Tag Archives: “12 Years a Slave”

Notes on the Oscars that I didn’t watch

Cate Blanchett holds her Oscar for Best Actress for the film "Blue Jasmine" at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California

Cate Blanchett is not just a pretty face, but a talented actress whose work should have been recognized with a Best Actress award more than a decade ago. Best Supporting Actor winner Jared Leto, on the other hand, unfortunately is just a pretty face…

Jared Leto, holds his Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California

Reuters photos

I don’t have cable television and don’t desire ever to have cable TV, and so I didn’t watch the Oscars last night (this year, for the first time ever, ABC made live streaming available — but only to those in certain markets who already have cable!), but I still have plenty of opinions about this year’s.

First off, it was about time that Cate Blanchett won a Best-Actress Oscar. She was robbed in 1998, when she was nominated for the award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in “Elizabeth” but lost to Gwyneth Paltrow. I don’t hate Paltrow as so many others apparently do, but she didn’t turn in the best performance that year.

Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress again in 2007 for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” but the academy passed on her again, so last night was the third time and the charm for Blanchett, and she deserved it, as she turned in the best performance of the year, hands down.*

Indeed, Blanchett’s performance is what saves “Blue Jasmine,” which is not one of Woody Allen’s best scripts, even though it earned him yet another nomination for Best Original Screenplay (he did not win, and deservedly so, since the screenplay is a fairly trite rehash).

I’m glad that the members of the academy didn’t snub Blanchett again, this time because they didn’t want to appear to be supporters of child molestation, because to the hysterical members of the pro-Mia-Farrow camp, you see, anyone remotely associated with Woody Allen is for child molestation. (Under this “logic,” not only does Blanchett support child molestation for having worked with Allen, but if you even cast your Oscar ballot for Blanchett, then you, too, support child molestation, by extension.)

“12 Years a Slave” is a worthy Best Picture winner, but I would have been OK with either “Philomena” or “Nebraska” having won (of those two, “Philomena” probably is my favorite).

I saw all of the nominees for Best Picture except for “Her,” “Captain Phillips” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” I would like to catch “Her,” and probably will, but the subject matter of neither “Captain Phillips” nor “The Wolf of Wall Street” appeals to me, and I’m a bit overdosed on Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio as it is (one word: overexposure). (Seriously, though, it wasn’t long ago enough that I saw DiCaprio as the Great Gatsby. I’m good for a while.)

“American Hustle” is an OK film — good, but not great — and “Gravity” and “Dallas Buyers Club” both have been over-hyped. None of those three nominees deserved to be named Best Picture.

“Gravity” is watchable (I saw it at IMAX), but, in my book, fatally flawed by its incredible — literally incredible, as in unbelievable — plot.

“Dallas Buyers Club” also is watchable enough, but come on, it’s like “Philadelphia” meets “Transamerica.” This gay man is as sick of movies about gay and/or transgender people being about AIDS as black folks are sick of movies being about slavery.

That said, yes, obviously the academy is filled with (mostly white) liberal guilt, and so if you make a movie about slavery, AIDS or the Holocaust, yes, your chances of winning an Oscar go up astronomically.

Again, “12 Years a Slave” is a worthy film, as I noted when it came out, but I do believe that (white) liberal guilt boosted it, just as it boosted “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Speaking further of which, I have enjoyed the return of Matthew McConaughey, whose performances in “Bernie,” “Killer Joe” and “Mud” all were good, but it seems to me that the main reason that he won Best Actor for “Dallas Buyers Club” is that he lost so much weight to play the role, which is not quite the same as great acting, but also because he played a man with AIDS, which also sure was good for Tom Hanks (who won Best Actor for the unworthy film “Philadelphia”).

I’d have given Best Actor to Chiwetel Ejiofor** for his performance in “12 Years a Slave” — not out of white liberal guilt, but because I think that he gave the best performance of the year.

At least the enthralling Lupita Nyong’o wasn’t robbed of the Best Supporting Actress award for her great performance in “12 Years a Slave.” Again, no white liberal guilt there — she earned that award, turning in a performance that probably is the heart and soul of the film. (I love Jennifer Lawrence, who did a good job in “American Hustle,” but this award wasn’t hers.)

And Jared Leto — don’t even get me started on him.

