12 Years a Slave
Director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley tell the true story of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man of color in 1841 New York who was kidnapped into slavery, finally freed in 1853, and wrote a book about his years of bondage. Ridley and McQueen take only minor dramatic license with Northrup's extraordinary narrative—such abductions were all too common in pre-Civil War America; what's extraordinary is that Northrup got free again—and the movie is searing and indelible. Even the most despicable characters are given their full dimension with no trace of 21st-century hindsight. The movie's centerpiece is Ejiofor's remarkable performance, giving it a core of unquenchable humanity. Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o shines as a tormented slave woman, as does Alfre Woodard in a striking cameo.