Jonathan R. Lack’s Top 10 Films Of 2013

8. 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

Few films this year left me as deeply shaken as Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, a brutal, honest, sharp, and at times overwhelmingly emotional account of Solomon Northrup, a free black man sold into slavery in pre-Civil War America. The precision of McQueen’s artistry is largely unparalleled, especially in his stunning command over the power of single, unbroken shots, and what impresses me most is the unbelievable level of calm, measured control he exhibits over the entire affair.

Transcending words like tragic or harrowing, the film is downright haunting, deeply disturbing for how it illustrates the repulsive moral foundations of our nation’s past, and endlessly provocative in the ways it reflects the lingering scars and prejudices of the present. Brought to life by one of the greatest ensembles in recent memory, the film is positively littered with terrific performances, though the impossibly rich and nuanced work done by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead role is on another level. I cannot imagine another actor doing better work in this part, nor can I imagine any filmmaker and crew doing better by this immensely challenging material.

12 Years a Slave is now playing in limited release.

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