Over/Underrated 2014 – Part Two

2 Jan


12 Years a Slave/Lupita Nyong’o


Gather ‘round, kiddies. It’s time for Auntie Brook to tell you a story. The story of the most overrated film and actress of 2014: 12 Years a Slave and Lupita Nyong’o.


“But Brook, that movie came in out in 2013, and had heaps of praise dumped on it.”

Yeah, I know. It won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2014. But this a torch I’ve been carrying for over a year. It’s an unpopular opinion; deal with it.

Technically speaking, 12 Years a Slave is a visually stunning film. I doubt I’ve ever seen a movie serve as such a meticulous rendering of a specific period of time. And yet, given its unimpeachable beauty, and likewise, its gut wrenching roughness, the movie falls flat for me.

Before I get too far down this road, I need to stress that slavery is one of the most, if not THE most, atrocious stain on our nation’s history. And movies and other art forms about slavery are important. And yet, while Solomon Northrup’s journey from free man sold illegally into slavery is heartbreaking, 12 Years a Slave is more formally impressive than it ever is emotionally moving or engaging.

During the movie, there are scenes of unimaginable brutality and the film works to discuss freedom and how people make sense of their own experiences, but it never really ventures into being anything overtly powerful or profound. Honestly it felt more like reading a textbook than experiencing Roots 2.0.

And then there’s Lupita Nyong’o, who played Patsey, another slave at the same plantation as Solomon.

Apart from her acting the hell out of a particularly awful whipping scene (I’ll give her that, but I would also argue that scene was at least partially included for shock value), the movie would’ve been no different than if Patsey hadn’t been in it all. The way critics were panting for the genius that is Lupita Nyong’o, I expected her to have some pivotal role in the movie. Like either she’d kill the plantation owner, or play some key role in Solomon gaining his freedom.

Nope. Solomon’s journey in no way hinges on her being part of his story.

And, in my estimation, Lupita Nyong’o’s career hasn’t taken off (aside from a Lancome campaign and two titles in production on her IMDB page) the way I expected it might given the buzz around her this time last year.

To put it another way, Jessica Chastain was a virtually unknown actress (like Nyong’o last year) until she came on the scene in 2011 with roles in The Help and The Tree of Life. In 2012, she starred in Zero Dark Thirty. In two years, she was in three movies that were nominated for best picture. And 2014 will be no different. While nominees have yet to be announced, Chastain had a role in Interstellar, which is sure to nominated for something.

I’d also call Nyong’o and Chastain “late bloomers” by Hollywood standards, another thing they have in common. Both were in their early thirties when, as if overnight, they respectively became “it girls.” The only problem is that Chastain sustained, and Nyong’o appears to be a flash in the pan (that could be because of their respective races, but I doubt it. Look at how Kerry Washington’s career took off after her role in Django Unchained, another movie about slavery that definitely didn’t read like a textbook. But that’s an issue for people far smarter than I to flesh out).

Like I said, 12 Years a Slave and Lupita Nyong’o had a monsoon of praise rain down upon them, it just seems to be for no apparent reason.



The Newsroom


For loyal readers, yes this is the second year that the HBO drama The Newsroom has made our underrated list (see our 2012 entry on The Newsroom here). The show premiered in 2012 to lackluster reviews, but gained momentum in 2013 with a best acting Emmy for Jeff Daniels. The final season of The Newsroom aired in 2014, and with its intriguing storylines on topics such as the obligation to report the truth regardless of national security, morality in journalism, and new versus old media, it should have been all everyone was talking about on Monday mornings. Once again, however, I was left alone at the watercooler, frustrated that I was the only one who apparently saw what The Newsroom had to offer. Frustrated, yes. Surprised? No.

I am, typically speaking, a fan of television that makes me feel smart. Shows like Mad Men, Lost, Gilmore Girls, and Arrested Development. You know, the ones that you have to read the recaps of the next day to make sure you caught everything. The ones with the pop culture references and jokes that only you, cultured and sophisticated being that you are, understand.

For me, The Newsroom is not that show.

Instead, I love The Newsroom for the complete opposite reason. Rather than making me feel smart, The Newsroom makes me feel outright stupid. With rapid fire dialogue and countless conversations about economics, international relations, and national events, The Newsroom had me pausing my TiVo more than once to ask, “Did that really happen?” or “Wait, what does that mean?”

Watching The Newsroom forced me to face the glaringly obvious holes in my knowledge of world events, politics, and finances. At times it was downright embarrassing, but that’s why I loved it. It made me want to understand the conversations that were taking place. It made me want to be a more informed citizen.

Sadly, with less than stellar ratings, it’s clear that the intellectual challenge posed by The Newsroom was too much for most Americans, and HBO canceled The Newsroom after three seasons.

Aaron Sorkin, creator and lead writer of The Newsroom, has long been associated with smart television. Just ask anyone who’s known and loved Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip or The West Wing. Sorkin has claimed that The Newsroom was his last foray into television, but I hope for all our brains’ sakes that he changes his mind. A bit of light-cotton-candy-television fluff never hurt anyone, but it sure was nice to have a show that satiated my intellectual appetite.



One Response to “Over/Underrated 2014 – Part Two”


  1. Over/Underrated 2014 – Part Eight | prettyandink - January 9, 2015

    […] me is to know that I am not a politically charged person. As I’ve already admitted in my Newsroom post last week, I am regretfully uninformed in quite literally every political topic, ever. I would not go so far […]

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