Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave

12yearsI was originally planning on seeing ’12 Years a Slave’ all the way back in October or November, but things just didn’t work out. Much to my delight, I was able to see this film this past Wednesday at my local multiplex and I will tell you this: It was worth the wait.

’12 Years a Slave’ is at times a very hard watch, but one that is well worth it. Right from the opening, director Steve McQueen, in just his third feature film project, sets the tone for a two hour plus film that will test your resolve as a human being.

From McQueen’s directing, to the understated score from legend Hans Zimmer, ’12 Years a Slave’ is an emotional ride through the hardships suffered not by just one man, but generations of humans who were enslaved due to the colour of their skin.

The big thing with ’12 Years a Slave’ is that, unlike other films in 2013, this film earned the praise, the recognition and the award nominations that have come its way. Chiwetel Ejiofor carries this film with the kind of depth, emotion and gravitas that the big name veteran actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Tom Hanks can only dream of.

It really feels that Ejiofor threw everything he had into ’12 Years a Slave’, from the whipping he first takes upon being kidnapped, to pain of the lashing he is forced himself to give out near the end of the film. Ejiofor does such a wonderful job of bringing freeman-turned-slave Solomon Northup to the screen that in one scene, a shot of just Ejiofor looking into the camera, you cannot but help feel that you are indeed looking into the soul of Northup on a cotton plantation.

As much as this is a breakthrough role for an actor that you have quite possibly seen but not recognized in other films, the true coming out party from ’12 Years a Slave’ is reserved for Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Nyong’o, who somehow just lost out on the Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe award to Jennifer Lawrence, makes a stunning debut as a sometimes favoured slave of the character brought to the screen by McQueen favourite, Michael Fassbender. Nyong’o brings a very stark realization to this film, as we see just what it meant to be a “favourite” of a plantation owner.

’12 Years a Slave’ also benefits hugely from the main supporting roles of three actors: Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt and Academy Award nominee Fassbender.  All three actors play different roles in this film, and each highlight a vast difference in society during the 1840’s and 1850’s.

Fassbender is almost spellbinding as an alcoholic plantation owner, essentially the personification of evil in ’12 Years a Slave’.  Fassbender, who has featured in all three of director McQueen’s feature films, plums the depths of the evils that white plantation owners inflicted on their black slaves, and the ironic love that they seemed to have for their favourites.

To contrast Fassbender, we have Cumberbatch who is our first plantation owner we come across as his character is the first to purchase Northup following his abduction. Cumberbatch shows the lesser side of the evil, showing favour for his “debt” and standing almost as a polar opposite to Fassbender’s character later in the film.

Finally, we have Brad Pitt in the smallest of the three roles but one that is the most critical to the resolution of the film.  Pitt shows his years as a Canadian abolitionist carpenter who provides Northup with the recourse to his salvation.  Of the three, Fassbender definitely does carry his Best Supporting Actor nomination well.

The end of the film killed me and, even though you know how it is going to end, you can’t help but fully feel the entire well of emotion that has been dredged up throughout ’12 Years a Slave’.

As for the Academy Awards next month, ’12 Years a Slave’ is my choice for Best Picture, as is Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress.  Both Steve McQueen for Best Director and Chiwetel Ejiofor for Best Actor are most warranted but will have tough competition for their wins.  As for Michael Fassbender and the Best Supporting Actor award, it is unfortunate that he is up against a not as deserved momentum train called Jared Leto this year, as I feel it should Fassbender all the way.

In the end, while a tough film to watch at times, ’12 Years a Slave’ is the best film from 2013 that I have seen and one that will stay with me for years to come.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

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