Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Battle Of The Oscar Stars: Best Picture 2013

There's no way around it. When discussing the Best Picture winner from 2013, things are going to get real serious. But don't run away yet, the tough talk is for a good reason.

Much of the trek through the Oscar cinematic vault has allowed for fun - be it through dress-up time or singing along about some "Favorite Things". When it comes to a film like 12 Years A Slave though, it is no laughing matter.

And that's okay. Going to the movies was never solely about having a rip-roaring good time, even if today some people still only seek out comedies. That's fine too - I love a good laugh as much as the rest of you folks, but if those are the only movies you ever watch, you are certainly missing out one some marvelous stories.

Appreciation for movies has only grown over time, especially because of the way they can be more than entertainment. Movies can be an examination of each and every one of us, past, present, and future, and enlighten our perspective on the world by allowing us to get a little idea of what it is like living a life that we will never personally lead. 

Above everything else that made 12 Years A Slave Oscar worthy, what it accomplishes most impressively is making us all compassionately feel for others.

I hadn't seen this movie a year and a half ago when it was up for all the awards, so I tended to ignore reading specific reviews. Even without absorbing the direct perspective from critics, you couldn't escape the extreme amount of headlines buzzing about this movie. Even only reading these little snippets, it was apparent that 12 Years was leaving a lasting impression on every single person that came in its path.

During that same time, through various awards speeches and interviews with cast members, the word I kept hearing about this movie was "important". That even if this was a difficult experience to sit through, it was critical that we all did anyway. People from both the past and those that are still struggling today have spent a large amount of time on Earth suffering. Recognizing these stories would hopefully inspire people to have a general sense of empathy towards others instead of negativity.

The truth is (and I know all you smart lads and lasses out there already have this in your mind) that most of us will never have to live through a story as terrible as Solomon Northup - the man who turned his real life experiences into the memoir 12 Years A Slave, which then became the best picture winner I speak of today.
If the least we can do is be aware of such atrocities, so that we don't repeat our past, than I'd say we got off easy.

"Important" is sticking with me as I'm trying to find some way to wrap my head around writing something that hasn't already been said hundreds of times about this movie and in general about the true horrid nature that is slavery.

Already knowing that slavery is bad still didn't stop me from being highly effected by every moment of this movie.  So much so, I'm actually finding it impossible to disconnect my deeply emotional reaction from evaluating the movies actual quality. Quite the conundrum. I've at least only run into this issue one other time while completing this challenge. To be completely honest, I was unable to wipe away tears fast enough during the entire running time of the movie. I eventually gave up and just sat with damp cheeks for the final hour.

It is here I'm realizing that tears speak louder than any written words ever could. Crying over this movie isn't like being overjoyed and getting misty eyed when Richard Gere and Julia Roberts [spoiler alert!] get together at the end of Pretty Woman. 12 Years has a way of drawing out deeper feelings - anger, sadness, bewilderment - over the whole atrocious idea of slavery, so much so, this emotional experience really is everything that determines its ultimately masterpiece quality.

There have been many other movies/miniseries about slavery in the United States, but director Steve McQueen created a more glaringly accurate depiction than anything else that has been made before. [At least it's authentic to the degree that we could ever completely fathom.] This makes having such impassioned reactions possible.

Tremendous pain is constantly oozing off the screen.We watch as these characters are brutally whipped, separated from their families, starved, and overworked underneath the blistering sun. Descriptions of  the situations are rough as it is, but, other than McQueen's direction, what makes it all feel real is due a lot to the actors.

One of the guys doing a lot of powerful work is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Northup. He was a free man that worked as a violinist and lived with his wife and children in New York. Even though he was a legal resident in a northern state that didn't take too kindly to slavery, he was tricked by two men who drugged and kidnapped him. This debacle ended with Northup being locked up and sold into slavery.

We see Northup manage many different situations over the course of the movie. He's first the happy faced doting husband who is a free man in New York. He is able to perform regular tasks, like go into a shop and buy his wife a new piece of luggage, just like a regular human being.  These everyday simplicities are the little freedoms that Northup reflects back on during real moments of fear, especially on nights after dealing with his monstrous owner, Mr. Epps (played chillingly well by Michael Fassbender). No matter the emotion needed, Ejiofor is completely compelling in each and every scene. It's all in his eyes.

By his side for many of the most heartbreaking moments, is fellow slave Patsey, played by Best Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong'o. Patsey is a lovely, hardworking young woman, who literally spends all her time on screen getting treated horribly. Unlike Northup, we never see any scene where Patsey looks back on her once glamorous life. More than likely, she has lived as a slave her entire life, and has no recollection of a better time. We do see Patsey have one moment of solace and "fun" as she peacefully sits in the grass humming a little song while crafting dolls out of corn husks.

Then there are the beatings. It would be difficult to get many chilling images from this movie out of your head,  but none more than an extended sequence of Patsey being whipped. It is brutality to the utmost degree.

To really hold the impact of such terror, McQueen holds the camera close on Nyongo's face for much of the scene. Blood is splashing from her back as true agony is expelled from her lungs. The true rawness in moments like these are when it is impossible to not get completely overcome just thinking about the people who really had to live through this.  Nyong'o had to go to work and act like she was being inflicted by the most unimaginable pain. Just the idea of how difficult that would be to pull off is why actors can be truly extraordinary. Nyong'o definitely falls under the umbrella of that word's meaning. 

And don't get me started about the moment where Solomon and Patsey are separated - pure agony! My heart hurts just thinking about it.

In direct contrast to that brutality are many scenes that just feature lush Southern flora. The simplistic and lovely violin score by Hans Zimmer plays over shots of open fields, the clear blue skies of summer, all feeling very reminiscent to Terrence Malick's, The New World. The long panning shots along bright, clean riverbanks, and the wind blowing through the grand branches of trees, seem to be challenging us all to think about what life is actually worth.  Asking us all to look at this enchanting land we have at our fingertips and then directly contrasting that by showing how terribly some people who walk amongst this beauty are treated. We should be spending more time enjoying our own lives instead of inflicting brutality.

How these people suffered and how people continue to be brutalized is almost too hard to bare. It is painful to watch characters in a movie get treated horribly, but the knowledge that such villains existed and still exist is more upsetting. Although, there is also a tremendous amount of strength demonstrated rather profoundly in these characters. Humans really are able to take on a lot and in any way possible, make the best out of a horrid situation.  If this movie doesn't make you question every time you complain about the strength of your wi-fi connection, I don't think anything will.

It's also important to note that, just like today in the real world, not every character in the movie (by this I mean white characters) is a monster. Some of the owners tried to show compassion for their "property" (one played rather sweetly by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Brad Pitt even strolls in to help towards the end, seemingly just to deliver my favorite line in the whole movie:

"What is true and right is true and right for all."

That, my friends, really just sums it all up, doesn't it? See. This. Movie.

Until next time.

P.S. This should have been the last movie and a celebratory pinata was all ready, but alas, I have recently discovered that I missed another one. Just like Wings, Cavalcade, the best picture winner from 1933, was also not available for rental when I started this challenge. It looks like it is now available on Amazon Streaming - so get ready for a real blast from the far past!

We're almost to the finish line.

post signature

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...