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12 Years a Slave tops poll by critics

By Philip Martin

This article was published December 20, 2013 at 3:41 a.m.

I don’t run generally news releases verbatim - it’s just one of those old school rules I kind of believe in. But once a year I write one, after the Southeastern Film Critics Association’s annual vote. In my capacity as president (which strikes me as ridiculous), I pronounce and attempt to promulgate the results of the poll.

Here’s what I wrote, lightly annotated (clears throat, affects stentorian, vaguely British accent) :British director Steve McQueen’s unblinking look at America’s original sin, 12 Years a Slave, is this year’s best film, according to the Southeastern Film Critics Association’s 2013 poll of its members. The organization, comprised of 51 film critics (up four from last year) working for print and electronic media across nine Southern states, overwhelming voted for McQueen’s brutal adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir of being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the antebellum South, which was first published in 1853.

(That’s what we in the content-providing biz call the “lede” - or lead - girls and boys, the most important news.)

McQueen was also voted best director in the poll, while Slave screenwriter John Ridley won in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

(I’m following it up to establish the dominance of 12 Years a Slave. Between you and me, it had more than 25percent more points than the runner-up. I don’t remember there ever being as clear-cut a winner. Oh, and in the first draft of this document I wrote “Jim” instead of “John” Ridley. Jim Ridley is a SEFCA member who lives and works in Nashville, Tenn.)

The critics also honored the film’s star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, naming him the year’s best actor for his portrayal of Northup, while Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o, a newcomer to American films, won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Patsey, the “most favored” slave on Edwin Epps’ plantation. Michael Fassbender, who portrays the cruel planter, finished second in the Best Supporting Actor category to Jared Leto, who plays an HIV-infected drag queen in Dallas Buyers Club.

“While 12 Years a Slave was a clear-cut winner, the voting indicates that this is an exceptionally deep year for the movies,” SEFCA president Philip Martin says. “Eighty-one different films received votes.”

(What I just said. Writing a paragraph like this feels weird. While the Top 10 may not be as strong as some other years, I can’t remember a year that was as deep. Usually about 60 films receive votes. )

Alfonso Cuaron finished second in the director category, and his film Gravity finished second in the critics’ voting. Gravity’s cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, won in that category.

Mud director Jeff Nichols became the first twotime winner of the group’s Gene Wyatt Award, a prize for films that “best evoke the spirit of the South,” given by SEFCA in honor of the late Tennessean film critic and charter member of the critics group.

“Jeff is a great storyteller in the Southern tradition and Mud is a film that stands in the tradition of Mark Twain, William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor - filtered through a visual sensibility that recalls Terrence Malick,” Martin says. “I’m proud that SEFCA recognized him early - his first film, Shotgun Stories, won the Wyatt award in 2008.

(I genuinely am proud of Little Rock native Nichols - who probably would be called an Austin, Texas, filmmaker in most stories about him - and in SEFCA’s early recognition of his work.)TOP 10 1. 12 Years a Slave 2. Gravity 3. American Hustle 4. Her 5. Inside Llewyn Davis 6. Nebraska 7. Dallas Buyers Club 8. Philomena 9. Captain Phillips 10. The Wolf of Wall StreetBEST ACTOR

Winner: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Runner-up: Matthew Mc-Conaughey, Dallas Buyers Club BEST ACTRESS

Winner: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Runner-up: Judi Dench, Philomena


Winner: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Runner-up: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Runner-up: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle BEST ENSEMBLE

Winner: American Hustle

Runner-up: 12 Years a Slave BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Runner-up: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity


Winner: Spike Jonze, Her

Runner-up: David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle


Winner: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave

Runner-up: Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan, Philomena DOCUMENTARY

Winner: Act of Killing

Runner-up: Blackfish FOREIGN LANGUAGE

Winner: The Hunt

Runner-up: Blue Is the Warmest Color ANIMATED FILM

Winner: Frozen

Runner-up: The Wind Rises CINEMATOGRAPHY

Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity

Runner-up: Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave THE GENE WYATT AWARD FOR THE FILM THAT BEST EVOKES


Winner: Jeff Nichols, Mud

Runner-up: Greg “Freddy” Camalier, Muscle Shoals

(I’ll give you my personal thoughts in my end-of-the-year film piece, which will run in our Sunday Style section Dec. 29.)

MovieStyle, Pages 36 on 12/20/2013

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