It’s beautiful filmmaking, sure, with lush colors and expressive visuals, a soaring ache of a score and the best ensemble cast of the year (of last year; this is technically a 2018 movie). But what makes “Beale Street” good, really good, what makes me wish I’d ranked it closer to the top of my best-of-the-year list, is the urgency with which it unfolds.

Fonny (Stephan James), a black man in 1970s Harlem, is in prison, awaiting trial for a crime he didn’t commit. His fiancé, Tish (KiKi Layne), is pregnant with his child. Their families, particularly Tish’s, are doing everything in their power to clear Fonny’s name and reunite the couple. Just a compelling story cleanly told, adorned with artful filmmaking but not an ounce of B.S.

At around the film’s midpoint, Tish lays it all out: her family’s plan, the stakes, who’s doing what. And you realize just how invested you are in this story. Just how much you care about what happens to these people.

Big-budget blockbusters could learn a lot from “If Beale Street Could Talk” about establishing stakes. To keep your audience hooked, you don’t need to put the whole world in jeopardy; far more compelling is the fate of a single family.

An adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 classic of the same name, the film is more than respectful to its source material — tapping into the anger and despair, love and hope of persecuted black communities. But it is also a film filtered through the unmistakable style of “Moonlight” writer/director Barry Jenkins. The Oscar-winning filmmaker’s lyrical aesthetic and humanity fit this story perfectly. The end result is two extraordinary artists transcending time (and, in Baldwin’s case, death) to have a dialogue on race, family and community.

“Beale Street” toggles in time: between Fonny in prison and the events leading up to the incident that put him there. The film carefully chronicles the first steps of his and Tish’s sweet, tentative romance before ripping them apart. Given the film’s nonlinear structure, the fact that they will soon be ripped apart is the dark cloud hanging over everything.

“Beale” is just as concerned with Fonny and Tish’s relationships with their respective families. Layne and James are superb actors and probably future movie stars, too, but the performances/characters that keep coming back to me are Regina King, Colman Domingo and Teyonah Parris as Tish’s mother, father and older sister. King, who this past weekend won a Golden Globe for her performance, cuts the deepest. She’s got a bottomless love for her family, but that limitless love has limits in the real world. Hate is one obstacle, sure, but the strongest force in American life might in fact be systemic indifference.

But they’re just such a good family. Upon learning that Tish is pregnant with her incarcerated fiancé’s child, her family receives the news with love and equanimity, despite the fear the news also brings. Romantic love stories are common enough in movies. It’s rarer to see a film focus on familial love, and to do it with such specificity and grace.

Their bond is strong enough to weather whatever comes. They rage at the way things are. (A racist cop put Fonny behind bars; now he’s caught in a system denying him due process.) But they’re still hopeful. So long as they keep fighting, things could be better for the next generation. They hope.

How “Beale Street” confirms and confounds that hope is the source of its power. The story (and the fragile hope at its heart) feels just as at home in 2019 as the year Baldwin published it.

This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.