Movie: 12 Years a Slave
What it’s up for: Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Best Picture, Costume Design, Directing, Film editing, Production Design, Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
So after a long hard battle against my work schedule, I finally got to see 12 Years a Slave late last night. Much thanks to my mother for going with me. I’m glad I went to go see it. Without actually seeing this movie, I would not have the proper context to predict winners. This was by far the most well-made movie I’ve seen this year.
12 Years a Slave follows the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man in the pre-Civil War north, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south. Solomon is given a new name and a new background and told that if he ever suggests the truth about his situation to anyone, he will be killed. He is passed around to various masters, all the while trying to figure out a way to get back home.
This is an incredibly difficult movie to watch. I would describe it as almost unbearably depressing. It’s difficult to face hard truths head on. Slavery is something that has existed since humanity began and has encompassed every race. It’s easy to point at the slave trade in America and elevate it above all other forms of slavery because it is so relatively recent and, dare I say, romanticized over other sins against humanity. But there are other stories in history of terrible periods of slavery. And the worst thing is that it is still going on now and we don’t acknowledge or realize what is happening. This article from Relevant Magazine popped up last week and it brings up some important stats about modern-day slavery and also has a link to an organization that is trying to help.
Recognizing the severity of the subject matter, I’m now going to move on to the film itself. The acting was phenomenal, although there were many times where I was distracted by seeing a familiar face pop up. The surprise actor of THIS film was Taran Killam, who plays one of the men who tricked Solomon out of his freedom. I love Taran on SNL and it was very distracting to see him as this old-timey gentleman since he plays hilarious Jebidiah Atkinson on Weekend Update. I knew Paul Giamatti was in this movie but his face distracted me a bit too. And my significant last distraction was Garret Dillahunt whose voice overcame his beard and made me see his character only as Burt Chance from raising hope.
Michael Fassbender played the cruel slave-owner, Edwin Epps, who owns Solomon through most of the movie. Out of all the supporting roles, his stood out as the most distinct. He played his part with a kind of manic disconnectedness from the severity of his lifestyle. One moment he’d seem completely focused and evil and the next he’d be playing around with one of the little slave girls. It was a role that required a wide range of expressiveness and emotion and he hit it all spot on. Lupita Nyong’o played Patsey, one of the other slaves working for Epps, who, unfortunately, was “favored” by the master. Her character is so completely tragic that it’s hard not to believe that she is real. This is a role that required SO MUCH of Lupita as an actor and as a person that it almost seems unjustifiable to give the Oscar to anyone else. Finally, Chiwetel Ejiofor, as Solomon, completely dominated the screen. There were many contemplative moments where Ejiofor wasn’t even talking and you could feel what was going on just through his eyes and body language. Honestly, besides Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, no other leading actor has led me to such an emotional bond with his character this year.
The strong screenplay combined with the gorgeous production design and film editing creates a pressing emotional influence throughout the film. The filming locations are gorgeous and the cinematography is nothing to ignore. Everything is set up to draw the eye in to the story but not distract from whatever is happening. The costuming is solid but not groundbreaking. With all these things, you can feel Steve McQueen‘s strong direction. The movie flows smoothly throughout the story. He specifically focuses on the people and what is happening to them. He chose to make some shots longer than normal to focus attention on something or someone. And when I say “longer than normal”, I mean MUCH longer. There are several shots of just Solomon where they linger longer than our normal sense of instant gratification would like to see. What happens, then, is that the audience is forced to contemplate over this person or situation and really think about what is happening. It digs in deep to the heart of the matter and stays there.
This is an unbelievable film that helps shed new light on an old familiar face. It is definitely worth watching once to get a new perspective on slavery and to remind us that this was and still is a problem.
Leading Actor – I think so, actually.
Supporting Actor – No
Supporting Actress – I’d pick her, but I doubt she’ll win.
Best Picture – I’m gonna go out on a limb and say YES.
Costume Design – No
Directing – Another limb. Another yes.
Film editing – No
Production Design – No
Writing (Adapted Screenplay) – No