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Spielberg’s Lincoln Well Received at New York Film Fest

How you view the reactions to the NYFF is probably one of those “glass if half full” type of moments. My stream on Twitter, for instance, was full of really great reactions.  But others have informed me that it could be described as a mixed reaction.

But here are some of the good ones:

@reverse_shot: LINCOLN: Sophisticated, erudite political procedural from Spielberg and Kushner. Genuinely superb.

Steve Zeitchik @ZeitchikLAT Daniel Day-Lewis much more understated and playful than thescenery-chewing trailer suggests.

Clayton Davis ‏@AwardsCircuit LINCOLN soars and Spielbergs best in years #NYFF

Eugene Hernandez ‏@eug Just saw LINCOLN at #NYFF. Swept up by grand Americana theatricality & strong perfs. 1800s West Wing? A bit. Engrossing political melodrama!

Logan Hill ‏@loganhill33 Spielberg’s Lincoln at #NYFF was rock solid monument to Abe, a bounce back from War Horse. Predix: Oscar noms galore. Tommy Lee Jones FTW

Matt Patches ‏@misterpatches Spielberg’s Lincoln turns a defining moment in history into a human story. Day-Lewis is dynamic, but it’s a great ensemble piece. #NYFF

These are the positive tweets. There are probably quite a few that run the gamut between raves, pans and everything in between.  I remember when Hugo first played at the New York Film Festival and the reaction was also mixed. Many of the same words were used — like, “stiff” and “uneven.” Those are younger film critics’ favorite terms.  Uneven especially, because somewhere along the line someone taught them that there is a certain form one must adhere to when making films – an architectural structure of sorts that if the movie spills out of that form it is “uneven.” This bothers me greatly and when I read that in a tweet or a review I immediately dismiss it.  There is more to a movie than its structure. There is no structure that a movie must hold to. Just as the most inventive novels, paintings and music compositions often stray off script – films don’t have to follow any kind of roadmap. To you, they are good or they are not. If they aren’t, there are better ways of saying so. I do sometimes fall into this trap myself.  I saw a movie recently where I felt that after a certain scene the whole thing fell apart. I was irritated at its lack of structure. But I will admit that if the movie had worked for me none of that would have mattered.

So what I want to read in these reviews is what didn’t work that made you start paying attention to the structure or lack thereof.

At any rate, if you would like to have a look back at some of the tweets coming out of NYFF for Hugo, Hitfix gathered them up nicely one year ago. As we know, Hugo came in first runner-up in the Oscar race, winning five Oscars and very nearly stealing Best Picture and Best Director from The Artist:

Eric Kohn, Indiewire critic tweeted, “If nothing else, the first 3-D movie about the importance of silent film preservation.”

Fellow awards season pundit Anne Thompson also chimed in on twitter noting, “Scorsese delivers cinephile’s wet dream with costly 3-D. Lead kid + first half are stiff, but it shifts into gear by finale.

Stu Van Airsdale of Moveline described it as “the world’s first activist magic-realist holiday family blockbuster-hopeful.”  He also marveled at the film’s 3D sequences, but was taken a back by how “preachy” the film was at the end while also marveling “‘But I kind of liked being preached to!’ At least I preferred it compared to the well-made, well-acted but relatively bloodless conviction of the film’s first half.

“The highest compliment may have come from Andrew O’Hehir of Salon who noted, “Scorsese’s not-quite-finished #HUGO has issues, but the right word is magical. Gorgeous use of 3D & his best film in many years (seriously).”

So there you go. Two of these four are probably more in line with Oscar than the other two. Hugo isn’t a universally loved film even now.  But the Oscar race isn’t always just about the movie.  It’s about the trajectory of the director, too. It’s about how far he or she has come. What his or her obstacles once were and whether he or she overcame them. It’s about how much money the film did or didn’t make. It’s about celebrating a beloved President during a difficult election. It’s about Spielberg not dive bombing into sap. And it’s about one of the best living writers and actors film has ever known.  But by all means, let it boil down to a few tweets.

My advice: withhold judgment until the major critics have put out their reviews and whether the public responds to it or not. We are living in trigger-happy times. We want to know and we want to know now. But the Oscar race is fluid, not static and knowing what will win right now is a best guess at best.  But know this: Spielberg’s War Horse got a Best Picture nomination. This movie is, by most accounts, way better than that. Do the math.