12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
What is it? Based on the 19th century memoirs of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), this tells the story of how he was abducted from his life as a musician and family man and sold into slavery, enduring a dozen years of hard labour and abuse from slaveowners in the antebellum South.
Why did it win? 12 Years certainly ticks all the typical-Oscar-film boxes – weighty subject matter, historical setting, based on a book, great performances – but it focuses on the human story at its heart in such a way that this doesn't feel preachy or self-consciously Important. The emotion provided by the understated performances of Ejiofor and co-star Lupita Nyong'o, as fellow captive Patsey, makes this one of the most intense dramas of the year.
Did it deserve to win? There was strong competition: Gravity was the biggest winner of the night, cleaning up in the technical categories and seeing Alfonso Cuaron take Best Director, while American Hustle had mounted an early campaign and Dallas Buyers Club dominated the male Acting categories. But it's hard to argue with 12 Years taking home the big prize given its hefty themes, and while The Wolf Of Wall Street seems likely to endure alongside it (that proved a little too much for Academy voters), 12 Years will be around for a long time to come.
Worth a look? Yes: it takes a strong stomach at times, but it's the emotional violence rather than physical gore that's upsetting, and Solomon himself is a riveting figure to watch and root for.