Sunday, February 2, 2014

Twelve Years Amazing!

This year my son (he's 22) has invited me on a quest to see the top Academy Award nominated movies with him.

I'm honored that he wants to spend that much time with his mother and there aren't a lot of things we have in common to do together anymore, so I have accepted his invitation.  Some mom/son time is pretty awesome!

We are three weeks into the quest and so far we have seen three films:  Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club, and today we saw Twelve Years a Slave.  

I'm not sure why Wolf of Wall Street was even nominated; it was an orgy of excess, an unlikable protagonist, and I think the lead was miscast.  I found Leo to be irritating.  I know the character was not supposed to be likable, but I didn't see anything particularly memorable or award winning about that one.

Dallas Buyers Club was our second movie; I started to get interested in this odyssey with that one.  If Jared Leto does not win for Best Supporting Actor there is no justice.  He was amazing as a she.  I thought Matthew McConaughey was great as Ron Woodruff but I suspect the fact that Mr. McConaughey is a native Texan will work against him.  Voters will probably think that playing a Texan wasn't much of a stretch.  Even though he lost 40 pounds for the role and by all accounts he nails the portrayal of Woodruff as he battled both AIDS and the FDA.  

McConaughey would have a better shot at winning his Best Actor category if Twelve Years a Slave had not been made.  Chiwetel Ejiofor was absolutely riveting as Solomon Northup.  When I learned today that Slave was the next film on our list I inwardly groaned; "Not another Hollywood movie about slavery..." I thought.  

Boy was I wrong.  Twelve Years a Slave is definitely not just another movie about slavery.  It was painful to watch, naturally.  But Mr. Ejiofor's performance was like nothing I've ever seen.  Based on a true story, Solomon Northup was a free man working as a musician and living in New York when he is hoodwinked, kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.  

Mr. Ejiofor's eyes speak more about his plight than his words.  Throughout the film he continues to hope that somehow he will be freed from this injustice once word reaches the right people that he was a free man.  At one point there is a long, lingering shot of his face; he is all the way to the left of the screen and the landscape behind him is empty.  As the shot lingers, Northup casts his eyes downward, then slowly to the left and right.  Very slowly.  Then he brings his face back to the front and he stares directly into the camera, not just breaking the fourth wall, but shattering it.  He's staring right at you.  And stares.  As the shot lingers, you can see the confusion and pain in his eyes.  Then he looks ever so slightly downward again.  It was an amazing scene.  In that moment, it seemed to me, the director challenges the viewer to confront slavery, to see it as it was.  No Hollywood caricature or romanticizing here.  

The entire film was amazing.  There were many excellent performances (including Brad Pitt!) and were it not for Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, I would pull for Michael Fassbender for the Supporting Actor category.  His performance as plantation owner Edwin Epps was just psychotic.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) as one of the plantation owners.

While we haven't seen all the movies on our list yet, I can't imagine anyone beating Mr. Ejiofor's performance.

I think American Hustle is on our list for next week; and I really want to see Nebraska.

For someone who has a pretty low opinion of Hollywood, I'm really enjoying this quest!  But it could also just be that I love the mother/son time!

1 comment:

Donald Douglas said...

I've seen three: "12 years" (which should win best picture by far); "American Hustle"; and "Dallas Buyers Club." Great all around. I wish I had time to see more.