12 Years a Slave

2013.moviedoppelgangers

Every year, there seem to be unintended themes emerging from movie releases. It’s almost as if the studios called each other to coordinate projects like friends in high school planning to wear matching outfits on a Friday. Sometimes this effect is unintentional, like when an emerging movie star manages to have multiple films comes out the same year (see Melissa McCarthy below); other times, it’s a result of executives switching studios and developing similar projects (like the infamous Disney and DreamWorks 1998 double-header grudge match of A Bug’s Life vs. Antz and Armageddon vs. Deep Impact). This year is no different, producing a slew of movie doppelgangers. For the sake of creativity, I left the painfully obvious off. Still, who can forget offerings like Olympus Has Fallen up against White House Down as well as This Is the End paired with The World’s End? And, if you really hate yourself, you can watch a terrible trippleganger of A Haunted House, Scary Movie 5 and 30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Whether it’s similar themes, the same actor in noticeably similar roles, or parallel stand-out moments in two films, this list of 13 movie pairings can provide a nice selection of companion pieces for your viewing pleasure.

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12 Years a Slave

Awards season at the movies should just be called something else, like “The Glut” or “The Influx” or “You’re Never Going To See All The Films You Want To (And Should),” but some wily studios are capitalizing on audiences’ inability to see everything right away by re-releasing (or majorly expanding) favorite features that have been hanging around the multiplex for awhile now. It’s not a unique thing to do, and it does tend to happen in fits and starts every year, but it certainly seems to be a release strategy that’s getting some legs when it comes to the big contenders (remember back in 2011 when Sarah’s Key got a re-release to build buzz? Remember how you’d never even heard of the film and that last minute push didn’t change that? That’s not happening these days). As of now, at least three big contenders are fixing for limited theatrical re-releases (including 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, and Blue Jasmine), but we have a few ideas about three other films that deserve the same treatment, or at least another shot at big screen enjoyment.

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Scene of 2013

Far more movies than any one person can watch get produced and released every year. That’s why film fans get so anal retentive and self-important when they’re trying to decide what they’re going to declare their favorite film of the year. When you take movies as seriously as people like us do, year-end ratings and rankings can get pretty stressful. So just imagine how much harder it is to try to narrow down every scene that gets shot for every movie each year to one, definitive, best scene of the year. It’s enough to produce a healthy layer of flop sweat. Last year it was an accordion interlude, but this year we’re naming two scenes as our Scene of the Year because of how closely they work in tandem with one another. They’re also about the furthest from last year’s winner as you can get. Without further ado, the FSR staff has chosen The Hanging Scene and The Whipping Scene from director Steve McQueen’s affecting historical drama 12 Years a Slave as the Scene(s) of 2013.

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Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave

Yesterday, Steve McQueen was named Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle for 12 Years a Slave, and while that doesn’t make him a lock for the Oscar, the group’s track record of matching Academy choices is a good sign that he’ll become the first black director ever to win the coveted statuette. In the past 10 years, the NYFCC has differed from the final Oscar pick 4 times (in 2003 when they picked Sofia Coppola, 2008 when they picked Mike Leigh, 2010 when they picked David Fincher and 2012 when they picked Kathryn Bigelow). If statistics were a real factor here, that would mean a 60% shot at McQueen winning, but the true takeaway is that the win provides a significant launchpad going into awards season.

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series-7-the-contenders

It’s too bad I already recommended The Running Man this month (for post-Ender’s Game viewing), because even more than the first Hunger Games movie it really fits well with the new second installment, Catching Fire. But that’s okay, you can still add that to this week’s bunch of movies to see. I just won’t include it below. The same goes for Battle Royale, the most obvious movie to highlight for being similar to this franchise, though that one does make more sense as something to recommend after the first movie. Should Battle Royale II: Requiem take its place now that we’re talking about The Hunger Games 2? I haven’t seen it and hear it’s really terrible and it doesn’t seem to coincide plot-wise, so no. Instead I’ve got 12 other movies better worth your time as you wait for the first part of Mockingjay to hit theaters and continue the abruptly halted narrative of the Hunger Games story. As usual, the list will probably involve some spoilers if you haven’t seen Catching Fire.  

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Roots

Though Steve McQueen‘s latest film debuted less than three weeks ago, it feels safe to say that we now live in a post-12 Years a Slave era. The black British director, a descendant of Caribbean slaves, put forth a vision of “the peculiar institution” so harrowingly realistic and so convincingly nuanced that his film sets a new standard for what every subsequent slavery movie should look like and do. It’s also easy to imagine that McQueen’s film will be the image of slavery this generation will have as a reference point when it inevitably ends up in high-school history classes all over America. Challenging 12 Years a Slave‘s near-guaranteed hegemony – and taking advantage of the current “slavery trend” that Deadline identifies, between Django Unchained, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Lincoln, and McQueen’s masterpiece – is the History Channel’s planned remake of Roots. The 1977 miniseries was enormously influential, seen in whole or in part by eight-five percent of all homes with televisions during the initial airing. Home to UFO Hunters and Pawn Stars, however, the History Channel’s past programming inspires little confidence that it can do justice to the original. But the larger question is whether TV can do justice to the dehumanizing brutality of slavery.

