Great Movies: 12 Years a Slave

By Christian DiMartino

It feels like every year with the Oscars, they just never listen to me. However, the past two Best Picture winners (Birdman and 12 Years a Slave), were my preferences. Maybe they are finally getting their act together.

I hailed Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave as the best film of 2013 two years ago, and I still stand by that statement. Even though I think Alfonso Cuaron deserved the Best Director Oscar he won. How can I root for a film to win Best Picture and not Best Director?

I would say that Cuaron’s film is visually astonishing, and is such a grand event that I am still mesmerized by the film-going experience two years later. However, while Gravity is effective, I prefer 12 Years a Slave by just a smidge.

12 Years a Slave tells the tragic tale of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a happily married, free black man. One night, his family goes out of town, and he is invited to dinner. The next thing you know, Solomon wakes up, realizing that he has been sold into slavery, and, like with most slaves, there is no getting out.

From there we are taken on a painful journey to two plantations: One owned by Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a reasonable man (Paul Dano’s character, well, not so much), the other by Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a real sicko. As a sidenote, Epps rapes and beats a slave named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), who Solomon befriends.

12 Years a Slave effected me in ways that I never expected. I like to believe that I am a rock, and yet the film made me bawl my eyes out. McQueen’s film is a portrayal of one of the ugliest chapters in American history, and it is such a raw, disturbing, and brave film, that it hurt to watch. Not only that, it hurt to believe that America was capable of such ghastly acts toward their own kind.

It is also just such a great story. A story of survival so frightening that it leaves you on your toes, guessing what will happen next, while also teaching a history lesson. Strange that the two mesh so well together.

Lastly, how could I dare forget the performances? I wouldn’t dream of it. I have always liked Ejiofor in his secondary roles, but here he was given a chance to truly shine, and truly shine he did. We feel for him every step of the way.

Fassbender is also brilliant as Epps, a frightening and evil bastard. Nyong’o is also strong, but I do not feel like she earned the Oscar. I felt like the Academy figured they had to award one of the cast members an Oscar, and she was the only one who made sense (Ejiofor and Fassbender lost to Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club).

12 Years a Slave is a film that hits you, hits you hard, and doesn’t feel the need to hold back. So it shouldn’t. One must admire McQueen’s bravery to tell such a painful story.

So even with all of the tremendous films of 2013 (Gravity, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Blue Jasmine, American Hustle, Prisoners, Side Effects, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Philips, and so on), I still choose this one. It will be a long time before we see a film like this again. So yes, the best picture of 2013.

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