Already, a lot has been said about “12 Years a Slave,” but as brutal as this film was to watch at times, it’s a story everyone should know. I realize I labeled “Dallas Buyers Club” in the same way, but that’s what happens this time of year leading up to the Oscars. Good films are out there to watch and if you’re one of the many that haven’t stepped into the theater to see this film, I encourage you to do so prior to Sunday night. Because it’s just one of those films we will look back on and marvel about. Sure, the story is almost unbelievable, but don’t let that cloud you from appreciating what screenwriter John Ridley and director Steve Mcqueen were trying to do with this film. Slavery is tough subject, but its part of America’s history and pretty much why we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Sure, there is a little more to it, but it’s hard not to think of MLK when you start talking about civil rights and slavery. And that’s what I will take away from this film, which has a very good chance at winning Best Picture, not just because it was well made, because of the impact it might have on younger generations that are just learning about that time period in our country.
Period pieces, no matter the subject, will tend to find their way onto ballots for categories like Costume Design and “12 Years a Slave” is no different. In fact, I can see it picking up the Oscar for the work put in by now six-time nominee Patricia Norris, who previously has been nominated for such films like “Victor Victoria” and “The Elephant Man,” but never winning. For someone about to turn 83, that’s impressive and would be one of those underlying stories to follow if she is able to win the Oscar. And I think she has a good chance when you figure the only other true contender’s are “The Invisible Woman” and “The Great Gatsby.” Granted, watch any clip or trailer from each of those films and you might be wondering how I would pick “12 Years a Slave” over it. But, stranger things have happened from this category, despite its storied history of rewarding films that look precisely like “The Invisible Woman” and “The Great Gatsby.” Same might be said about its nomination for Production Design, which for those that don’t know use to be called Art Direction up until 2012. It deals with how things are situated and placed within the story, but simply defined is the basic construction of sets and backdrops including, but not limited to the interior decoration and/or visual style. I think just by the definition, you can see how this piece of moviemaking is viewed as an art, as it handles the overall look to a film like “12 Years a Slave.”
For those like me that never heard of Steve McQueen, raise your hand. Outside of his last name, which clearly makes me think of Pixar’s own “Cars,” I couldn't have told you what he did before “12 Years a Slave.” But, it really doesn’t matter, when you figure this film alone is officially putting his name on the map in a way he could have never imagined. And to think, it all is a result from a simple gesture to writer John Ridley about making this film, one the screenwriter and first-time nominee should be thanking him for. I guess sometimes, that’s all it takes, but clearly McQueen had a vision for this story that is quite amazing when you break it down. Remove all the blood and unspeakable truths away and this film clearly is in its right place among the nominated films for Best Picture. And that’s despite directing nominee Steve McQueen using one too many artsy shots in a film that frankly didn’t need it. But, I get it and clearly look somewhat like a fool when you figure that and his role in recruiting John Ridley helped earn him this nomination. I just think he easily could have been left off the ballot in favor of someone like Ron Howard, who showed us something new with “Rush.” Sounds harsh, but when you can only pick five, shouldn’t we have the best five from the year, not the five that look the best together on the ballot?
While I might not agree with the directing nod, I can’t say enough about how well McQueen managed this cast. They all fit together so well making me wonder how it didn’t walk away with the SAG award for best ensemble. Without that connection between the actors this film would have never made it into film festivals, much less a big screen for everyone to watch and endure. And it all started at the top with Chiwetel Ejiofor, who carried this film with ease, supporting his nod for Best Actor. I just don’t know if it was enough to beat Matthew McConaughey, given what he did. But, it won’t be for a lack of trying, as Ejiofor said in an EW article recently when talking about what he had to do to get into character, “The hanging scene, the first beating in the cell; there was a level of uneasiness in it, but it was in those moments you feel that you are close as you can get to what was going on.” That’s key to the overall success of this film, which he very much was not alone in. Only you might be surprised that the one person I was most impressed with from this supporting cast was not on the ballot. Yup, Sarah Paulson stole the show in my mind, even bettering her on-screen husband and nominee Michael Fassbender, who despite a great performance, still overplays his roles. Paulson took over nearly every scene she was in, which quite frankly was unexpected given the story that was going on. I mean, I was really taken by surprise by what she was able to do, making me wonder why she hasn’t had more nods go here way this season. But, I guess those nods were already taken by Lupita Nyong’o, who played Edwin Epps’ (Fassbender) favorite slave Patsey. This first-time actress was no joke either, having to really step out of the comfort zone more than once in a performance, while groundbreaking, that is very hard to watch at times. And who knows, might just be the name announced when the envelope is opened in just a few days.
CLICK HERE to read my original, uncut review on “12 Years a Slave”
CLICK HERE to find out which Oscar contenders are playing at a box office near you