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East River short

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.  We can add this week’s Short Starts selection to last week’s list of Movies to Watch After You’ve Seen 12 Years a Slave. There, I included mention of In My Genes, a documentary about albinos in Africa directed by Lupita Nyong’o, the breakout star of the new Steve James film. Now I’d like to share her only prior film acting gig, an award-winning silent short called East River. It was made by Israel-based writer-director Marc Grey and follows the inter-borough travels of a man (Tommaso Spinelli) who has just arrived in New York City. Nyong’o plays a Brooklyn photographer he encounters and may or may not have a real relationship with. The confusion is more mystifying than frustrating. The simple synopsis that comes with the short offers little help: “An interloper wanders uncommon spaces and fashions deceiving relationships amidst the industrial ruins of Brooklyn.” The plot is not as important as the semi city symphony that arises out of the man’s wandering. In Manhattan he visits Central Park, Times Square, Chinatown, a downtown club. Over the title waterway he bikes over each of the three bridges to get into Brooklyn on different days, and once there he can mostly be spotted in Williamsburg, Gowanus and Red Hook, which is where he spots Nyong’o’s character for the first time.

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ejiofor kinky boots

This weekend, the exceptional 12 Years a Slave began its initial expansion into wider release. Currently, the Steve McQueen film is playing in 123 theaters around the country, so a lot of people are just getting the chance to enjoy its brilliant performances and to be horrified by its most powerful scenes. When they exit the cinema, while wiping the tears from their eyes and attempting to rid their throats of the lump that’s been lodged there for at least half an hour, audiences are going to be curious about who Lupita Nyong’o is and where they’ve seen Chiwetel Ejiofor before. They’ll also be interested to know that they’ve just watched a remake, of sorts. 12 Years a Slave still has a ways to go before it reaches the mainstream, Middle America mall crowds. But when it does end up on a few thousand screens and watched by millions more, this guide will be here to recommend past films from the makers and stars of the movie, as well as some other relevant titles worth checking out.

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12 Years a Slave

Editor’s note: Our review of 12 Years a Slave originally ran during this year’s TIFF, but we’re re-posting it as the film opens today in theatrical release. In certain circles, the excellence of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has just been assumed for months now – after all, how could a film that features such a talented cast, a gifted director, and a dramatically ripe true life tale not be a masterpiece? It’s a dangerous business, the kind of prognostication and hype that can exist before even one frame of a film is shot, but McQueen’s latest is the rare bird that lives up to its hype (and then some).

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12 Years a Slave Violin

12 Years a Slave tackles many issues throughout its narrative, doing so in the elegant and unflinchingly honest way only director Steve McQueen can deliver. Hans Zimmer’s score works well to reflect the action on screen, playing almost like a horror score at times, but music becomes more than just something accenting the background and driving the emotion, it is also a major part of the story. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a violinist and his talents have not only helped provide him a comfortable life, they have made him a respected member of his community. Solomon is certainly skilled, but it is also clear that he simply loves to play. Unfortunately, that love leads him down a path that changes his life forever. In Saratoga, New York, Solomon is a free man who plays for pleasure and additional income, but once he is kidnapped and shipped south, all the talents and skills that made him a valued member of society could now get him killed. Freeman (Paul Giamatti), the slave trader in charge of getting the highest price for his latest “stock,” quickly utilizes Solomon’s talents and has him play during his human auction as those around him are sold off and families are ruthlessly broken apart. The idea that upbeat music would keep those being sold and separated seem less upsetting is the first glimpse both Solomon and audiences get of the logic existing south of the Mason-Dixon line. The image of Solomon playing as people scream for […]

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Charlie Hunnam

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Carrie 2013

The characters of this week’s releases are at the end of their ropes. That might even be literal for Robert Redford’s character in All Is Lost unless sailors have a different word for “rope.” And they probably do. Some of the film figures of the week are covered in blood, some have been kidnapped into slavery, some have been falsely imprisoned, some are fighting the system, and some are losing the battle against it. Desperation seems like a common theme. Of course, it’s October, so “ghosts” are another big one. And who’s more desperate than they are? There’s also a lot more going on in a week with a massive amount of movies. Here’s your trailer-ized guide to what’s coming out:

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paulson

In Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave the main Louisiana plantation we see, run by Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), is an authentically cruel environment. McQueen makes you feel the heat, tears, and fear there. Among all that sweat is Marry Epps, an Ice Queen played by Sarah Paulson. She’s unfazed by the sweltering brutality, engaging in it in a way that’s as terrifying as her husband Edwin, if not more so. McQueen and Paulson turn her movements into moments of pure tension. She’s a villain seemingly without remorse, making her a character most actors might shy away from. Paulson, though, isn’t afraid of taking on the challenge. Speaking with her, it was obvious that under the right circumstances she’d be game for almost anything.

