The number 12 had some positive significance in film this year, and it seems that “12 Years a Slave” with its 10 Oscar nominations throws off the original expectation that it could have received 12 nods. Regardless, no matter how many Oscar nominations a film receives, history keeps showing us that when it goes to 10 or higher, it’s frequently an omen for eventually losing more than half of the awards if not more. We’ve even seen near busts with multi-nominated films that indicated an unexplained divide or change of heart in the voting academy.
As much of an emotional impact that “12 Years a Slave” has had on critics and the viewing public, it hasn’t been easy viewing for everybody. With reports that some overly sensitive people couldn’t completely hack the film, it’s given some indication that it’s perhaps too challenging for some in the Oscar voting academy to select as best picture. But then something interesting happened on the way to the Oscar forum: The Producers Guild of America chose a tie for best film between “12 Years” and “Gravity.”
Was that an indication of a shift in deciding whether brutal reality can fit in an historical film? With so much debate still active about violence in movies, when can it be viewed in a completely different light so it sheds vivid insight into the brutal history we’ve sometimes tucked away?
Most audiences have already accepted brutal violence in the war film. While Steven Spielberg can be given credit for finally bringing it to World War II, Oliver Stone did the same for the Vietnam War back in 1986. “Platoon” was one of the first films to hit us over the head with what it was really like to be in the middle of a torturous historical event. However, even that didn’t prepare moviegoers for the possibilities of what film could show us in depicting our world’s bloody history.
No matter that “Saving Private Ryan” took American history to vivid levels of violence and storytelling. Has “12 Years a Slave” started something much more intense? Other than “Passion of the Christ”, you can’t say there’s ever been a film that’s depicted torture as harrowingly. And when that happens, there’s going to be an inevitable divide on whether movies should depict history as it really was or if the movies have to cover things up to be more accessible.
That’s probably the debate going through the minds of Oscar voters this year. While this article is being written before the Oscar telecast takes place, a win for “12 Years a Slave” at the Oscars would be monumental in showing our evolution in how we process film. Perhaps we’ve assimilated enough violence and need enough truth in history that most general audiences can handle depictions of disturbing events without being a detriment.
We have more than enough moments in history that still need a proper perspective on film. Everything from the earliest days of American history on up to the Korean War; it’s possible we have a new era ahead of frank and vivid historical narrative that can finally tell it like it was.
Any problems from this concept come in film producers and directors feeling like they need to top “12 Years a Slave” to a point where the violence becomes grotesque or beyond reason. It could easily turn into Quentin Tarantino violence that some still consider too gratuitous at times. If filmmakers want to finally get history right in the movies, they’ll have to make the violence necessary and show a progression on how it makes us grow as “12 Years” managed to do.
Even if the voting academy may be mostly white old men, sending this message through a “12 Years” Oscar best picture win proves some things. It would prove that the voting academy is diversifying in gender, age and race. Also, it proves that there’s a new awareness about film and how it can tell future generations the truth about the past before it’s permanently interpreted through the fantasy films of yesteryear.