Why I Don't Think "12 Years A Slave" Will Win Best Picture

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I’ll say this with the caveat that I could be wrong, in that anyone who predicts an Oscar win could always be wrong.  But 12 Years A Slave is on the rise right now, since it won the Golden Globe and now is officially on the Oscar list.
The problem is, 12 Years A Slave is kind of like Brokeback Mountain in that it’s a movie you feel like you should like.  It’s got a great actor, deals with a Very Serious Issue, and is depressing as all hell.
The problem is that it’s depressing as all hell.  And honestly, I don’t think it’s that great a movie.  The acting is top-notch (which I always give a nod to the director for evoking in his/her actors), but the actual directing itself is kind of like a TV movie – competent, but not compelling.  The pacing is endless, and aside from one absolutely brilliant narrative trick (for which I’d give the nod more to the screenplay than the director), the movie drags.
Which, some will argue, is the point.  Slavery is monotonous.  And I’d agree with you, but so were tours of duty in Vietnam, and most of those films manage to be entertaining regardless.
The thing about 12 Years A Slave is that there’s Oscar-depressing, and there’s depressing depressing.  Schindler’s List is Oscar-depressing, in the sense that there’s a lot of misery, but the ending is uplifting.  12 Years A Slave is absolutely and rigidly monotone – there’s no uplifting anywhere to be found, it’s just two solid hours of brief hope and horrible downers and human wreckage.  The emotional line of it is “Wow, slavery is terrible.”
Which slavery is, and that’s well-displayed here, and perhaps even the point of the movie… but that doesn’t make this pleasant.  I think, like Brokeback, people nominated it for quality, but Oscars win for love.  Maybe a misplaced and transitory love, like Crash was.  But there needs to be a certain affection to win, and I think 12 Years A Slave is like kale in that you should eat it, and it’s worthy to eat, but nobody’s loving it.
(Cue the kale-lovers.  You are legion, my friends.)
And yes, 12 Years A Slave won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, but against some weird competition: Captain Philips, Gravity, Philomena, and Rush.  No American Hustle, no Wolf on Wall Street.  I think with the vote split Oscar-style, 12 Years will be another upset.
(Cue me saying I wish we knew the votes on Oscar movies so we could see how close Brokeback came to winning.  Cue me demanding the usual Best Stunt Work category, which is not at all related to this but dammit the stunt people deserve an Oscar.  Cue this fascinating article on 5 reasons stunt work is harder than you’d think.)
Slavery films are tough, man.  People have noted that there have been a billion films on the Holocaust, and only a handful of films on slavery (and I’d argue the best is still Roots, flawed though that is).  They take this as evidence that Hollywood is pro-Jew and anti-Black.  And there may be some truth in that, but I think the core reason is a lot simpler: it’s harder to make a film that people want to watch where the villain is us.
I could be wrong.  It’d be nice if it won.  But my money would be on Gravity or American Hustle.  I’ll let you know when I see American Hustle.

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