British Director Steven Rodney “Steve” McQueen (Hunger and Shame) paints us a raw and brutal picture of American slavery in 12 Years a Slave, which in my opinion is the best film of 2013. There are a lot of captivating films, but few can be called masterpieces. For instance, one masterpiece, Schindler’s List, went where no other film dared to go before — into the true horrors of the Holocaust. McQueen continues the legacy by showing the true horrors of slavery through the eyes of Solomon Northup’s extraordinary life story.
Set in the early 1840s, Northup (British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man who plays the violin and lives with his family in New York. One day he is offered a job in Washington, D.C., but ends up being tricked, kidnapped and is thrown into the human slave trade in the Deep South. Ejiofor delivers the title role perfectly. His performance is electrifying and award-worthy. In fact, he has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor — in a Leading Role. I’ll be rooting for him this March. Screenwriter John Ridley (Red Tails and Undercover Brother) gives us a powerful and emotional story told through the eyes of Northup. The story is also based on a part of Northup’s own memoir, which was published in 1853.
Once Northup is kidnapped and thrown into the slave trade his name is changed to Platt Hamilton. Hamilton is quickly sold to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Ford may be a slave owner, but he still shows sympathy toward Hamilton. Cumberbatch’s part is small but he gives a humble performance as Ford and treats his slaves like people, not property. Sadly, Hamilton is sold again to the vicious Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Fassbender nails his performance as the cruel and wicked slave owner who treats everyone around him like dirt. Epps is a drunk who twists Scripture to make him justify his use of the whip on slaves. Fassbender is the Amon Goeth (Schindler’s List) of antagonist in movies. He has also been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor — in a Supporting Role.
Finally, Hamilton meets Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt), a carpenter, who helps him set up an escape to get him back home to his family. There are other noteworthy performances in this film by a stern Paul Giamatti, a sadistic Paul Dano and the incredible Lupita Nyong’o. Nyong’o’s performance is so powerful that it will shake you. She has also been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress — in a Supporting Role. This is McQueen’s third feature film but he is already proving himself to be a world-class director. McQueen’s two previous films, Hunger, about IRS prisoners starving themselves to protest, and Shame, about sex addiction, show the realism and horror of our world. McQueen delivers difficult and challenging films but that is what is captivating about his work. You don’t just watch 12 Years a Slave, but you live and breathe it. With every single whip lashed, you feel the excruciating pain in your bones and get knots in your stomach.
This is what makes McQueen’s films so mesmerizing, and that is why I’m placing 12 Years a Slave as the No. 1 film of the year. This film will win many awards and deserves them all. It won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture — Drama, and also won three Critics’ Choice Awards. It has also been nominated for nine Oscars, 11 British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), seven Independent Spirit Awards and 11 awards from the Chicago Film Critics Association. On top of that, 12 Years a Slave has another 95 wins and 104 nominations. If you want to see a grand film that will challenge your mind, heart and soul, then I would advise you to go see this film.
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