Sunday, February 16, 2014

12 YEARS A SLAVE - 9 nominations


Actor in a Leading Role - Chiwetel Ejiofor
Actor in a Supporting Role - Michael Fassbender
Actress in a Supporting Role - Lupita Nyong'o
Best Picture - Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, and Anthony Katagas, Producers
Costume Design - Patricia Norris
Directing - Steve McQueen
Film Editing - Joe Walker
Production Design - Adam Stockhausen (Production Design), Alice Baker (Set Decoration)
Writing (Adapted Screenplay) - John Ridley

I think I have been waiting for 34 reviews to talk about this profoundly important movie by Steve McQueen.  Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejoifor) is a free man and musician in the north in the 1800's who is abducted along with other free people to be shipped south and sold as slaves.  He ultimately reaches plantation owner and slave abuser (Michael Fassbender) where he sees the most terrible cruelty a person can perpetrate on other human beings.  At this plantation, there is a subplot in which the owner's favorite slave and victim is one of the women workers (Lupita Nyong'o), who also suffers terribly at the hands of Fassbender's jealous and cruel wife.  

The plot is not unlike other films and epics about slavery, except that this version is so superb, it is hard to imagine that it didn't get nominations in every possible category, including its well-deserved writing recognition (it is adapted from the book that Solomon Northup himself wrote, after he was freed).  We are drawn in by the extraordinary performances - particularly by Ejiofor who brilliantly demonstrates the kind of dignity that can only come from within, and from holding fast to the belief that freedom is only slightly less in one's mind than it is in one's reality.  There is a moment in the film where an abused slave has died and is being buried by his peers, and this is the moment where we see Solomon Northup take all of the anger and bitterness he has been holding in and begin to let it all out.  It is also the single point in the film where he seems to accept his position as a member of the slave community, while at the same time managing to demonstrate the free will that all human beings deserve.  It is an overwhelming performance that must not go unnoticed.

While I'm on the subject of acting, Lupita Nyong'o can't be overlooked.  Her desperation is palpable - we feel her oppression in our own bones.  She is such a strong character and Nyongo's portrayal of this person who has no exit from her misery is possibly unrivaled.  She is delicate and she is strong all at the same time.

As I've said before, the artists associated with period pieces are given a true gift in that they are able to create masterpieces in costume, set design and production design.  These artists are no exception and they have risen to the occasion in this film.

I've saved the best for last - Steve McQueen was single minded in his quest to have this film made, and it is clear when you watch it that he knew what his plan for the direction was before he even shot the first scene.  Each movement is methodical, each scene moves the story forward.  The Director is ultimately responsible for every decision on a set, and McQueen's soul is left for us to see all over the screen.  He, and this film, are deserving of any recognition they receive, and even the recognition they don't.  It was the most important story among the Best Picture nominees and I can't say enough about it.  If you have any humanity at all, it's a very difficult film to sit through.  But sit through it, we must.  

Haven't seen the film?  (What? Stop reading and get to the theater right now.)
Watch the 12 Years a Slave Movie Trailer (and then go see it immediately)

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