Director: Steve McQueen
Nominated: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor; Best Actress; Director; Editing; Production Design; Best Adapted Screenplay
I’ve found my film of the Oscars! 12 Years A Slave captivated me from the very first frame. I suppose it helped that I have huge respect and admiration for Steve McQueen and his work, but I think even without that this would still be my film of this years Oscars season.
McQueen makes the audience confront the difficult, uncomfortable and often taboo things that we would normally overlook. It’s something I first noticed when watching Bobby Sands waste away on hunger strike in Hunger (2008) and then again when given an insight into the world of sexual addiction in Shame (2011). 12 Years A Slave asks the audience to witness and question the atrocious actions of White Americans during the 1800s, at the height of slavery. And while there may no longer be slavery in America or the UK, as McQueen said in his acceptance speech at the BAFTAs, “there are 21 million people in slavery as we sit here. I just hope that 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another filmmaker to make this film.” No body should ever be a slave! McQueen, and everyone involved in 12 Years A Slave, pushes people to react and abandon any ambivalence towards the more troubling aspects of the human condition and that makes for a powerful film.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is salient as Solomon Northup. He has an incredibly expressive face and is capable of displaying a multitude of emotions non-verbally. Watching the way he carries himself alter throughout the film is interesting. I felt that the moment he joined in singing “Roll, Jordan, Roll” was the one moment when he abandoned hope, a moment made all the more intense by McQueen’s lengthy close up.
McQueen is the sort of director who doesn’t shy away from things be they nudity in Shame or the casual violence so prevalent in 12 Years A Slave. Some of the whipping scenes and the aftermath of them are really quite graphic and made me wince. Lupita Nyong’o is a revelation as Patsey, the slave girl unfortunate enough to attract the attention of Epps. The scene where she is whipped is one of the most traumatic to watch – beaten in intensity only by the long-held shot of the aborted attempt to hang Northup.
As always Michael Fassbender is exceptional. He has formed one of those partnerships with McQueen, similar to Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, where their collaborations produce the best work out of both of them. There is an innate darkness and menace to Fassbender’s character Edwin Epps, which makes him irresistible to watch. He’s my pick for the win but I’m a self-confessed Michael Fassbender fan (turning round to find him standing next to me while volunteering at the BAFTAs is the highlight of my year so far!!)
Benedict Cumberbatch gives another memorable, albeit brief, performance as Ford, a sympathetic yet ultimately impotent slaver. There was no noticeable passing of time until the film reached its climax with Northup’s return to his family as a free man once more, finding his children grown along with a young grandson. The gradual aging of Northup is very subtle – you only really notice it at the end of the film. This is definitely my favorite film nominated this year. It sits at the top of a pile of some exceptional films. I’d love for it to be recognized properly by the Academy.