How do you know you’re up for Best Picture in 2012? A journalist at the New York Post so fears Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln winning Best Picture that he has to write an op-ed that smears President Lincoln 150 years after his assassination. It’s really no wonder, though, since this is how he interprets the film:
Torture in the Civil War
Does “Zero Dark Thirty” condone torture? Some think it does, but the film is a queasy, disquieting experience. It’s anything but a whitewash. It invites adults to think for themselves. “Lincoln,” by contrast, paints its central character as a folksy but brilliant charmer who never did anything worse than cut a few patronage deals to get the 13th Amendment passed.
The Lincoln complainers have abounded for decades. The Zero Dark Thirty controversy has only just recently hatched. We don’t even know the facts yet let alone whether the film is propaganda and a lie. Yet Kyle Smith and his newly self-proclaimed cohort, Jeff Wells, have decided that this is the moment to take down President Lincoln, along with Spielberg’s great film — why? All because of a funny little game called the Oscar race.
In what seems like a personal attack on Lincoln, Smith glosses over what Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t show — and believe me, pal, that is a can of worms best left sealed. But first, he must have missed the part where Lincoln had to convince not only his cabinet, his entire party and many of the voting members of the opposition party about the amendment to make slavery illegal. You know, that little stain on American history when men, women and children were beaten, tortured, enslaved, raped, murdered and sold? Yeah, that one. Lincoln is not just about the president convincing them to pass the amendment, and all of the ways he does this, it’s about the people who didn’t want it to pass. It’s about people who were afraid of freedom of slaves, and the way America was about to change, namely, that blacks (and eventually women) would get the right to vote.
It isn’t about slavery and it isn’t about Lincoln’s presidency. It is about the changes that had to take place, how insurmountable those changes seemed at the time, and how it took a truly special man to push those changes through.
Lincoln is not only about our dearly departed president but a moment in history that was THAT close to having a different outcome. It is about then as much as it is about today. It is about the memory of Lincoln as much as it is about his legacy. It is, to that end, deliberately optimistic.
Smith calls it a whitewash — and remember, when the film critic for the NY Post takes it upon himself to crap over the memory of Abe Lincoln you can bet he is trying to do what Jeff Wells is trying to do: block a film from winning Best Picture. Is it a whitewash or is it an interpretation to hopefully educate and inspire audiences?
You wouldn’t believe it if you weren’t seeing it play out before your very eyes. He and Wells apparently think it WILL win because otherwise why would they spend so much of their time trying that hard to take it down? Whether it WILL win or not is still a mystery. This is probably the most unpredictable, wide open race in recent memory. Because it is so wide open I’m afraid we’re really seeing a bloody fight to the finish.
The difference between Spielberg/Kushner’s Lincoln and Bigelow/Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty is that Kushner’s script was carefully culled over a six year period from a book that took ten years to write about a president who has been dead for 150 years. The death of Bin Laden, the torture by the CIA and Obama’s own presidency are still wet as the blood that trickled out of Abe Lincoln’s head on April 14, 1865.
I would never want to turn it into a war between Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln. I’m willing to judge Zero Dark Thirty on its own terms, as a film, as a work of art even though its makers say it’s “journalism” and that they are standing by their sources and that it’s “based on true events.” It is still art. Spielberg’s Lincoln is also art. I’m embarrassed and ashamed to be part of an Oscar race where these types of things are used to judge films instead of what the films themselves are. This is the case with both Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty.
Can we stop this bleeding?
I care about the Oscars too. I probably care about them too much. After 14 years of writing about them, and the filmmakers, films and talent that have come and gone since I’ve seen way too many terrible movies win Best Picture for all of the wrong reasons. When you glance back at Oscar years past you see a lot of smoke and mirrors, a lot of misplaced hysteria and a desire to see successful people fail. None of those reasons have anything to do with whether a film should be rewarded as the highest achievement of the year or not. They are probably the most petty and insignificant things human beings and journalists have to offer. The artists make the movies and we are here to enjoy them, and if they’re good enough, reward them.
How disappointing to see it come down to something as personal as Jeff Wells’ own personal vendetta against Steven Spielberg. When it comes to Lincoln’s history I’ll take Doris Kearns Goodwin and the many historians who’ve written on the subject and not on the hysterical rantings of the NY Post’s film critic, Kyle Smith.
If winning Best Picture means the memory of Lincoln is to be dragged through the mud, it isn’t worth it. Wells and Smith can have Silver Linings Playbook as their winner. If this is what is going to make them sleep well at night, by all means, throw the gold statues somewhere else. The good ones, the best ones, rarely win anyway. The greatest films shimmer behind the those that actually managed to capture the majority vote.
Most of the time the Oscar race leaves us wandering wide-eyed and aimless through the now-empty gymnasium. Deflated balloons and confetti litter the wood floor. Somewhere someone is throw away plastic cups full of punch and stale beer. Maybe you can look at yourself in the mirror, maybe you can’t. Maybe you’re sore in places you can’t even say out loud. But you’ll likely not remember much of what happened the night before. I am suddenly disgusted by having anything to do with a race where people like this sink this low to win. It isn’t worth it. Maybe it never was.