Lincoln (2012)

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones,  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, Joseph Cross, Tim Blake Nelson, Lee Pace and a host of others

Oscar Nominations:  Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Editing, Screenplay, Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Directing and Picture.

The second movie I watched in the last 24hours is Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s historical drama about the final months of Lincoln’s Presidency as the civil war rages and he attempts to unite the country and abolish slavery.   I would love to argue that the Academy went with the safe choice here, nominating it for twelve Oscars, more than any other film (Life of Pi is a close second with eleven), but I can’t.  I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t seen and enjoyed Lincoln.  It is a movie where the seasoned director and actor are at their best.

What I liked: Daniel Day-Lewis, from his voice to his walk to his gestures to his charm, is transformed.  No one in the actor category comes close to this performance and proves, yet again, that Day-Lewis may be the best actor of the last 15 years.  Like Zero Dark Thirty, the cast is teeming with recognizable faces but here, Spielberg’s (admittedly) first character drama offers each role a distinct personality and connection to the audience whether they are on screen for 2minutes or 2hours.  James Spader delivers as the only comic relief in the film.  The screenplay is excellent in presenting the complexity of both the politics and the characters, as are both the staging and tone of the movie.   The emotional weight of the story is felt throughout but Spielberg does well to play a light hand and add only subtle touches through editing and camerawork that remind of us of this moment’s historical impact.

What I didn’t like: Tommy Lee Jones is excellent, as always, but I have to wonder if he warrants a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  My feeling while watching the film was that this nod is more a sympathetic gesture towards what his character represents rather than his actual performance.  Sally Field is also commendable in her complexity but both, standing next to Daniel Day-Lewis, felt like performances.

My rating:  Likely Best Picture

IMDB: 7.7

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

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Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jason Clarke, Reda Kateb, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Jeremy Strong, Mark Strong and a host of others

Oscar Nominations:  Editing, Sound Editing, Original screenplay, Actress (Jessica Chastain), Picture

It’s been a bit of a scramble to get all of the Oscar nominated movies under my belt before the big day.  In the last 24 hours I’ve watched two Oscar nominated films deeply seeded in American history.  Here, Kathryn Bigelow’s drama about one woman’s dedication to the hunt for Osama bin Laden is focused on the tactical steps leading up to his death.  The movie is riddled with familiar faces but the focus here is on the story, which is deftly told.

What I liked:  Jessica Chastain is excellent as the CIA agent obsessed with a seemingly insignificant lead to bin Laden.  Bigelow does little here to develop her character and all the nuance in Chastain’s performance comes from her reaction to harrowing events which slowly and seamlessly evolve.  It is made clear in the final scene that this was Bigelow’s intention and it is expertly executed.  She also does well to hire well-known actors who bring some recognition to characters who are only on screen for a short while but with whom we nevertheless feel connected.  My hat is also off to Jason Clarke who has received little recognition for this role but who managed to engage our attention through some very difficult scenes.  I was disappointed to see his role diminish during the course of the film.  The writing and editing are also commendable as they incorporate a decade of complex details through smooth transitions that move forward to a strong climax.  My heart was pounding as we embarked on the final crusade.

What I didn’t like:  I like character development so the distance the audience is kept from the characters left me a little cold, although it may be a testament to Bigelow’s skills that she intentionally tried to uphold some form of objectivity here.   There were also so many details that I was often lost during the first half of the film.

My rating: I’m surprised by how little I found to critique.

IMDB: 7.6

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%