a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

“12 Years a Slave” I’ve never really seen anything like it. I feel it is one of the greatest films of all time, Simply one of the greatest films ever made and yes, I saw it first at TIFF, where it leveled all comers, and now over a month later at the NYFF, the impact is the same. Nothing has changed. It’s a month later and really there’s nothing going to stop it.

It won the Audience Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and this is just the first step in the many, many awards that are going to come its’ way. It’s seriousness makes “Django Unchained” look like a joke. And yes, it did win two Oscars. Both for the two white men who were nominated. Quentin Tarentino who got his second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Christophe Waltz, who stunned all Oscarologists (EXCEPT Tom O’Neil at www.goldderby.com) who didn’t predict it. Waltz won of course for Best Supporting Actor.

This year it will be very, very different at the Oscars I predict. But if we look at the precedent being “Django” as the only other film in recent years to have Slavery as its’ main subject , the white guy in Supporting, this time Michael Fassbender, might just get lucky and win just as Waltz did. He’s playing the evil slave owner Epps, who prides himself in “breaking” troublesome slaves. Being sold to the Eps plantation is akin to being sent to Hell.

And Fassbender, who’s star has been on the rise for years now, mainly due to his other two collaborations with British director Steve McQueen, the harrowing “Hunger” where he lost something like 40 pounds as a Irish hunger striker, based on a true story and yes, also as the lead in “Shame” playing a slightly lighter topic as a sex addict, who is naked for sooo many of the scenes in that film. Also, he’s in “X-Men:First Class” and so he’s well situated to FINALLY be nominated for “12 Years a Slave” and he may win.

The film is certainly going to win Best Picture. Despite “Gravity”s overwhelming box-office achievement this weekend, I don’t think the Academy is ready to embrace 3-D, even yet. And since so many voting members watch the nominated films on screeners or DVD copies of the nominated movies, at home on their television sets, 3-D and certainly IMAX is going to look like not much of anything, compared with the gargantuan thrill it provides on the biggest of Big Screens. It should pass $100 million domestic at the box-office in the next week or two. At most.

But all this is to say that “12 Years a Slave” is going to look just fine on DVD. It’s a film of intense close-ups, and unflinching brutality. And of course, it takes a British director to finally tell the truth of this utterly American horror story that was slavery in the pre-Civil War South. McQueen could become the first Black director to win an Oscar. I think if they give it to the film they are going to give it to him, too.

And also his leading man,  the extraordinary British actor, Chiwetel Ejiafor, who as the freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery, is called upon to do things that no actor in the history of film has ever been asked to do before. He’s breathtaking! The levels of pain AND strength, the inner resources and resilience of spirit he brings to Solomon Northrup are astounding. And his and director McQueen’s intelligence inform every shot. It’s staggering in its’ immensity. But it’s all done utterly realistically and  with total naturalism.

The unimaginable atrocities that are depicted here are ALL TRUE.

And last but not least, we have to praise the Oscar chances, and the rise from complete obscurity of its’ ingénue star, Lupita N’yong’o, the young African-American actress, who plays Patsie, the beautiful slave who endures the most unmentionable cruelty, sexual and otherwise by Fassbender’s evil Epps. She will be nominated for Best Supporting Actress for sure, and will give Oprah Winfrey a run for her money in that category.

It’s overwhelmed all comers I feel at the New York Film Festival, just as it did previously at Telluride and Toronto. You see, nothing much has changed since audiences saw it in September. And oh yes, I have seen something like it before! It was also in the capable hands of Fox Searchlight and the name of the film was “Slumdog Millionaire” which debuted and wowed at Toronto and went on to wow the world and win every prize in sight, including the Oscar. It’s one of those kind of years. The word is unstoppable.

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