This piece was written by senior Alex Naremore.
2013 was perhaps one of the biggest and greatest years for film in the last decade, where boundaries were pushed and recognition went where it rightfully belonged. For a while we have been plagued by a recurring theme of good movies losing to mediocre ones, while great films are seemingly either entirely overlooked or absent all together. However, this past year broke that cycle. We were instead given a multitude of fantastic stories and bold creative leaps, not only demanding to be seen, but finally and most satisfyingly rewarded at the Oscars this past weekend.
There were two standouts on Sunday night: the towering 12 Years a Slave, winner of 3 Oscars including Best Picture, directed by Steve McQueen, and Gravity, the space marvel that took home 7 Oscars including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón and nearly all the technicals. These two movies, among many others, led a surge of high quality filmmaking that will undoubtedly be remembered in entertainment history.
However, this rise in greatness is not only found in the essence and content of these movies, but also in the way they are actively impacting our society.
12 Years a Slave is the best movie to portray slavery in the entire history of film. It is the most powerful, beautiful, horrifying, and honest movie about the most atrocious period of American culture. It not only shows the monumental tragedy and all its subsequent acts of violence and emotional despair, but it also stares you right in face, daring you to look away. Forget Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Although that movie is incredible in and of itself, its cartoon version of slavery is entirely incomparable to the graveness of Steve McQueen’s masterpiece. Solomon Northup’s kidnapping and enslavement, depicted through the enormously restrained and powerful Chiwetel Ejiofor, not only proved to be a narrative of immensity and breathtaking despair, but the role of a lifetime for Ejiofor as he gave one of the greatest performances in recent memory.
The best and most exhilarating moment of the show came from 12 Years a Slave’s win for Best Supporting Actress in the form of Lupita Nyong’o, who similarly gave the performance of the year as Patsey, a young woman who faces rape and abuse almost daily as a slave. The Supporting Actress category was the most competitive announcement of the awards, as Nyong’o was against Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle (which won 0 awards), and it was perhaps the most pivotal decision out of all the nominees. The Academy, however, rewarded the right actress. Although Jennifer Lawrence is very talented, her role as an enraged housewife in David O. Russell’s movie was utterly trivial as opposed to an enslaved woman beaten to the point where she hardly has the will to live. Lupita’s triumph was truthfully the most deserved award in years. And as this was her first movie, hopefully she will go on to win more in the near future.
12 Years a Slave’s Best Picture win marked another milestone in Oscar history, as it was the first film made by a black director to ever be awarded the top honor. Similar to Steve McQueen’s win, Gravity also set a precedent, for Alfonso Cuarón is the first Hispanic nominee to win the Best Director prize.
Gravity is a complete opposite film from 12 Years a Slave. Instead of being a period drama, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts orbiting earth in a science fiction/space drama where all imaginable hell hits the two in the form of space debris. Gravity is another incredible film in that, although it may be simple in terms of plot, it elevates the entire standard of cinematography and visual effects in the film industry to a level that the movie could be called years ahead of its time. The 90 minute rollercoaster ride had photographic techniques and CGI methods invented by world-renowned cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, making the void of space and all its inhospitableness so real it makes the viewer feel as though they too are in orbit. Gravity is by no way a horror movie, but it has managed to be one of the most genuinely terrifying and thrilling movies to come to cinemas in the last decade and can be compared in its importance to other space epics such as Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you have not seen Gravity in IMAX already, there are few movies I could recommend more.
12 Years a Slave and Gravity are only two of the many other fantastic and important movies that came out this year, including Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, and Fruitvale Station. They have led the way to one of the best years for film in a long time and have made a turn reminding us of how important cinema is to our culture. Gravity will, without a doubt, change the landscape of technology in filmmaking for years, and 12 Years a Slave has become so revered that it has now been made part of public school curriculum due to its educational value and honest power. This year was good for movies, and the Oscars went to the right people. Hopefully next year will be more of the same.