How It Works
How this weekly article will work is that I will first pick a category and then a film. I will first give an opinion on what I think it will be like just from watching the trailer and reading the synopsis. I will then watch the film, and give my own personal critique on the film. Afterwards I will give it a score (out of five) and then say if I personally think it should be in the running. The paper that comes out before the Oscars, I will write a quick piece about who I think deserves the award.
It is important to note that I personally believe that an Oscar should be awarded to a film or person that has taken film up an extra notch. I do not take into consideration how it did at the box office or its score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s all on what I think.
I hope you enjoy this weekly segment.
Movie of Week Three: 12 Years a Slave
Although directed by a name that is probably not recognized by the average movie-goer, Steve McQueen (not the dead actor) is far from a “new kid on the block.”
A veteran in the directing and writing fields, McQueen is the recipient for many Film Festival awards such as the Camé d’Or from Cannes to BAFTA Awards in Great Britain. His most recent undertaking, however, could be argued to be his most widely watched and highly recognized film to date.
I am talking about the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave, a Pre-Civil War British-American drama depicting the enslavement of a free-born black man Solomon Northup as he attempts to not only retain his dignity during his lengthy imprisonment, but also his life.
Based on a memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave is the hard-to-swallow portrayal of true events nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director and both Lead and Supporting Actor and Actress.
McQueen’s work has been praised by many in the media and critique outlets as the best film of year; considered by many to have a real shot at the Oscar.
After watching the trailer, it is clear what to expect when going to see this movie. I don’t expect action or sexuality that we are so used to seeing from the archetype movies that Hollywood pushes out nowadays.
I expect an almost inverted storyline where we see a lot of falling actions before what I can expect to be an extremely hard and sad climax.
I can only hope that this movie has rising actions and a happy conclusion.
After Watching Movie
I am not afraid to admit it: I had to use my sleeves multiple times to wipe moisture, commonly known as tears, from my eyes.
12 Years a Slave is far from a comfortable viewing, with its unflinchingly brutal portrayal of American slavery; a large, ugly shadow that is unfortunately part of our country’s history.
However, this film is brilliant cinema.
Even now, it is extremely hard for me to try to gain distance from the film in order to start prodding at its innards.
Here is my attempt.
One of the most striking parts of this film was its brilliant and awe-inspiring acting. I do not believe that there was a single weak actor, even down to those who portrayed slaves without uttering a single syllable.
Leading the charge was Chiwetel Ejiofor, who played the main protagonist who never stumbled for a second. His humble start as a free black man in upstate New York to his brutal beatings in the Deep South, were all done with acting that was so engrossing, so realistic that I went on the emotional roller coaster ride with him. Should I give credit to the writing and directing? Absolutely. Credit is due.
But even the best writing and directing can not fix bad acting; Ejiofor was the most stark opposite of bad acting. 12 Years a Slave did not try to protect the audience at all. The grotesque beatings, whippings and awful living conditions that some slave owners would force their slaves, as their “property,” to endure was at times unbearable to watch, yet I couldn’t look away.
The screenwriters also were not afraid to use vocabulary of the day to describe what many at the that time saw as lesser beings, whether it be “negro” or worse. McQueen was not afraid to portray justification that many slave owners used to own slaves that could, if drawn correctly, be social commentary that can be connected to present day.
One of the best examples that I can give of this would be when Solomon (Ejiofor) was under the ownership of Edwin Epps, who believes he has a God-given right to abuse his slaves as it is Biblically sanctioned. Epps frequently reads pro-slavery Bible verses such as Luke 12:47 to justify his treatment of his “property.”
For those interested, Luke 12:47 states: “And that servant, which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many lashes…”.
Not knowing if McQueen intended it or not, as I left the theatre I couldn’t help but connect the audacity that many have to justify the persecution of certain facets of our society because a book said to, whether it was justifying slavery in early American history, or disallowing homosexuals the same rights of marriage/civil union because the Bible says so.
If the director did intend it, it was subtle enough to allow me to make the connection without taking it away from the main plot of the movie. If he did not, well, it happened to me.
Overall, this movie deserves five out of five stars. There were too many brilliant aspects to this film to have anything less.
Out of the actors I have seen that are up for the award, Chiwetel Ejiofor, deserves the Oscar for Best Actor thus far. McQueen should also be one of the true finalists that gets the away for directing.
As for Best Picture, I am torn on the justification of it winning or not. Do not get me wrong, this film was absolutely stunning and a great biopic that deserves to be watched in every history class in the United States.
It is an important social commentary that is imperative to watch and understand to make sure social evils such as this never happens again.
But did it bring the film industry to the next level?
I honestly do not know. Of the films that I have seen thus far, 12 Years a Slave and Her are the only two that truly deserve the award. I guess we will have to see how accurate that stands once I watch a few more.
Until next time.
Zak Koehler can be reached at email@example.com