It may sound premature, but it seems we already know how the 2014 Oscars will play out. According to several critics at the Toronto International Film Festival, 12 Years a Slave is gonna take home all the little gold men it can carry, and we might as well just accept it now.
12 Years a Slave — which stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, along with Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Benedict Cumberbatch — is directed by Steve McQueen and follows Ejiofor as a freed man and violinist in 1841 New York who is kidnapped, taken to Louisiana, and sold into slavery. The film hits theaters on October 18.
When it was screened in Toronto on Friday night, the film pretty much left the audience breathless. Entertainment Weekly's Anthony Breznican called the film's effect on the audience "devastating."
Breznican recalls the atmosphere at the festival following the screening:
Festival-goers tend to gab easily about their likes or dislikes as they walk out of a film, but the crowd exiting Friday night’s emotionally crushing 12 Years a Slave showing struggled to express their overwhelming admiration. They communicated at first mostly in deep exhales and short exclamations like “Wow,” “Amazing,” and “Oh My God …”
It seems to be a common sentiment. In his breakdown of why he thinks 12 Years a Slave is an Oscar guarantee (he calls the film "shattering"), Vulture's Kyle Buchanan offers similar recollection:
It wasn't just that people broke down crying throughout — though plenty in my audience did — it's that during the closing credits, when I finally found it in me to stand and turn around, I looked back at faces that were shell-shocked to the core. One writer friend of mine was inconsolable, speechless; I took him to get a drink, and for a while at the bar, we just sat and said nothing. At a film festival, you're often expected to move on to the next screening or assignment, but this movie had knocked us flat, and two people normally quick with words not only couldn't find them, but didn't need to. Later, I had that same, silent "holy shit" moment with several other colleagues who'd seen the movie; when my roommate came home from her 12 Years screening as I was writing this article, she said simply, "There it is, we're done. Game over."
The film — which is based on a true story, just to add that extra layer of devastation — will probably turn Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, Salt) into a household name. It's being called "seminal" and the best depiction of American slavery since Roots, and most of the world hasn't even seen it yet. So who/what exactly in the film is already being discussed as Oscar contender? Ejiofor, of course, for Best Actor. He's already predicted to take home the top prize, and there are still a ton of Oscar-hopeful movies not out yet. Lupita Nyong'o, who plays a fellow slave, is a newcomer to the film world but is a "surefire" nominee for Best Supporting Actress. And then there's director Steve McQueen, who is also an early favorite (he'd just have to beat the sentiment that David O. Russell's due the award). If he does, he'll be the first black filmmaker ever to take home the award. There are a lot of movies out there this season hoping for the chance to be lauded at the Oscars —both films yet to be screened at TIFF, and those making their debuts in different ways. But if there's one that's making the biggest impression right now, it's definitely 12 Years a Slave. If you wanna be caught up for when this film sweeps the world, we'd recommend putting this one on your must-see list immediately.
Image: Fox Searchlight