When the Oscar for Best Picture went to 12 Years a Slave over Gravity, it was a revealing moment and a look into the hearts and minds of the Academy voters.
Oscar fans had debated for weeks about the race between the two films; Gravity (a high-tech masterpiece) and 12 Years a Slave (an epic drama). It seemed as though no of us could, with confidence, predict which film would win.
Gravity is a tour de force. Partnering with the director and actors were the technical and VFX team teams, editors, sound designers and mixers, musicians, colorists, and a dedicated crew working tirelessly to create a breathtaking experience (especially when seen at the DGA in 3D).
But the sentimental favorite, aside from being a film that tears the actors open and breaks the audience’s heart, was 12 Years a Slave. Its deeply-inspired, achingly raw scenes of human beings struggling against unspeakable horrors and surviving through the power of love created a haunting look back at an era that could not and should not be forgotten.
I recall watching Steve McQueen sitting calmly next to the ever-engaging, talented and funny Martin Scorcese (representing the crude/lude/loud high budget porno, Wolves of Wall Street) and Paul Greengrass talking about who they accomplished those riveting action scenes in Captain Philips.
For four hours, the audience at the DGA listened as the directors spoke about how they made their films. One story-boarded everything, the other winged it, wanting to create something “ferocious” and depending on casting directors and choreographers to help memorialize his vision. But McQueen said, quietly, he didn’t storyboard the film, but rather went to set everyday with the idea that he would let the heart speak to him. That the actors and the crew helped him tell the story and that he let the magic happen.
We could say that either of the two films, Gravity or 12 Years a Slave, deserves Best Picture, but when the announcement finally came, I couldn’t help but think that this was Heart winning over Technology. That ultimately, what everyone wants is Love. And it, somehow, made me proud once again to be a filmmaker. It gave me courage that in the middle of this rather dirty business we all navigate, there is truth and beauty of spirit.
Lupita Nyong’o accepted her statuette for Best Supporting Actress, saying, “May it remind me & every little child that, no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.”
That same evening, Ellen Degeneres’ selfie featuring the unbridled joy in the faces of her movie-star friends having a moment together, became the most-tweeted photographs of all time, with over a million retweets. Why? Because it was real. It was fun and it had Heart. It was not staged by their publicists, not a moment caught standing awkwardly in front of a row of paparazzi, not a behind-the-scenes pic taken sitting uncomfortably in a five-minute interview where they have to spew idiocies in order to fulfill their marketing contract…this was the Truth. And the Truth is compelling.
Ultimately, that is what we want, the Truth and Love.
Thank you, Academy and thank you, Steve McQueen for giving your real Heart to us.