Best Picture Breakdown: 12 Years a Slave

Best Picture Breakdown: 12 Years a Slave
CNN
Movie Minute

POSTED: Sunday, March 2, 2014 - 5:00pm

UPDATED: Sunday, March 2, 2014 - 5:14pm

      It’s award season in Hollywood and one of the most sought after awards is an Oscar. This year several deserving figures have received nominations. From Leonardo DiCaprio’s nomination for Best Actor, to the team of Gravity receiving a nomination for their achievement in visual effects. While these nominations are great, none are more coveted than that of Best Picture. Just a few years ago the Best Picture category increase from 5 nominations to 10, but was soon changed to where each year up to 10 films can receive a nomination. This year 9 films made the cut; American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street.
 

12 Years a Slave

Director Steve McQueen (Shame) brings us the traumatic real life story of Solomon Northup. A free black man abducted in New York and sold into slavery in a Pre-Civil War America. Hollywood has done several things with the telling of stories of slavery; some great, some not so great. 12 Years a Slave does something few of those films, both good and bad, were able to do. It provided moments that were brutal to watch. Moments that weren’t done for the sack of being over the top, but done to show the emotional and physical toll slavery took on everyone involved.

The film begins by showing us the life Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (2012). A well-respected African American man with a family living in New York during the 1800s. He then is asked to play violin for a travel circus as they make their way to Washington D.C. Once there he is then kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Nothing in this film is easy to stomach. What McQueen does that sets this movie apart from other films is draws out these hard to stomach moments. The scenes in which slavery’s where whipped or hung, the scene doesn't pull away from the action. McQueen lingers on the scene itself to provide for a much more lasting impact. One scene in particular is where a slave is left hanging by the neck from a tree, his feet barely touching the ground to support himself. He’s left there all day holding himself up by his tiptoes. This scene is not only uncomfortable to watch, but it’s almost suffocating as an audience member to watch.

Another great camera technique that is used, is the use of long close ups shots of a persons faced. The camera just stays on one person’s face, enough to where we can see their eyes, and their features truly capturing the emotion of the film.

Of course there wouldn’t be any emotion to capture without the brilliant performances of Ejiofor, as well as Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) who plays Northup’s slave owner for much of his time in slavery. Ejiofor performance is so “fight or flight” that you really get the sense of what Northup went through. Fassbender’s however, is one of the most ruthless that has been demonstrated in some time. It surpasses that of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie in 2012’s Django Unchained.

Another thing that sets 12 Years a Slave apart, is the idea that free men and woman were kidnapped and sold into slavery is something not everyone has thought about, and certainly not one that we see often in films today. There’s almost a claustrophobic feel to the film. One that is so effective, and deserving of an Oscar.
 

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