In years past a good percentage of that gang of smoothies known as the Movie City News’ Gurus of Gold have voiced mainstream Oscar sentiments. Many seem to have a liking for those stodgy, politically-correct, right-down-the-middle, conventional-sentiment choices of your average 63-year-old Academy member. And so it’s significant, I think, that when recently asked to pick the top 15 most likely Best Picture contenders, the groovy Gurus put Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years A Slave (Fox Searchlight, 10.18) right at the top — i.e., tied for first place with David O. Russell‘s American Hustle and Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
So this is it, fellas — the Gurus are making room for the McQueen because it’s the “right” movie, the politically noble film to get behind this year…c’mon. That’s the early sentiment, at least. There’s a readiness to accept that, to let it in. The upcoming Toronto Film festival showings will provide a significant reading, needless to say.
Because 12 Years A Slave might do for slavery and racism what Shame did for sex addiction. Because it’ll be about the audience rooting and pulling for the dignity of Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Solomon Northup, a free man with a family who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. Because it’ll be about everyone hissing Michael Fassbender as a malicious plantation owner. Because it’ll be Django Unchained 2 with an austere arthouse attitude and minus the Quentin stamp (mock-exploitation, loquaciousness as an end in itself).
12 Years A Slave is one of three films about the African-American experience that have been ranked highly by the Gurus, the other two being The Butler and Fruitvale Station, which are both Weinstein Co. releases. Fruitvale Station is a sad, deeply moving, expertly made film. The Butler is pretty good, touching, better-than-decent. We’ll see how it all shakes.