All-Time, but we wondered if it couldn’t be just a little bit faster and furiouser. So we called upon our old pal Sleepy Skunk to mash-up a trailer that pumps a ridiculous amount of NOS into Frank Bullitt’s ride in honor of the 14th or 15th installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise that hits theaters this weekend. Let us know what you think.

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news 12 years a slave

It’s no secret that Michael Fassbender has become one of the most respected, sought-after new faces to hit Hollywood in the last ten years. The guy went from supporting face to leading man in record time, and is now looked at as being the sort of talent who will raise your movie to a whole other level if you manage to land him. If you’ve been following his career so far, then you know that a big reason for his success is the work he’s done with director Steve McQueen on his features Hunger and Shame. McQueen, a visual artist turned film director, has a unique style and a patient camera that’s well-suited to showing off an actor’s performance, and it was largely the work Fassbender did in his films that opened up eyes all over the industry to what he was capable of if given a meaty role. While Hunger was mostly the Michael Fassbender show, Shame added Carey Mulligan to the mix, and gave her a platform to remind us how talented she is as well. If McQueen has proven anything with his first two features, and unquestionably he’s proven a lot, it’s that he works well with actors. He gets what makes them special, and he gets how to shine a spotlight on that specialness. The point of all this is that his third film, Twelve Years a Slave, should be pretty damned spectacular.

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We’ve done so much drooling over Twelve Years a Slave that you should have a pretty good idea what it is by now. It’s the next film from visual artist extraordinaire, Steve McQueen, and his third in a row that sees him collaborating with the most exciting actor on the planet today, Michael Fassbender. It goes without saying that any chance we get to watch this actor/director duo work together again is reason enough to celebrate, but what’s been so exciting about watching this project develop is that, unlike Hunger and Shame, Twelve Years a Slave doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the Michael Fassbender show. No, this true story of the life of free man turned slave Solomon Northrup seems like it’s going to give McQueen the chance to spread the love around and direct a real ensemble. The cast is deep and impressive enough at this point that our own Kate Erbland has declared it to be the best of the year, so instead of getting too much into the who’s and what’s of things let’s just do a quick rundown. Joining lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor will be the aforementioned Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Scoot McNairy, Ruth Negga, Garret Dillahunt, and Adepero Oduye. That’s an impressive list to say the least. And, seeing as the film has already started production, it wouldn’t seem like there’s much room left for anyone else to be added. Still, somehow McQueen has managed to […]

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Seemingly not content to follow up his critically lauded Shame with a cast that only includes such names as Chiwitel Ejifior, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Taran Killam, Scoot McNairy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ruth Negga, and Adepero Oduye, filmmaker Steve McQueen has just gone ahead and thrown another batch of incredible talent into the giant amazing stew that is Twelve Years a Slave. This time around, he’s mixed in no less than Paul Giamatti, Garret Dillahunt, and Sarah Paulson, a wealth of talent that would stand alone just fine, but the addition of which makes Twelve Years the most skill-laden cast of the year. I never say this about a film I’ve yet to see (much less one that’s not even been filmed yet), but – all of the Oscars. All of the Oscars. Based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, Ejifior will play a free man who is sold into slavery and who remains a slave for twelve years (yes, the title of the film should have clued you into that).

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Benedict Cumberbatch

With an already insanely stellar cast, Variety is reporting that Steve McQueen‘s Twelve Years a Slave can now boast Benedict Cumberbatch. So let’s do the count. Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Paul Dano, Scoot McNairy, Ruth Negga, Adepero Oduye, Taran Killam, and now Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch will play one of the plantation owners who buys Ejiofor’s character. Normally, this is where all sorts of words would go, analyzing the news, but what else is there to say? The jaw is on the floor. This project is going to be profoundly good. At the very least, it has a stirring set of names attached to an indelible real-life story about a freed slave who is tricked and sold back into slavery. Could it possibly be too soon to celebrate?

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