Although it misses a few smaller targets (Brad Pitt’s cotton-mouthed performance, for one), 12 Years a Slave earns all the talk it sparked (and should keep) as the Best Picture front-runner. Burnished by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s powerful central performance, 12 Years a Slave is an emotionally powerful and challenging film. The title says most of it: Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) was abducted and sold into slavery in the 1840s. For more than a decade, Northup, who had been as skilled with a violin as with carpenter’s tools as a free man, was enslaved in Louisiana. His first master was the more pragmatic and empathetic Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), but soon, he’s sold to Epps (Fassbender), as cruel a son-of-a-bitch as you’ll see for a long time. The film does not flinch even if you do, and director Steve McQueen has made a movie that will stand the test of time.