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TIFF 2013: 12 Years a Slave (2013)

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Illuminated by the dazzling and substantially detailed imagery typically associated with up-and-coming director Steve McQueen, in addition to a slew of electrifying, immensely powerful performances. “12 Years a Slave” is ironically every bit as watchable as it is difficult to witness. Anchored by a true story so harrowing and unbelievable that it’s hard to acknowledge the source material as fact. It is a tale surrounding abduction, inhumanity, and slavery, and is without question not for the squeamish or faint-hearted. That being said, its content, although delicate, is extremely important and should be absorbed and remembered by all those with a shred of compassion. Very rarely does a film triumph not only as a motion picture, but as a piece of history come alive. “12 Years a Slave” is a prime example of this achievement.

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Of course, we’d all like to forget what is easily one of our species shadiest, most ignorant times. Which can be grounds for the reason why there are so little films of any real substance regarding this subject. It’s a shame considering how vital the mistakes we make are to our insight and progression. Thankfully, the director of “12 Years a Slave” Steve McQueen has provided a veritable, unflinching look at what is perhaps humankind’s greatest error. It may not be easy to watch or sit well with those of us who don’t like to be reminded of our weaknesses. To see what we are all capable of when we lose our humanity isn’t pretty after all. However, it is impossible for light to exist without darkness and vice versa. McQueen comprehends this truth fully and displays both valiantly. These opposites might not be balanced throughout, but when faced with the choice, we will always search out the bright spots, no matter how arduous the journey. Positive will always trump negative, no matter how heavily outmatched or discouraged.

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PLOT:

Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a free black man living with his family in upstate New York. A skilled carpenter and excellent fiddler, Solomon is approached by two men hoping to lure him into accepting a job offer in Washington DC. Upon agreeing and travelling to Washington with the two men. Northup performs as instructed and is paid for his work. One night while out celebrating with his newly found friends, Northup is drugged. Waking up the following day, he slowly comes to the realization that he has been kidnapped and sold into slavery. Transported on a ship to New Orleans, Solomon has no idea how long he will remain captive, or when or if he will ever see his family again.

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For a majority of the cinema going public, director Steve McQueen has seemingly rose to these dizzying heights out of no where. But for those of us who have been with the immensely talented director since his inception in 2008 with “Hunger,” his skyrocket to stardom is no surprise. McQueen looks poised to finally garner an Oscar nomination with “12 Years a Slave,” although his previous outings such as the aforementioned “Hunger” and more recently “Shame” are equally as impressive.

One thing McQueen has consistently made apparent throughout his first two full-length features is that his ability to handle uncomfortable material knows no bounds. And with “12 Years a Slave,” McQueen not only maintains his stance, but asserts it with an exclamation point. There was no shortage of questionable, unsettling, hazardous, or even controversial topics for McQueen to tackle while adapting Solomon Northup’s memoir, whether it be violence, racism, slavery, sexual abuse, and so on. With this dramatized biopic, McQueen certainly didn’t cut corners or leave any distressing issues out. He’s managed to put together a disturbing, upsetting, cringe-worthy, endearing epic without compromising the integrity or authenticity of its source material. Although I have to admit, the uplifting moments are undeniably bittersweet.

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As impressive and truthful as the adaptation is, thematically and structurally. The film’s technological facets and cinematic aspects are equally astounding. In my opinion, McQueen’s work behind the camera has never been this seamless. The division and pacing of “12 Years a Slave” is remarkably complex and he works it flawlessly. There’s one scene where essentially what McQueen is filming is utter stillness, say for a few minor movements and the vividness he evokes is breathtaking. The colour scheme, panoramic shots, and detailed violence is so faithful and captivating, it practically leaps forth from the screen. I also want to mention the incredible score composed by the masterful Hans Zimmer who continues to churn out masterpieces. If there’s anything in the film that takes the harsh edge off, it’s Zimmer’s atmospheric, enthralling soundtrack.

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Now, aside from the lead role of Solomon Northup, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave” is very much the beneficiary of a superlative group effort. The film oozes with outstanding performances from its entire ensemble. Which, in addition to Ejiofor features Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Taram Killam, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, and Lupita Nyong’o. And luckily for those who can’t stomach the violence, inhumanity, or the film’s content as a whole. The performances throughout “12 Years a Slave” are alone worth the price of admission.

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Without any doubt, Chiwetel Ejiofor shines brightest. He completely astounds with an enthralling, mesmerizing, heartbreaking performance full of emotion and a thirst for life. I would be completely flabbergasted if Ejiofor does not at least earn an Oscar Nomination for best actor with his performance here. That being said, he certainly isn’t the only actor in “12 Years a Slave” who appears to have punched their ticket to the Academy Awards. I feel that Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o are sure-shots to be nominated in the supporting actor categories. Both are just amazing, pure scene-stealers. Benedict Cumeberbatch, although remarkable when on screen, is a long-shot to earn a nomination for “12 Years a Slave,” especially considering all the other incredible performances his given so far this year. Finally, the other members of this immaculate supporting cast, Pitt, Paulson, McNairy. Killam, Dano, and Giamatti deserve a great amount of recognition.

