14. Shame

Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie

Under a lesser actor’s control, Shame could have been one misery-soaked downer. Don’t get it twisted, though—Steve McQueen, the virtuoso director behind 2008’s astonishing Hunger, directs the hell out of this one. Co-written by McQueen and Abi Morgan, Shame pulls no punches in its mission to depict sexual addiction as a destructive force, the reason why main character Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is unable to forge any heart-to-heart bonds or function properly whenever he’s not in control of a situation. With his long, single-shot takes and penchant for blistering, unpleasant character interactions, McQueen keeps Shame rooted in a discomforting sense of gloom.

Shit, though—it’s not exactly a joy to experience. And we’re sure McQueen intended it as such, yet Fassbender’s towering performance is so captivating that Shame’s somewhat sadistic view of human nature is more than tolerable. Equally mesmeric is Carey Mulligan, bearing all (physically and emotionally) as Brandon’s depressed, dangerous-to-herself younger sister, whose sudden appearance into his closed-off life triggers Brandon’s downward spiral.