12 YEARS A SLAVE
Chiwitel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch
While 12 Years A Slave is not in any respect a jolly night out at the cinema, its evocative, unflinching portrayal of the slave experience – led by Chiwitel Ejiofor’s Solomon, a free black man from New York cruelly tricked and sold into bondage down South – makes it a powerfully rewarding viewing experience. It demands to be seen for loads of reasons, not least because it’s true. Even as the characters suffer the most appalling abuse, the sensitive, artistic eye of director Steve McQueen (who we also have to thank for exposing Michael Fassbender’s hefty member in 2011’s Shame) gives them dignity and a mighty voice. From Ejiofor’s transcendence to the brutality of Fassbender’s plantation owner to extraordinary newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, playing radiant but viciously treated slave girl Patsey, Slave is tough but mesmerising, matching Schindler’s List as a towering achievement. The only shame here would be if Oscar voters decide not to shower it with awards.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor
Not quite the all-round awards gobbler you might expect from a film transfer of Tracy Letts’ whopping, Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a fractious Midwestern clan, this trimmed version is still a feast of sozzled bitchery and buried family scandals. No one throws shade quite like Meryl Streep, who plays razor-tongued matriarch Violet like a permanently hungover Bob Dylan. The women’s roles are better than the men’s, allowing Julia Roberts to rise up magnificently and steal the whole thing as Violet’s furious eldest daughter.
Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
If there’s one voice a straight man could believably fall in love with, it’s Scarlett Johansson’s. That’s exactly what happens when Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), a needy writer who pens 'handwritten' letters for others, buys an intuitive operating system named Samantha designed to cater for his every whim. At times, writer-director Spike Jonze overeggs his highconcept premise but for the most part, this is spellbinding, driven by the consistently longing interplay between Phoenix and Johansson.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan
The Coens brothers get their folk on in this tale of a talented, shaggy-dog musician (Oscar Isaac) scraping a meagre existence on the early 60s Greenwich Village folk scene. As frustrating as he is frustrated, Llewyn just can’t catch a break in the Coens’ endearingly melancholic odyssey, which comes packed with delights: biting humour, engaging tunes (a daft pop-folk number sung by Timberlake called Please Mr. Kennedy is a highlight) and the best movie cat since Breakfast At Tiffany’s.