American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave lead Oscar nominations

Last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters shocked the film industry when they overlooked Ben Affleck in the best director’s category, this year they outdid themselves, snubbing safe potential contenders such as Emma Thompson, Robert Redford and Tom Hanks in the acting categories and Paul Greengrass in the directing category. Other critics favourite films such Inside Llewyn Davis and Fruitvale Station did not receive much attention either.

Leading the field in the nominations for the 86th Academy Awards were Gravity and American Hustle with 10 nominations each, followed by 12 Years A Slave with 9 nods. The trio will compete for the best picture Oscar with Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Five directors of the aforementioned movies will be vying for the best director award: David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street). And another selection of five gained nods in the best film editing category: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity and 12 Years A Slave.

David O. Russell scored a third nod in the best original screenplay category with Eric Warren. They were joined by Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine, Spike Jonze for Her, Bob Nelson for Nebraska and Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack for Dallas Buyers Club. Meanwhile, the best adapted screenplay competition included Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke for Before Midnight, Billy Ray for Captain Phillips, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for Philomena, John Ridley for 12 Years A Slave and Terence Winter for The Wolf of Wall Street.

Marking her 18th Oscar nomination, Meryl Streep (August: Osage County) will be competing in the best leading actress category against Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity) and Judi Dench (Philomena). Her co-star in the same movie, Julia Roberts will be facing Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), June Squibb (Nebraska) and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) in the best supporting actress contest.

Meanwhile, 5 actors received nods in the best actor category: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Golden Globe-winner Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club).

While Tom Hanks missed out on a nomination in the best actor category, his Somali co-star Barkhad Abdi was honoured with a nod for the best supporting actor, along with Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club).

The Oscars will handed out at a ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on 2nd March.

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Is 12 Years A Slave relevant in Obama’s America?

Since its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, has been making headlines and gaining praise from critics and audiences alike for its uncompromising depiction of the horrors of slavery in pre civil war America. This month, it has scooped 7 Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor in a drama, best supporting actor, best supporting actress and best original score. It’s the first black film to attain such illustrious recognition.

12 Years A Slave, which tells the true story of a free black man, Solomon Northup, kidnapped in 1841 in Washington and sold into slavery in New Orleans, is easily the most hard-hitting portrayal of this dark chapter in American history since the 1977 TV blockbuster “Roots”. Other acclaimed movies have visited the subject, such as Amistad, Beloved and Glory, but gained little attention in the box office and quickly sank into the abyss of oblivion. However, last year’s Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s blend of spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation, which exposed the masochistic brutality of slave masters and the suffering they inflicted on their subjects, was a box office hit and a critics darling.

When I met him in Toronto, McQueen told me that his film was different. “It’s basically non-fiction, a firsthand account of slavery,” he said. “The specification of what happened, the location, all those people in that movie actually existed. I think that is the thing we haven’t seen on the big screen and that’s what I wanted to emphasise, the reality of the unfortunate situation of slavery.”

The British black director wanted his movie to be for slavery films what Schindler’s List was for Holocaust movies, hence he didn’t spare us slavery’s intermittent and incidental horrors. Through the eyes of Northup we witness black people being sold in a slave market like cattle, children raptured from their wailing mothers and callous plantation owners whipping, rapping and hanging their slaves arbitrarily and sometimes for sheer pleasure. McQueen’s relentless portrayal of physical and psychological suffering and his lingering on scenes of torture is so painful and uncomfortable to watch that it eggs you to leap out of the comfort of your seat to redress the injustice unfolding before your eyes.

Although proving effective in shocking audiences, the extreme violence depicted in the movie has also stirred controversy. Some African American critics, such as Armond White, have dismissed the the film as an exercise in “torture porn,” suggesting that this kind of victimology is unsuited for the contemporary needs of black communities. Others have retorted that the legacy of slavery, which was driven by racism, continued to resonate in American society, evidenced by the the fact that the African-American incarceration rate is six times the national average to this day and the unemployment rate for blacks is double that of whites.

