Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas
“12 Years A Slave” is the film that will be remembered from 2013. It does matter if this wins or “Gravity” wins or even “American Hustle”. What matters is that this film explored the nature of history and of slavery unlike any film before its time, from a black director who makes an emotional impact with every film that he releases. The film follows a true story of Solomon Northup who is a free black man in Saratoga that is tricked, captured, and sold into slavery in the South for 12 years. When the film released, everyone that saw the masterpiece pegged it as the clear frontrunner in the Oscar race. And that could have been its downfall. Placing a film above all the rest too soon in the season can lead to too many people picking the film apart. The talk of the film fades out before the race has even begun. “12 Years A Slave” is not necessarily an easy film to watch. Its subject matter is often brutal and brings to the mind the white guilt that can often plague our nation. But the film is still respected as well as everyone involved. People vote for the film that they respect, but they also vote for the film that is easily enjoyed, which in this year’s race is “Gravity”. My fight against “Gravity” is on the premise that a great film stays a great film no matter what its medium. In theater, at home, on your computer, this film loses little to nothing by transferring from screen to screen. “12 Years A Slave” is a content based film that has meaning and emotion pouring from it no matter how it is viewed, while “Gravity”, on the other hand, loses immense quality when taken off the big screen. Of course this cannot be the only distinction but it’s a big one for me. I also look to the year that “Avatar” was pitted against “The Hurt Locker”. “Avatar” indeed took home most of the technical awards, but “The Hurt Locker” took Best Picture and Best Directing and I feel like this year compares to that immensely. It cannot be denied that Cuaron had a distinct vision and executed it brilliantly, but McQueen brings three actors to nominations, as well as a screenplay. “Gravity” has no screenplay nomination and only one acting nomination (there’s only two people in the entire film). Do not get me wrong, I loved “Gravity” but “12 Years A Slave” deserves to be remembered as that pivotal Best Picture film that will live on forever and many people agree. If and when “12 Years A Slave” wins, everyone involved in producing the film will receive their first Academy Award, including Brad Pitt and director Steve McQueen.
Nominated Role: As Solomon Northup, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery.
Chiwetel Ejiofor deserves this award, but unfortunately will probably not receive it. I don’t care who you’re voting for and why, because my mind is made up without a shadow of a doubt. I love Matthew McConaughey and believe he is one of the best actors of our generation, but his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” pales in comparison to that of the emotional and physical roller coaster that is Ejiofor’s performance of a tortured slave. To come from completely off the map to deliver this heart wrenching performance is a feat in itself while McConaughey’s nomination wasn’t even his best role of the year, with his performance in “Mud” remaining much more captivating. Look to this category as a sure sign of whether votes are leaning favor of “12 Years A Slave”. The gambler in me wants to place all my chips on “12 Years A Slave”, but unfortunately, the cascade of awards is weighing to heavily behind McConaughey in this category since the Golden Globes and there may be no stopping him. But in my mind, Ejiofor should be the true victor and if he ends up winning, I will be upset that I did not follow my gut.
Nominated Role: Michael Fassbender plays Edwin Epps, a brutal Louisiana plantation owner who buys a free man who has been kidnapped and sold into slavery.
In a close second place, Michael Fassbender will be giving up his first Academy Award nomination to Jared Leto for his performance in “Dallas Buyer Club”. Unlike McConaughey, I completely agree with this award going to Leto, because he transforms himself completely. While Fassbender delivers some of the most memorable scenes in “12 Years A Slave” and plays off of Chiwetel Ejiofor perfectly, Leto is the juggernaut in this category and has basically won the award by now anyway. Any other outcome and people will be shocked by I’m fairly certain that will not happen. The good news is that Fassbender shows no signs of slowing down yet and we’ll be seeing his face many more times to come in future nominations at future Academy Awards, and I cannot wait to see what else he can bring to the table.
Nominated Role: Lupita Nyong’o plays Patsey, a slave who becomes the object of her brutal master’s sexual obsessions.
Looking at the trend in the acting categories this year, with all the acting nominees from “12 Years A Slave” remaining in the top two in the race has to push the vote for “12 Years A Slave” in Best Picture even more so. Tout about “American Hustle” being present in all four acting categories all you want, but when it comes down to it, Best Supporting Actress is its only chance of taking any acting gold with Jennifer Lawrence remaining in the race. But the consensus so far is that Lupita Nyong’0 will be taking home the prize by a hair. The skeptic in me wants to place my best on Jennifer Lawrence. Seeing as the odds of “American Hustle” not even taking one acting award is very slim. People love Jennifer Lawrence and with his win last year, there’s no telling what the Academy will do. Again, this will be a category that shapes the entire night, showing how much the Academy favors “12 Years A Slave”. Both women are likable and both are great on stage and in the public eye. But to be brutally honest, Lupita produces the much better performance when it’s all said and done. Her Patsey is a much bigger accomplishment than the difficult housewife played by Jennifer Lawrence. If the better performance is going to win, it will be Lupita, but if politics play out as I feel that they might, Jennifer Lawrence will make history with back to back wins.
“12 Years A Slave” faces two difficult adversaries in the category of Best Costume Design. “American Hustle” is a film with so much support but possibly no awards to show for it. If the Academy is looking to give it something, Best Costume Design is a better category than any and would not be surprising in the least. But the frontrunner at the moment is “The Great Gatsby”, which was definitely not widely loved and could easily fall to the wayside, in my opinion. “12 Years A Slave” captures its era perfectly and delivers such an unabashed and realistic look at the life of slaves in the South, and the costumes help to bring us there. But that can be said for any period piece and for that, it’s the costumes like those of “American Hustle” and “The Great Gatsby” that stick out and hold out attention. Patricia Norris has been nominated five times prior to this, but her last nomination was nearly two and a half decades ago.
The Best Directing category is truly the most unpredictable category of this entire year. On one hand, the vocal support of “12 Years A Slave” is undeniable. It’s hard to find anyone voting that hasn’t voiced a love for the film and respect that could bring it to Best Picture glory, but with that needs to come Best Directing. Splits between Best Picture and Best Directing are almost impossible to predict. And as discussed before, in length, a respected film winning Best Picture (“12 Years A Slave”) and a loved director winning Best Directing (Alfonso Cuaron) have the odds completely stacked against it, having never produced an outcome like that in the past few decades. That’s not saying history cannot be made and that split will occur but in my opinion and many other critics’ opinions, the Best Picture and the Best Directing should almost always be hand in hand. But history will be made no matter what as McQueen will either be the first black man to win the award or Cuaron will be the first Hispanic man to win the award. Looking at that, I can tell you which one means more to me and that’s why my vote will undoubtedly be for Steve McQueen, because his win will mean so much more to history and if I want “12 Years A Slave” to win, McQueen should one-hundred percent share in that glory. Like I stated earlier, I loved “Gravity”, but my heart will break if anything but “12 Years A Slave” and McQueen were to win. Alfonso Cuaron has won everything up until this point, with the Directors Guild win leaning absolutely everything in his favor, but many predict that if he wins, “Gravity” takes Best Picture and I just cannot climb aboard that. As unpopular as it may end up being, I will stick with McQueen until the end.
“12 Years A Slave” and “Gravity” are comparable in the aspect of film editing. Both films allow for the cinematographer’s work to play out in extended long takes, letting the film run rampant on screen with out cuts. This takes severe control and a command over the directors and producers and studio heads that all want to make cuts to the film. With that being said, the more technical film will always be more admired for its technical work and for that “12 Years A Slave” will not be able to capture this award. But we’ll still remember those long takes of Solomon dangling by his neck from a tree while tiptoeing in the mud, or the long tracking shot of Solomon whipping Patsey by order of Edwin Epps. These are moments that could have easily been cut, but instead remain intact and in our memories as the films play on. This is Joe Walker’s first nomination.
Adam Stockhausen (Production Design); Alice Baker (Set Decoration)
Oscars are not won by fitting in or producing something that is expected or does not require one to take notice of. The production design in “12 Years A Slave” is of a standard that we expect and that allows us to experience the film without being taken out of the experience, but on a majestic level, the film just does not compare to that of say “The Great Gatsby”, which brings a massive amount of production design to each and every scene. It warrants people to talk about it and rave over it and is what Baz Luhrmann and his crew do best, bringing to life majestic sets of huge proportions, not something that “12 Years A Slave” can quite live up to.
Written by John Ridley
With a frontrunner status in the Best Picture race and now a USC Scripter award for writer John Ridley, it is a strong possibility that “12 Years A Slave” will be taking the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay. Adapted from the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, I am completely surprised this film had never been adapted before. Now, you may question that there are other films about slavery that are far better, but I’ll disagree and say that this is one of the best and a huge reason for that being is that the writing is flawless and the characters are so well thought out and delivered that a strong, sturdy screenplay is the foundation for all that comes next. As stated, having a poker in the fire for frontrunner in Best Picture makes this a shoe-in for taking the award. A win here will bring “12 Years A Slave” one step closer to becoming the 86th Annual Academy Awards Best Picture winner and I will be pulling for it from start to finish. This John Ridley’s first nomination.
// Produced by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas //
// Directed by Steve McQueen //
// Dated Viewed: Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 // Laemmle Playhouse 7 // 6 films – 8 days //