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Antislavery biopic is deeply disturbing–and inspiring

By: - Entertainment Editor

EJIOFOR, FASSBENDER AND PITT (INSET). Topbill Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave.”

The year 2013 was particularly significant for lovers of Oscar-caliber movies. In fact, the voting block of the Academy, comprised of approximately 5,800 members (22 percent of whom are actors), has its work cut out for it as it winnows down last year’s over-abundant cinematic harvest for the 10-entry Best Picture category in time for the Jan. 16 announcement of nominees. (The winners will be announced on March 2.)

The partial list includes the exceptional films of auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuaron, Joel and Ethan Coen, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell, Spike Jonze, Paul Greengrass, Stephen Frears, Jason Reitman, Richard Linklater and Ron Howard.

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In contention

Also in contention: “Saving Mr. Banks,” “All Is Lost,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Out of the Furnace,” “Frances Ha,” “Fruitvale Station,” “The Way, Way Back” and “Lone Survivor.” —Truly an embarrassment of cinematic riches!

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But, any “Best of 2013” list would be incomplete without “12 Years A Slave,” the deeply disturbing but ultimately inspiring drama based on the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), directed by Steve McQueen.

EJIOFOR, FASSBENDER AND PITT (INSET). Topbill Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave.”

(McQueen’s antislavery biopic fires on all cylinders—but, it is by no means Hollywood’s only cautionary reminder last year about the Civil Rights movement’s long and arduous struggle for equality: Similarly noteworthy are Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” and Justin Chadwick’s “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”)

Northup was a married, New York state-born “free Negro” who enjoyed a flourishing career as a violinist before he was lured into a deceptively lucrative circus gig, drugged, abducted, shipped off to New Orleans bound in shackles and chains, and sold into slavery 22 years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that led to the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which finally ended slavery in America.

For 12 years, Solomon was forced to do hard labor in Louisiana, one of seven Deep South states whose economy was dependent on cotton farming, run by white plantation owners with black slaves! His declarations that he was a free man conveniently fell on deaf ears, and only led to flogging and other horrifying abuses.

Explosive combination

It doesn’t hurt that two of Solomon’s masters are portrayed to contrasting perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch (“Star Trek: Into Darkness”) and Michael Fassbender (“Shame”), whose explosive combination of religious hypocrisy and unflinching brutality packs a mighty thespic wallop!

The arrival of Brad Pitt, as a Canadian carpenter who openly states his opposition to slavery, keeps the exposition eventful.

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Other memorable characters Northup  crosses paths with during his 12-year ordeal include a cotton-plantation owner’s jealous wife (Sarah Paulson), a racist farm overseer (Paul Dano) and a hardworking young slave named Patsey (the award-worthy Lupita Nyong’o), who gets constantly beaten and raped by her savage, Bible-quoting master. The gut-wrenching scene where Patsey begs Solomon to end her agony will linger with you long after the end credits stop rolling!

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TAGS: 12 Years A Slave, Entertainment, Hollywood, Movies, Oscars, Solomon Northup, Steve McQueen
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