Nine films are jockeying for Oscar this year, but the race really boils down to two: Gravity and 12 Years a Slave.
Don’t listen to that guy at your office who thinks his ancient stack of Premiere magazines makes him a movie expert – Gravity’s victory is not a lock. Director Steve McQueen’s uncompromising slave drama is still a contender. Here's why:
1. Oscar Gets Serious
Traditionally, the Academy seems to seek out very “heavy” fare to receive its top prize. 12 Years a Slave’s powerful and unflinching exploration of slavery definitely falls under that umbrella, on top of being an exceptionally well-made and acted film.
2. It’s Full of Powerful Scenes
In a movie landscape full of films that rely on blockbuster action and too much CG, it’s refreshing to see a film like 12 Years a Slave ground its big scenes upon mostly two people talking. That’s where the best, most compelling drama comes from, and the film does not disappoint in its haunting chronicle of the main character’s journey from freeman to slave to freeman again. While the much-talked about whipping and hanging scenes stand out in their brutality, the film breathes in quieter scenes emphasizing the consequences of man’s cruelty to man.
3. Incredible Performances
There’s a reason the film’s cast won Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards; each actor is lockstep with the film’s unflinching portrayal of a very real, very raw period of American history. From lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and the villainous slave master played by Michael Fassbender, to newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, each actor arguably delivers career-best work. At no point in the film does the audience feel like they are watching performances; it’s more like we are witnessing history – a testament to the film’s power.
4. Chiwetel Ejiofor
As exceptional as the entire cast is, it’s Ejiofor’s show. While always engaging and effective in previous studio fare, 12 Years gives the actor his best role to date as Solomon, a freeman taken from his life and forced into one of soul-crushing servitude. The only thing more heartbreaking than watching Solomon lose all hope are the tears he sheds when he slowly, finally, gets some of it back.
5. Steve McQueen
A film lives and dies on its execution. And director Steve McQueen (Shame) effortlessly balances the story without ever veering anywhere near melodrama or cliché. It’s too bad the Academy can’t give both McQueen and Best Director front-runner Alfonso Cuaron the Oscar as the two truly deserve it.
What's your take, will Gravity best 12 Years or vice versa? Weigh in below.