12 Years a Slave (2013)
Even with only two films under his belt (Hunger and Shame), Steve McQueen became one of my favorite filmmakers because of the intense brutality and artistic bravado of his work. Another trademark is that he always collaborates with Michael Fassbender, one of the best actors of this generation. As soon as McQueen’s third feature 12 Years a Slave debuted at Telluride, the internet was instantly buzzing that it was the year’s Best Picture. Everyone was right.
I was floored. I had trouble sleeping last night because many of the film’s agonizing images stuck with me. It’s unflinching and bold in its depictions, while at the same time brilliantly acted and choreographed. McQueen is known for his long takes, Hunger has a 17 ½ minute single-shot conversation and Shame continues the trend of impressive feats performed in a single take. With 12 Years a Slave, the harsh subject matter is a perfect match for McQueen’s bold style. There’s an astonishing number of sequences that push the cast and audience into living out horrific torture scenes in real time, with no cutaways to deflate tension. The camera keeps everything intimate, always close with Solomon Northup’s struggle, it’s absorbing. The cast is also excellent, with many small roles being filled by well-known talents. Fassbender is disgusting, a ruthless drunk and deplorable businessman all operating within the law, “a man does how he pleases with his property”.
McQueen, a British filmmaker, has always been ignored by the Oscars and doesn’t care about the awards himself, but I’m glad that his new film is already being championed as a frontrunner. More people will become familiar with his work and he’s going to be an even bigger name in the world of cinema. With 12 Years a Slave, McQueen has made another powerful and devastating film, necessary to been made and necessary to see.