Watching it is like finding money in the pocket of a coat that you haven’t worn in years.
In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see who they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Matt Zoller Seitz makes the case for our pick for the Best Picture of 2013: "12 Years a Slave".
The films nominated as Best Picture tend to be either exceptionally well-made or "important," rarely both. The "important" films are often merely adequate as art, sometimes less than that, but we collectively avoid complaining about this too loudly, for fear it will make us seem insensitive to the subject. The well-made, sometimes brilliant movies rarely get acknowledged because they are "merely" excellent—thrilling, funny, scary, beautiful—and lack that extra ennobling aspect that the Academy loves.
Once in a great while, though, you get something like Steve McQueen and John Ridley's "12 Years a Slave," a movie written, directed and acted with such discernment that it can be watched and re-watched and re-watched yet again, purely as an art object. Considering the staggering emotion summoned by the film's account of Solomon Northup's odyssey from freedom to slavery and back, this is a remarkable achievement. The movie is difficult to watch, often intensely brutal, yet ultimately humane and life-affirming, never crossing the line into either midnight movie excess or pointlessly arty affectation. If Stanley Kubrick had made a film about American slavery, it might have looked and moved somewhat like this one, always thinking about shots as shots and scenes as scenes and themes as themes, yet always tying every element, whether central or marginal, to the film's emotional spine: a tale of what it means, physically, to be enslaved as opposed to free. In its intelligence, passion and craft, this is an amazing movie.
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