IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: There’s a scene in this movie where a young black man (Brian Tyree Henry) just out of prison bemoans unequal justice among the races and how difficult it is for anyone of his background and color to find jobs open to them. He finishes his observations by saying, “This country doesn’t like ‘n_ _ _ _ _ s’”. That this point of view is expressed in early ‘70s Harlem yet has a timely feel about it is a subtle theme running throughout this film which at its’ core is primarily a love story. The couple is a pair of black, joined-at-the hip since childhood sweethearts (Stephan James, Kiki Layne) whose plans for a married life together are abruptly complicated and interrupted when he’s unjustly accused of rape by a racist, white policeman (Ed Skrein) while she turns up pregnant. This all ignites some family drama fireworks which is also a significant element of this work adapted from the 1974 novel by James Baldwin. Cinematographer James Laxton employs extreme close-ups of characters which occasionally are a tad long but for the most part have an effective impact in their non-verbal expressiveness of emotions. Despite the decades ago setting era, there is no use of any nostalgic camera filters since these will not be the kind of memories that any of the characters will want to retain. Director/writer Barry Jenkins (MOONLIGHT) is very respectful of the source material and effectively uses the spoken word to good use while his non-linear screenplay is enhanced by smooth as silk scene transitions where we know what the outcome of the characters’ lives are to be before they do. The film presents an authentic vibe of the ‘70s where everyone seemed to be smoking and women who verbally went over the line were liable to get “clocked” in front of family members. There are some traces of what I call “The DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) Syndrome” present where whites are portrayed as either exploitative or bigots. But for the most part, the narrative is pretty even-handed although Jenkins, the screenwriter, does take his sweet time in reaching the eventual conclusion which we know won’t involve even-handed justice. None of the ensemble cast hits a false note and newcomer Layne is quite good along with Regina King (RAY) as her mother in a rare work where a superior book written over forty years ago becomes an above average movie that feels mostly relevant and universal in its’ present time. CRITIC’S GRADE: B
CLOSING CREDITS: Here are the movies that I think are “solid gold locks” to be nominated for the Academy Awards’ Best Picture – THE FAVOURITE, GREEN BOOK, ROMA, A STAR IS BORN
Here are the movies that I think are strong contenders to be nominated for Best Picture – BLACKkKLANSMAN, BLACK PANTHER, FIRST MAN
Here are movies that I think are “dark horses” that could sneak their way in to a nomination for Best Picture - BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, EIGHTH GRADE, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, VICE
Here are movies that are the longest of longshots to get a Best Picture nomination but who’ll probably be nominated in other categories – CRAZY RICH ASIANS, MARY POPPINS RETURNS, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, A QUIET PLACE
Academy Award nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 22nd.