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When a film has Oscar written all over it, much like Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” does, it’s usually for good reason. Trust me, this is one of the best of the year and is a must see, cinephile or not.

12 Years a Slave: 9.5 out of 10.

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TIFF 2013 Releases Schedule and Final Announcements

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We are now less than two weeks away from when the Toronto International Film Festival tickets go on sale to the public and a mere 16 days away from the start of the actual festivities. On Tuesday morning, another slew of films were announced along with the schedule itself and a long list of celebrities set to attend the festival. I don’t know about you, but the anticipation is overwhelming me. I suppose the nervousness and excitement will dissipate somewhat when I actually know what screenings I will be attending, or it could skyrocket even higher. Either way, this is shaping up to be one hell of a festival!

Schedule:

Now, for those attending, or those simply who’d like to know what’s going on and when, you can find the full schedule by clicking here.

FInal Film List and Programmes:

If you’d like to know what films are playing at the festival, you can click here for the entire list or click the TIFF button in the main menu at the top of this page. You can also find all the programmes offered by the festival by clicking here. Essentially, all films screening at the festival are divided into groups for attendees to better understand what type of genre and themes the film will contain.

TIFF Guests:

Perhaps the most exciting news released Tuesday morning was the endless list of celebrities ready to attend the festival. Amongst the names are Benedict Cumberbatch, Meryl Streep, Rebecca Hall, Josh Broliin, Alan RIckman, Clive Owen, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Aniston, Mark Ruffalo, Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Tom Hiddleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nicholas Cage, Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin, Liam Neeson, James McAvoy, Nicole Kidman, Felicity Jones, Ed Harris, Spike Jonze, Melissa George, Paul Giamatti, Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah Gadon, Colin Firth, Michael Fassbender, Jesse Eisenberg, Sandra Bullock, Chris Hemsworth, Mila Kunis, Jessica Chastain, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Mia Waikowska, Owen Wilson, Steve McQueen, Jason Reitman, Keanu Reeves, Keira Knightley, Matthew McConaughey, Ti West, Eli Roth, Daniel Radcliffe, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Oliva Wilde, Mike Myers, James Franco, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, and Thandie Newton, just to name what I feel to be the most important. And honestly, I couldn’t type any more names. There is a bunch more on the list you can find here. Also, these are just the people confirmed thus far, it is expected that the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, amongst others will be attending.

Jason Reitman’s Live Read:

You can find all the information below, provided by the TIFF website.

The Festival proudly welcomes back Jason Reitman’s Live Read — a unique event in which classic movie scripts are read by contemporary actors. With no rehearsal, the actors come together for a one-take read-through with Reitman narrating stage direction. In 2012, the Festival welcomed Reitman and an all-star cast — including Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Adam Driver, Sarah Gadon and George Stroumboulopoulos — for a live table read of Alan Ball’s screenplay for American Beauty. This year, Reitman is back with a surprise script from a modern classic and a new cast at the Ryerson Theatre on Friday, September 6. Details, including cast and script, for the 2013 Live Read event will be announced in early September.

IMAX Screenings:

New this year, audiences are invited to be part of the action with two official Festival selections and two special screenings presented in spectacular IMAX. The two films will be Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” and Keanu Reeves “Man of Tai Chi.”

Next Wave and Manifesto Announced:

You can find another plethora of titles announced by clicking here.

New Galas and Special Presentations:

Metallica Through the Never: Nimród Antal, Canada/USA, World Premiere

Dane DeHaan (The Place Beyond the Pines) stars as a Metallica roadie dispatched to hell and back in this mind-blowing mash-up of concert film and post-apocalyptic adventure, presented in IMAX 3D.

The Wizard of Oz: Victor Fleming, USA, World Premiere

Experience Judy Garland’s over-the-rainbow adventure in vivid new detail with this IMAX 3D presentation of Victor Fleming’s family classic.

10th Midnight Madness Film Unveiled:

Witching & Bitching:

Fleeing through the impenetrable forests of the Basque countryside after a jewel heist, a hapless band of robbers runs afoul of a coven of witches, in this madcap supernatural spectacle from Spanish genre specialist Alex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus).

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Okay then, that’ll do it for the pre-TIFF announcements. The Cinema Monster will be covering the festival in full, providing reviews, news, and Q and A’s as often as possible, make sure to follow our website to keep up with the festival. Also, follow The Cinema Monster on Twitter (@cinema_monster) and Facebook for up-to-the-minute news and posts, not to mention special pictures and videos provided by me from the screenings. Have a great week!