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TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: ’12 Years a Slave’ Declares itself an Instant Oscar Contender!

12YearsaSlave_DwightHenryMy most anticipated film of the year still remains Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, which has just been announced as an added entry to the New York Film Festival slate.  Currently, the film sits at the top of the current Oscar Predictions with McQueen predicted to become the third black director nominated and possibly the first rewarded.  I have high hopes and expectations and judging from the reactions that have poured from social media outlets and critics, we are in store for something capable of achieving such accolades.

I’ve long believed that if you shy away from cinema because of an uncomfortable feeling that may accompany the subject matter, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  Steven Spielberg achieved one of the greatest masterpieces of modern day in cinema with his account of the Holocaust in “Schindler’s List.”.  Perhaps this doesn’t have the backing of Hollywood, a household name director, or even a subject that has been done and recycled in dozens of films over the past 60+ years, but McQueen may have the emotional and cinematic depth to introduce us to a new realm of cinema.

I’m so incredibly excited for this and in the hands of Fox Searchlight, a studio that has performed exceedingly well over the past few years during awards season, Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and the entire cast and crew may be lined up to make history for all of us to witness.  And this is coming from someone who hasn’t even seen it yet.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I’ve been wrong before (To the Wonder isn’t winning Best Picture, right?).  I’ve got a pretty good hunch for this one though.

One thing of note.  It’s so good to hear lots of praise for newcomer Lupita Nyong’o on her work.  Reminds me of when many were singing the praises of Sharon Warren for her work in Taylor Hackford’s “Ray” nearly a decade ago, a performance that received praise during the awards season but failed when it counted.  Perhaps the end result will be different.

Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter delivers his thoughts on its awards chances:

Indeed, I believe that it will strongly contend for noms in the categories of best picture, best director (McQueen, for biting off more than ever before and capably chewing it), best actor (Ejiofor, for his total commitment in every scene of the film), best supporting actor (Fassbender, for playing a brutal Southern slave owner), best supporting actress (N’yongo, for portraying a slave who endures heartbreaking brutality), best adapted screenplay (forJohn Ridley‘s take on Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography of the same title) and best original score (Hans Zimmer).

Gregory Ellwood of HitFix commends Chiwetel Ejiofor proudly:

For all McQueen’s considerable skills as a filmmaker, “12 Years” would not succeed without Ejiofor’s incredible turn.  In this day in age it may be hard to believe why a free man wouldn’t run for his life or fight to his last breath in Northrup’s circumstances.  Ejiofor makes history palatable as he captures Northrup’s desire to survive as well as his despair as the weight of his plight increases over time.

He also calls Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o the standouts:

Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o are the picture’s two other standout turns. Fassbender is essentially the embodiment of evil as Northrup’s last slave owner, Edwin Epps. McQueen’s frequent muse (“Hunger,” “Shame”) is relentless in depicting the inhumanity in Epps, but expertly manages to avoid making Epps one note. Instead of pretending there is some good in Epps, Fassbender and McQueen provide him a range of combustible madness.

Epps primary victim is Patsey, a young slave girl played by Nyong’o. As Patsey suffers from Epps affections, insecurities and jealousy, Nyong’o eloquently convinces us why her character sees death as her only viable escape. It’s the film’s breakthrough performance and may find Nyong’o making her way to the Dolby Theater next March.

Peter Debruge of Variety praises the bravery and Nyong’o:

Actors like Nyong’o don’t come along often, and she’s a stunning discovery amidst an ensemble that carves out room for proven talents such as Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt to shine. Though the film brims with memorable characters, the show ultimately belongs to Ejiofor, who upholds the character’s dignity throughout. McQueen shrewdly limits everything audiences see and feel to the sphere of Northrup’s direct experience, drawing us into his head and keeping us there by including occasional shots in which this hyper-intelligent individual (in many ways the superior of his captors) struggles to make sense of his station.

Eric Cohn of  IndieWire went crazy for it:

There are echoes of the paranoid urgency and claustrophobic McQueen memorably built around a single setting in “Hunger,” but “Slave” carries them to a grander emotional scale. As Northup is thrust on to a boat with other frantic new captures, Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score compliments an intense montage of whispered exchanges between Northup and the other prisoners. The strength of the images shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (“The Place Beyond the Pines”), first glimpsed in the prologue, provide an intricate clash of colors — from the sharp blues of the surrounding ocean to the murky shadows of the ship’s belly.


What do you think?


Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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