Call it deadly premonition but I had a feeling it would be Steve McQueen’s film that I’d be reviewing. It’s given me plenty of time to think about what I want to say about it and yet I’m still at a bit of a loss at where to begin. It would certainly be a lot easier if I hadn’t seen the other best picture nominees (many which I adored) as I can’t help but compare “12 Years a Slave” to them, rather than measure the films quality objectively.
I’m probably not very successfully disguising the fact that I’m beating around the bush a bit in regards to answering the very simple question: ‘Do I think “12 Years a Slave” deserved best picture’. Before I give a definite answer once and for all, I’m going to erase from my memory that I’ve seen any of the other nominees and give the film credit where it’s due.
A brief spoiler-free synopsis first. The film is based on the 1853 memoirs of Solomon Northup (portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor). Solomon is a free man, residing in New York State with his wife and two children, and overall leads a wonderful life as a talented fiddle player. Without warning, he is kidnapped and sold into slavery. What follows is two hours of a man trying not to let his spirit break. As the film depicts his 12 year hell we encounter slave-drivers, one benevolent (played by an ill-casted Benedict Cumberbatch) and one abhorrent (played by a brilliantly casted Michael Fassbender). He befriends Patsey, a young slave “favoured” by her owner. I’m reluctant to say a huge amount more but I will say Lupita N’yongo’s supporting actress Oscar win is one award that is undoubtedly deserved. As is Ejiofor’s nomination. The film is so explicitly brutal that in the intimacy of a film theatre each crack of a whip, bead of sweat that falls from a character’s forehead and scream of pain seems to penetrate the viewer’s skin. It is largely down to Ejiofor’s performance that the experience hits you this way.
The more I reflect, the more I realise what a great and bravely honest film this is. And I’m glad I took the time to muse before saying whether or not I think it deserved the big prize, because I may have had a mini-revelation. The diversity and individual brilliance between the nominated films this year is too great to possibly put into a ‘good, better, best’ order, because I guarantee everyone has a different, equally valid opinion. So when I say whether I think it did or did not deserve the best picture Oscar, the only justification I can give is what I think. Hopefully this is making sense. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not copping out of saying which films I preferred, but do keep what I’ve said in mind. Even better, leave a comment letting me know your views.
So in order leading up to first place, here is the order that I rank the films. (I regretfully have not seen “Dallas Buyer’s Club”, “Philomena”, “Captain Phillips” or “Nebraska” so will leave them out. When I have viewed them I will come back and amend the incomplete list)
5) “The Wolf of Wall Street” – I loved this film. It was an epic three-hour drug trip and I was sad to come down. The resemblances between “Goodfellas” were hard not to notice and as a result underlined the fact that while every bit as fun, it wasn’t quite as fine a film. Do not get me started on Leo losing the Oscar to the douche in ”Failure to Launch” and “Ghosts of girlfriends past”. McConaughey is now number 2 on my hit-list after Sandler.
4) “12 Years a Slave” – this film deserves all it’s acclaim and although hard to watch, it is important that we never forget this blood-stained mark on the parchment of history. An incredible film but alas not quite my favourite.
3) “American Hustle” – this film is getting almost as much hate as it is admiration. My placing it at number three indicates what camp I belong in. I love David O’Russell’s work and this is probably the slickest and finest directed film he’s made to date. The actors are amazing, the script is electric and funny, and although the plot can be confusing (it is a grifting movie in fairness) if you pay attention and go with the flow you’ll understand why this film is awesome.
2) “Gravity” – The best picture award should go to a film that will stand the test of time. It’s by no means a perfect film: the dialogue is a bit dodgy at times and it does fall into one or two cliché pit falls…but my God, what a cinematic experience. It’s the film experience I’ll always remember as being appropriately out-of-this world. Were it not for the film I saw last night, “Gravity” would hold my number one spot.
1) “Her” – I cannot tell you how happy I am that I saw this film before the ceremony because as far as I’m concerned, it is the rightful winner. Pretty much everything I’ve praised the above films for is in this picture: humour, emotion, fantastic script, phenomenal acting, direction, cinematography…It’s a film about love, relationships, technology, metaphysics, friendship, want, need and our place in the world. If I had my way, Spike Jonze’s original screenplay Oscar would be sitting on his mantelpiece among many others.
2013/14 was an incredible year for film, and I’m already impatient to find out what films 2014/15 will bring. Thankfully, I still have 73 other best picture films to review, which will keep me occupied until then. Keep reading and much love.