Our alphabetical march through the Best Picture nominees is nearing its end today, with the film that just might win it all: “12 Years a Slave.” Though it tells a very American story — based on the memoir of a free black man captured and sold as a slave in the 1840s South — it’s a surprisingly international film: director Steve McQueen and star Chiwetel Ejiofor are both London-born Brits. McQueen (“Hunger,” “Shame”) had long wanted to make a film about the American slave experience and was drawn to Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir; John Ridley (“Red Tails,” “Three Kings”) came aboard to write the screenplay. The result, filmed on four historic Louisiana plantations, is an unflinching film that’s often devastating to watch, but whose power is undeniable. You want to look away — and often you do — but “12 Years a Slave” stays with you, long after its final scene.
Still in theaters? Yes, currently at the Meridian, Alderwood, and Edmonds theaters; returning to the Ark Lodge Cinemas tomorrow.
Total U.S. box office: $49.2 million
Total Oscar nominations: Nine, for best picture, director, actor (Ejiofor), supporting actor (Michael Fassbender), supporting actress (Lupita Nyong’o), costume design, film editing, production design and adapted screenplay.
Best chance for a win: Though I wouldn’t rule out a win by “American Hustle” or “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave” looks likely to take the top prize: best picture — it’s the kind of film (historical epic on an important topic) the Academy likes to reward. McQueen might ride that wave to best director –he’d be the first black filmmaker to win that category — as might John Ridley for adapted screenplay. Among the acting nominations, Lupita Nyong’o seems like the safest bet; her main competition being Jennifer Lawrence, who’s already won. (That Nyong’o was terrific goes without saying.) Veteran costumer designer Patricia Norris, a six-time nominee who’s never won, might hear her name called this time as well.
Odds of this movie creating some fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: Well, this isn’t the kind of movie people get goofy around, but we might hear some moving speeches. Also, if it wins best picture, look for Brad Pitt on the podium — he’s one of the film’s producers.
Fun fact: The two stars of last year’s Oscar-nominated film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” both appear in “12 Years a Slave”: Quevenzhane Wallis, nominated for best actress for “Beasts,” appears early in the film as Ejiofor’s character’s young daughter, and Dwight Henry, who plays her father in “Beasts,” here plays the slave Abram.
Ejiofor and Wallis in an early scene from “12 Years a Slave.” (Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight)