Awards season has begun. A time of year to celebrate the very best that those in cinema have achieved over the past year. The Oscars are perhaps the most highly sought after award that a member of the film industry can receive. Every year, people place bets on the winners, gasp at the injustice of thoroughly overlooked masterpieces and pretend that they really don’t care who wins, only to be outraged when their favourite misses out. And the most esteemed of these awards every year is always Best Picture. A Best Picture nomination is acknowledgement that at the very core of any picture, there is a team.
So, who are the Oscars really for? Are they for the cinephiles and critics who approach a film with an expert eye? Or are they for the ordinary folk, who spend their hard earned money in the cinema, looking for a thrilling story and visual stimulation? Well arguably, they should be somewhere in between. The ceremony itself is as much about the who’s wearing who as it is about the films, and of course, it’s the ceremony that draws in the general public, without whom the whole thing would be rendered pointless (even if they’re not the ones scrambling for an online link to view the show live at 5am). So those who buy in to the glitz and glamour need to be rewarded with films that they’ve heard of. And similarly, those who do have a deeper dedication to the beautiful art naturally want to see something with a bit of substance as well as technical brilliance. So really, a film that will satisfy everybody has to win, and that film, this year, is 12 Years a Slave.
12 Years a Slave is a film that truly displays the full potential of cinema when all of the elements are perfectly married together. From the very first scene, an extreme close up of two people, searching for intimacy in a place where everything around them is totally devoid of love; that scene is a perfect example of cinema at its most spectacular. It’s gut-wrenchingly tragic, it’s absurdly beautiful and the pain etched on their faces cuts through to the soul. It’s what cinema is all about. Great acting, beautiful shots, tense moments. And of course, that’s just the first scene in what turns out to be an epic tale of injustice, pain, grief and love. It has absolutely everything. It’s a film which can switch from a torturously long scene of a man hanging from tree, clinging on to life, a scene that would not be out of place in an ‘art house’ film, to an exciting, tense, adrenalin fuelled scene where our prisoner is trying to escape his captors. Of course the film is about slavery, and yet manages to be sincere without being manipulative or judgemental to the audience, and at the same time exciting, without being offensive or dumbing down the seriousness of the subject. It’s art and it’s commercially viable.
It would be fairly insulting to try and suggest that the film has in any way made an impact in terms of larger discussions around slavery in the real world, and that certainly isn’t what McQueen is trying to do, but it’s impossible to discuss the film without at least raising the political context. It is important that a true story about slavery is being told and that this is recognised. McQueen isn’t saying ‘feel guilty, stand up and listen, address America’s chequered past.’ He is saying ‘Here is a film about something that actually happened to a real person and it’s terrible.’ And so McQueen strikes a balance, and sets out exactly what he is trying to achieve.
So as well as being a technically brilliant film, 12 Years A Slave should win the Oscar, because it represents a flawless collaboration of art and commercial viability, and appeals to both the film lover and the casual film viewer.
Ultimately, in order for a film to win a ‘Best Picture’ for anything, every single element of the film has to be the best, because the award is recognising a team effort. There cannot be any average qualities. Gravity is an astonishing visual treat, but is the writing alone worthy of an Oscar? No. Wolf of Wall Street is well written, with impeccable performances from the lead cast, but was the cinematography exceptional? Not at all. 12 Years does not have a single imperfect element. Steve McQueen, one of the finest directors of his generation, presents a film without a single flaw. The performances given by lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and supporting actress Lupita Nyong’o are breath-taking. And then there’s ever-faultless McQueen regular Michael Fassbender giving a brutal, unrelenting performance. There is no single element that could be classed as anything other than utter perfection, and only a film that is outstanding in every single way, deserves the Best Picture Oscar.
Article originally written for Hey U Guys