12 Years a Slave is not just the best film of 2013; it's an American classic. You'll talk about it for hours. You'll think about it for years.
I've already watched this modern epic on two occasions at the Toronto International Film Festival, and in each instance it was greeted with deserved ovations and tears. But when the emotions subside and all of the awards are handed out (and there will be a boat-load for this film) 12 Years as a Slave will long be remembered as a quintessential story about American slavery, a subject that more than a few foreign-born directors believe has been given insufficient consideration from their American counterparts.
"Our director Steve McQueen asked the question: 'Why are there not more American movies about slavery?' It's a good question," said Brad Pitt in a post-screening press conference which included Boise Weekly. Pitt not only co-stars in the film, but is one of the producers. "I'm very excited for people to see this movie. It's a rare film that only comes around once or so every decade."
This is the British-born McQueen's third feature-length film, but when you think of his first two—2008's Hunger and 2011's Shame, two films that I'm a huge fan of—it really is no surprise that McQueen is now the hottest director in his industry. And after he picks up next year's Oscar for Best Director and is praised over and over again from the stage as his cast and crew pick up their own Oscars, people everywhere will be asking, "Who is this Steve McQueen?" The short answer is: He's the best in the business.
12 Years a Slave is much more powerful than the 1970s sanitized television miniseries Roots and far superior to last year's Lincoln, which came across as a heavy-handed lecture when it wasn't a showcase for overacting. Instead, 12 Years a Slave uses the power of film at its utmost to best tell the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man sold into slavery. I cannot sing praises loud enough for Chiwetel Ejiofor who plays Northup. His performance is never showy or overstated. To the contrary, his fully-realized Northup is an extraordinary man who survived the darkest shadow of our nation's history.
I must also single out the performance of Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, a half-mad plantation owner who becomes Northup's greatest foil. Fassbender is a shoe-in for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
"A great script and direction," said Fassbender after the film. "Good storytelling is..." he paused for moment, "you know, good storytelling is like music."
Indeed, 12 Years a Slave is of operatic proportions.