Inside the Best Picture Nominees: A deep dive into '12 Years a Slave'

12-Years-a-Slave

Image Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

Name: 12 Years a Slave

Release date: Oct. 18, 2003 (limited); Nov. 8, 2013 (wide)

DVD release date: March 4, 2014

Run time: 134 minutes

Box office: Opening weekend, wide release: $6.675 million; domestic total: $49.133 million; international total: $78.9 million (as of Monday, Feb. 24)

Rotten Tomatoes score: 96 percent

12 Years a Slave movie math: Django Unchained minus… wait, that’s not right. Gone With the Wind plus… nope, won’t do it either. Huh. Maybe (Roots + Honest John’s scene in Pinocchio) – 540 minutes?

Tweetable description: The heart-wrenching true-life tale of Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped, sold into slavery, and rescued by Brad Pitt.

What Owen Gleiberman said: “Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is an agonizingly magnificent movie: the first great big-screen dramatization of slavery.”

Number of Oscar nods: 9, making it this year’s third most nominated movie. It’s up for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing.

Movie’s Oscar history: Producer Pitt has four previous nominations, three for acting (in Moneyball, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Twelve Monkeys) and one for producing (Moneyball). Costume designer Patricia Norris has five previous nods, all of which came between 1979 and 1989. And Dede Gardner, Pitt’s partner at Plan B Productions, got nominated once previously for Tree of Life. Otherwise, though, the 12 Years crew is a group of Oscar newbies; Supporting Actress front-runner Lupita Nyong’o had barely graduated Yale Drama before being cast in the film, which doubles as her feature-film debut.

What it has won thus far: Though the film has garnered nearly universal acclaim and scores of nominations, the number of major awards it’s actually won is surprisingly paltry. The biggies: Best Motion Picture — Drama at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs for Best Film and Best Actor, Best Motion Picture at the Producers Guild Awards, and Best Supporting Actress at the SAG Awards. The National Board of Review and American Film Institute also named 12 Years among 2013’s 10 best films.

Why it should win: Because 12 Years is clearly the most Important movie nominated for the Oscars’ main prize this year; you won’t see any high schools adding, say, Philomena to their curricula. And even beyond its historical significance, McQueen’s film is a phenomenal artistic achievement: On a purely visual level, it’s more striking than any other nominee, save perhaps Gravity. (Good luck getting the time-lapse sequence of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s near-lynching out of your brain.) The acting, too, is top-notch, from the film’s three nominated stars down to its less-lauded bit players (Paul Giamatti’s jovial slave trader, Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam’s snake-oil salesmen, Benedict Cumberbatch’s so-called “good” master). And John Ridley’s script manages to ape 19th-century speech patterns without ever sounding too stilted.

Why it shouldn’t win: Oohhh no, buddy. You’re not going to get me to make that argument.

Vegas Odds: 2-11, according to Las Vegas Sports Betting, making it the site’s front-runner.

Best Line: If by “best” you mean “biggest, most memorable gut-punch,” it’s tough to beat this breathtakingly cruel line from Mistress Ford (Liza J. Bennett), after Eliza (Adepero Oduye) and her kids have been sold to different families: “Something to eat and some rest; your children will soon enough be forgotten.”

Worst Line: Canadian Saint Pitt, hastening the film’s conclusion: “I will write your letter, sir, for if I could bring freedom to you, it will be more than a pleasure. It will only be my duty.” Compared to the rest of the film’s sober authenticity, this part’s a little hokey.


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