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Gravity

It’s October, which means awards season has officially commenced. Last month gave us a taste with Ron Howard’s Rush, Hugh Jackman yelling in Prisoners, and, last but not least, Luc Besson’s The Family. Maybe not that last one so much, but the other two weren’t a shabby way to kick things off. This month has two movies in particular that should blow socks off while also causing a few tears to flow in the process. They’re the obvious suspects, but they both pack awfully heavy punches. There’s also a little talked about science-fiction-ish movie you may want to check out this weekend as well… But there’s more than three movies to see this month. So, without further ado, here are the ten must-see movies of October 2013:

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There’s still a considerable stretch of time between now and when Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave wins every award under the sun. And in that stretch, things might seem a little dull. But fear not – thanks to Vulture, we’ve got our first clip from the upcoming slavery epic, and it’s everything you could want and more. As long as “everything you could want and more” was limited to nineteenth century purse shopping and racial tension. It’s not much, but it does provide a little insight on how the music, cinematography, and period style will blend together. Note that while the editing seems fairly basic (especially given McQueen’s penchant for excruciatingly long takes), that first shot clocks in at a slightly-longer-than-average twenty seconds. And the situation seen within promises plenty of the unpleasant racial realities of the 1900’s. Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) may be able to take his wife on a shopping trip, but the majority of black Americans are still snapped at like a misbehaving pet for the simple act of stepping foot into the wrong store. It’s an experience that Northrup will become far too familiar with by the end of the film. Go ahead and check out the clip after the break.

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large

Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes this past May, riding a wave of critical praise given towards what is, by most accounts, an ambitious, immersive epic of a tumultuous young romance. Its sexuality is frank and transparent, and no punches are pulled – this, it seems, is the type of risky, visionary cinema speaks to the very rhyme and reason why Cannes exists in the first place, especially in the context of an ever-homogenizing global market. Recent news, however, has cast a different light on what would otherwise be a surefire arthouse darling. First, author Julie Maroh (who wrote the graphic novel upon which the film is based) all but disowned the film for framing a straight male gaze on a relationship between two women – a serious critique indeed, but not at all surprising considering past Cannes darlings. Things became considerably worse when news of Kechiche’s on-set antics entered the discussion. The film’s cast and crew have attested to exploitative labor practices and possible emotional abuse directed toward the two leads, particularly during extended takes of the film’s central lovemaking scene.

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12 Years a Slave Violin

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The Newsroom

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12 Years a Slave Violin

12 Years a Slave will be making some seriously big waves this fall. The early festival reviews for the film have heaped endless praises on to director Steve McQueen, the cast, the cinematography, and anything else you could possibly heap praises upon. The film releases on October 18, and until that time we can expect more and more critics to adore the film, while those of us who’ve seen Shame (McQueen’s last film) and don’t have access to early screenings will gnash our teeth and wait it out impatiently. Now Yahoo! Movies has the first featurette from 12 Years a Slave, entitled “A Portrait of Solomon Northrup,” and one which features a lot of crucial basic information. It includes the history of real-life protagonist Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in mid-19th century New York who was kidnapped and spent those titular years forced into slavery, along with some details on some of the film’s supporting characters, why McQueen pursued this particular story, and what makes his take on American slavery unique. But what this featurette primarily offers is oodles of new footage for those who’ve only seen the first trailer and are aching for more. We get a glimpse at nearly every face in the film’s near-endless cast (only Brad Pitt and Michael K. Williams are absent this time around) and get to hear the sweet strains of Benedict Cumberbatch‘s believably authentic Southern accent. Go ahead and check it out below:

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12 Years a Slave

It feels a bit like the broader movie world is about to learn who Steve McQueen is. After they have the same chuckle over his name most hardcore prestige fans had several years ago, they’ll marvel at his abilities as a dramatic filmmaker. With 12 Years a Slave, he’s partnered once again with Michael Fassbender, dragging the actor through an arduous role to come out clean on the other side. He’s also got Chiwetel Ejiofor bringing staunch prowess to the lead role of a free Northerner named Solomon Northrup who is captured and sold into slavery. In the early reviews from Telluride, critics are standing outside Ejiofor’s house with a sign that says, “To me you are perfect.” Greatly encouraging in the same vein as the early Gravity responses from Venice, this film looks poised to punch awards season in the gut and plant an accomplished yet still budding auteur into more mainstream ground. Here’s what people are saying:

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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