OK, so just as McConaughey won Best Actor for having lost a lot of weight and played a guy with AIDS, Leto won Best Supporting Actor for having lost a significant amount of weight and played a transgender individual with AIDS.

This was the result of full-blown liberal guilt. I don’t see that Leto’s performance was better than was Bradley Cooper’s in “American Hustle” or Michael Fassbender’s in “12 Years a Slave.” It was the transgender person with AIDS angle that did it.

I fully support equality for transgender individuals — I am a gay man myself — but isn’t coddling a historically oppressed minority group in a saccharin, maudlin manner just the flipside of oppressing that group?

Also, just as “Gravity’s” fatal flaw, in my book, is that its protagonist’s fantastic feats are just not believable, in my book “Dallas Buyers Club’s” fatal flaw is its portrayal of the protagonist, Ron Woodroof, as a homophobic heterosexual man with AIDS when, in fact, very apparently those who knew the real-life Woodroof — including his ex-wife — have said that he actually was at least bisexual, but possibly, if not even probably, gay. (Indeed, the photos of him that I’ve seen of him make my gaydar smoke.) Oh, and those who knew Woodroof dispute that he ever displayed homophobia (which, admittedly, a closeted gay man might do, especially in a homophobic state like Texas and in that day and time, to “prove” that he’s “heterosexual”).

Why the apparent change of such an important detail (the protagonist’s sexual orientation)?

Would Woodroof’s story have been less interesting if it had been that of just another faggot who had died of AIDS?

Can you pretend to be respectful of the gay “community” when you change a central character in a “real-life” story from non-heterosexual to heterosexual?

And in Jared Leto’s acceptance speech, he gave an unfortunate (but fortunately brief) shout-out to the “dreamers” of Venezuela and Ukraine. Wow.

On the surface, the “causes” of Venezuela and Ukraine appear to be great bandwagons for a good guilty white liberal to jump upon, but when you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find that those so-called-by-Jared-Leto “dreamers” are, in Venezuela, plutocratic and pro-plutocratic wingnuts who are just bitter that the socialist president there won the last presidential election — not by much, but he still won. They’re bitter that they lost the election and so they’re trying to force a do-over election (this was done in my state of California in 2003, with the gubernatorial recall election, which was, for all intents and purposes, just a do-over of the previous close gubernatorial election).

I fully expect wingnuts to support the Venezuelan “cause” of toppling a democratically elected socialist president because he is not a right-wing, pro-plutocratic president, but Leto, who presumably fashions himself to be a good liberal, should know better.

And the “dreamers” in Ukraine are largely far-right-wing nationalists, some of them even actual neo-Nazis.

Sure, they have a “dream.” Hitler had a dream, too.

These dreams might be great for them, but others of us, these dreams are nightmares.

Jared Leto, if he wants to be remembered as having been more than just pretty, really, really, really should do his homework before he endorses a “cause” in front of a massive, worldwide audience.

*OK, to be fair and thorough, I  saw all of the performances that were nominated for Best Actress except for Meryl Streep’s in “August: Osage County,” since the film’s previews suggest that it’s a mediocre, sappy film, worthy of perhaps catching on DVD. Still, I can’t imagine that Streep’s performance in that surpassed Blanchett’s in “Blue Jasmine.” My second choice for best actress would have been Judi Dench for “Philomena.”

**To be fair and thorough, I saw all of the performances that were nominated for Best Actor except for Leonardo DiCaprio’s in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” (Hey, if I got paid to see [and write about] movies that I wouldn’t ordinarily see, that would be different!)

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‘12 Years a Slave’ is a grueling antidote to the comparatively toothless ‘Lincoln’

Film review

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is “counseled” at knife point by cotton-plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) in director Steve McQueen’s grueling film “12 Years a Slave.”

I finally got around to watching “12 Years a Slave,” and while it perhaps has been a little over-hyped — I hate it when a good film is diminished because it can’t possibly be as great as so many claim that it is — it’s going to win a bunch of Oscars, and I consider it to be an antidote to Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” of which I noted at the time that it came out (a year ago) that “the evil of slavery itself is barely portrayed in ‘Lincoln’ … and blacks are only supporting (and mostly subservient) characters in ‘Lincoln,’ which gives the viewer … the unfortunate impression that perhaps the film is asserting that slavery was more of a burden for liberal whites than it was for the actual slaves.”