Indeed, the racism that stripped Northup of freedom and plunged him into slavery 150 years ago is echoed in contemporary movie Fruitvale Station, in which an unarmed 21-year-old black man, Oscar Grant, is fatally shot by a white police officer in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day of 2009. None of Northup’s kidnappers were prosecuted, in spite of the compelling evidence against them. Grant’s killer, on the other hand, was sentenced to only 2 years in prison. Evidently, little has changed in the US judicial system since the bleak days of slavery, in spite of the election of a black president.

12 Years A Slave is not merely a history lesson; it’s a stark reminder that the racism that justified slavery 150 years ago is still lurking in the American society and must be confronted in order to pave a better future for humanity. “I think it takes time for people to heal and get a chance to reconcile with their past,” McQueen said. “I think it [the movie] galvanised a lot of people to want to engage with slavery.”

The film has no doubt revived and stirred debates about the issue of slavery that had been pushed aside by the media and Hollywood. Its critical and commercial success is a testament to audiences’ healthy appetite for exploring and understating the past, no matter how grim and hideous it was.

12 Years A Slave leads at the SAGs nominations

Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor gained nods at the SAGs.

After failing to secure a win in recent critics awards, 12 Years a Slave gained a boost from The Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which honoured it with 4 nominations, for best ensemble cast, male actor in a leading role for Chiwetel Ejiofor, and supporting for Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o.  Directed by Steve McQueen, the film is an unflinching portrayal of slavery in early America.

Another film dealing with African American history, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which had been overlooked by other award competitions, received a new injection of life with 3 SAG nods: best ensemble cast, male actor in a leading role for Forest Whitaker and female actor in a supporting role for Oprah Winfrey.

These recognitions are a major triumph for black cinema, which has surged this year, critically and commercially, because the SAGs are the first major nominations in the award season and a leading Oscar bellwether, hence more accolades will most likely follow.

Other pictures with 3 nominations, including the best ensemble cast, were August: Osage County, which had been under the radar, and Dallas Buyers Club. American Hustle, which attained 2 nods, rounded out the best ensemble cast nominees.

Competing against Ejiofor and Whitaker in the male actor in a leading role category were Bruce Dern for Nebraska, Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips and Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

The female actor in a leading role category was packed with veteran Oscar-winning thespians: Judi Dench for Philomena, Meryl Streep for August: Osage County, Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks.

Vying with Michael Fassbender for male actor in a supporting role were James Gandolfini for Enough Said, newcomer Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips, Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club and Daniel Bruhl for Rush. Meanwhile 3 more ladies will be competing with Oprah Winfrey and Nyong’o in the female actor in a supporting role category: Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle, June Squibb for Nebraska and Julia Roberts for August: Osage County.

Glaringly missing in these nominations were Robert Redford for All is Lost, who won a critic prize last week;  Leonardo Di Caprio and Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street; Joaquin Phoenix for Her; and Ben Stiller for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Last year’s SAG winners  -lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, lead actress Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and supporting actress Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables- all went on to claim the Oscar.

The SAG awards will be handed out at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles on 18th January 2014.

12 Years a Slave Wins Toronto Film Festival

12 Years a Slave

British director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has won the 38th Toronto Film Festival’s audience prize. Produced by Brad Pitt and Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, the film tells the real-life story of an African-American who was subjected to the cruelty of slavery for 12 years before he was freed by his white friends in 19th century America. This triumph will propel 12 Years a Slave ahead in the Oscar race.

Another British movie, Stephen Frears’ Philomena was the first runner-up, followed by Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners.

Egyption Jehane Noujaim’s The Square won the documentary audience award. The film follows the Egyptian revolution from the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 to the deposing the first democratically elected president  Mohamed Mursi.

The last six years, Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) has screened all the Oscar Best Picture winners. Last year’s runner-up, Argo, won the Oscar for the best picture. Other TIFF winners such as Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech ended up taking home the Oscars for best picture.