12 YEARS A SLAVE
(directed by Steve McQueen, 2013)
The best-reviewed film of 2013 is… possibly the best film of 2013! Before I finally made it to the theatres to see this much-anticipated film I read three reviews that all characterized 12 YEARS A SLAVE as not only one of the best films of the year, but as one of the best films ever made. That’s some major hype!
. Only time can tell that, but it is a stunning and courageous effort from brilliant British filmmaker Steve McQueen, who seems to hit the ball out of the park with every effort. The man is nothing if not a “serious” filmmaker. His lack of sentimentality in this painful but gripping meditation on the horrors and depravity of American slavery makes the result all the more stunning. The camera and the storytelling are absolutely unflinching, even if the audiences are not. It is not possible to watch this film without flinching. Chiwetel Ejiofor (he of the nearly unpronounceable name!) was devastating in the lead, playing real life figure Solomon Northrup. Solomon was a free black man living his life happily New York state as a lauded fiddler when he was lured away by the promise of a good job, only to be drugged and waken to find himself in chains- his family, freedom and identity stolen from him as he faced a life of degrading slavery.
. He of the unpronounceable name should absolutely be rewarded with a Best Actor nomination. The entire cast is so stellar it’s hard to single anyone out- from Paul Dano to Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt to Benedict Cumberbatch. But among the many villains in the plot, none was more frighteningly real and volatile than the great Michael Fassbender, the lead actor in both of Mr. McQueen’s previous film projects HUNGER and SHAME. I see a Best Supporting Actor nomination in his near future, and probably an Oscar for his mantelpiece.
. It’s a terrible and gorgeous film to watch, occasionally as wistful as a Terrence Malick pastoral, as the impassivity of the Louisiana countryside rolls on impassively. The score was tastefully restrained, sometimes altogether absent, making it all the more effective. People will avoid this movie because it does not paint a pretty picture- especially for the holidays. How many people want to rush out and see an “important” film, even if it does turn out to be as riveting as 12 YEARS A SLAVE? But I would agree with the big majority of film critics, and venture that come Academy Awards time, this is the film to beat.
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