Indeed, in “12 Years a Slave” the “saviors” still are white men, but, given the fact that at the time white men held virtually all of the political power, what other “savior” could a black person have had at that time? The best that most black Americans, especially enslaved black Americans, could hope for at that time, it seems to me, was to have the fortune to have the mercy of white men who had power to make their lives less miserable.*

Indeed, in “12 Years a Slave” we see at least two grown black men run to their white-male protectors and embrace them as a child would embrace his parent. But, given the circumstances, one could hardly blame them.

I wrote of “Lincoln” that “The Southerners (and their sympathizers) in ‘Lincoln’ aren’t portrayed flatteringly, which probably will mean that the film won’t appeal to the ‘tea-party’ dipshits, since the slavery- and treason-loving Southerners depicted in ‘Lincoln’ are their true founding fathers.”

Ditto for “12 Years a Slave” (and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django,” too, of course).

Michael Fassbender and Paul Dano couldn’t have done a much better job of portraying what probably was the typical Southern white male of the era, and Brad Pitt, perhaps because he was one of the producers, got what to me is the plum role of the liberal, abolitionist Canadian whose action finally frees our hero.

Our hero, of course, is the real-life historical figure Solomon Northup, who in 1841 was a free man (well, “free” as in “not a slave,” “not someone’s property”) who was lured from his home in New York state to Washington, D.C., where he was promised well-paying work but instead was kidnapped and forced into slavery in Louisiana for a dozen years.

And the star of “12 Years a Slave” is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who no doubt will be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his harrowing portrayal of Solomon Northup.

The other star of “12 Years” is Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the slave Patsey, and who also very most likely will be nominated for an acting Oscar.

“12 Years a Slave,” based upon Northup’s autobiography of the same name and penned by American screenwriter John Ridley, is, first and foremost, the story of the slaves, and its portrayal of their trials and tribulations by comparison makes “Lincoln” look like it portrays slavery as a mere inconvenience to black Americans.

“12 Years,” among other things, portrays free blacks in the North being abducted and sold into slavery, slaves stripped nude and bathed for auction like livestock, a mother being separated permanently from her two children at auction, and the character of Patsey being serially raped by the cotton-plantation owner Edwin Epps (played by Fassbender) and, to add injury to injury, being hated by and thus violently attacked by the plantation owner’s wife (Sarah Paulson) because her husband is sexually predating upon her. We also witness one of our protagonists being quasi-lynched and the other one being brutally whipped.

“12 Years a Slave” does as probably a good job as a film could do to bring us into Solomon Northup’s world. You’re supposed to feel Northup’s struggle and large degree of helplessness, given how utterly disempowered he is. His spirit not only is violated repeatedly by the wrongs that are done to him, but also by the multitude of wrongs that he has to witness done to others, probably especially to Patsey.

“12 Years a Slave” is directed by Steve McQueen, a writer-director who, I surmise, because he is black and British, wasn’t overly worried about not offending white Americans in his portrayal of Southern slavery. (Of course, Quentin Tarantino wasn’t worried about that, either, with “Django,” but bad boy Tarantino can make just about any film that he wishes. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” by contrast, suffers because the “upright” and apparently uptight Spielberg apparently didn’t want to offend white Americans too much.)

I wasn’t impressed with McQueen’s over-hyped 2011 “Shame,” which also starred Michael Fassbender, but after “12 Years,” which draws you into Solomon Northup’s grueling world so well that when he finally is reunited with his family you will, if you have any empathy at all, have tears in your eyes, I look forward to more projects by McQueen, and after having watched “12 Years” I’ll probably catch McQueen’s other project starring Fassbender, 2008’s “Hunger.”

My grade: A

*Indeed, we are told at the end of “12 Years a Slave,” as Wikipedia puts it:

Northup sued the slave traders in Washington, D.C., [who had kidnapped him and sold him into slavery], but [Northup] lost in the local court. District of Columbia law prohibited him, as a black man, from testifying against whites, and, without his testimony, he was unable to sue for civil damages. The two men were charged with the crime of kidnapping and remanded into custody on $5,000 bail, but without Northup’s testimony, a conviction could not be secured and [so] the men were released.

So, even in the North, which in Northup’s day was quite progressive compared to the South, Northup, as a “free” man, because he was a black man, did not have equal rights, and white men still could commit grievous crimes against black Americans with impunity.

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