12 Years a Slave deserves best pic (and the Golden Globes thought so, too) if only to hold a mirror to the USA so we never forget (like the Germans teaching the Holocaust). It is a British director, Steve McQueen (who won New York Film Critics Circle’s Best director for this film) who must tell us Solomon Northrup/Platt’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor, of Kinky Boots, Children of Men) story. The film depicts Northrup’s autobiographical account, published in 1853, of his kidnapping, in 1841, and what he survived after being sold into Southern slavery.
Friends told me this movie was hard to watch. With the exception of the flogging of Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), I did not find it so. The triumph of Northrup’s determination to “live” not just survive in order to return to his wife and children is strongly woven throughout the film. While we are not privy to whatever survival guilt or PTSD Northrup subsequently suffered, we know that a strong family and community connection had immunized him enough to allow him to move the Abolitionist movement forward for a nation oblivious to its shame. In addition to seeing people treated like property, raped, beaten, and eerily forced to dance for the merriment of their slaveowners, also horrifying to me was slave owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) reading scripture to family and slaves alike while the film narrative juxtaposes slaves being beaten and murdered.
For those who avoided this film to save themselves from the painful truth of this nation’s shame, I urge you to see it for it is a beautiful film about the human spirit and the power of love for family and freedom. I often tear up watching films, but this film brought me to frank crying (with joy). There are also excellent performances from Sarah Paulson and Michael Fassbinder, and cameos from Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti.
Like 12 Years a Slave (see 1-28-14 post) American Hustle turns a mirror on the USA, but American Hustle is a mere needle biopsy whereas 12 Years a Slave is the full body MRI showing a pernicious and widespread cancer in American history. David Denby of The New Yorker called American Hustle the best movie of the year but asks if it is an important movie. While American Hustle depicts the real life Abscam affair it is so farcical that we forget this is a slice from history. Director David O. Russell (The Fighter; Silver Linings Playbook) and the superb acting of Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner make this film highly entertaining even while it is difficult to empathize or identify with such a group of con artists and self serving sociopaths (politicians and FBI agents) , including those who think they work for the common good.