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Lincoln, Spielberg and the Seeds of Time

$700

“If you can look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow and which will not, Speak then to me.”

Twice during Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, a collection of glass plate photographs are featured. Lincoln’s son, 10-year-old Tad, is preoccupied with studying these photos, some of which preserve the images of African-American boys close to his own age. When President Lincoln comes upon Tad asleep by the fireplace with a few of these framed plates strewn on the rug near his head, Lincoln holds one of  the transparent portraits up to the fire to look at the last thing his son saw before falling asleep.  Lincoln’s brow clouds with sorrow.  The photos are captioned with the dollar amount the lives of these boys brought at auction. $500 for one child; $700 for another pair, possibly brothers. In a dark room of the White House, firelight flickers, and for a moment the ghostly figures come alive. In dark theaters all across America 150 years later, those images flicker once again, and now it’s Steven Spielberg holding them up to the light.

The power of pictures to touch and inspire us is as old as the caves at Lascaux. But by placing that scene prominently in the first 10 minutes of the film, I think Kushner and Spielberg have provided us a key to understanding part of their intent.  Those hazy faces on glass are a fascinating reminder that photography was in its infancy in the mid 19th-Century — and without those early efforts to capture the range of life’s triumphs and tragedies, our own lives would now be deprived of the starkest evidence of those historic events in all their horror and dignity.

The more I think about the significance of that sequence in Lincoln, the more it resonates. Spielberg’s films have always included scenes like these, when someone arrives at a moment of quiet epiphany. He gives us time to watch characters recast their countenance as they absorb what they’re seeing. Of course, many movies have moments like that, but few directors have a patented style so well-known that there’s a distinctive shot named after them.  It’s The Spielberg Face. That thousand-yard stare, somehow made intimate.  Gazing in awe, or shock, or dread.  Or sorrow.

What a moment like that represents for me, and why I think it touches us so deeply, is how it reaches out and makes us part of whatever vision has been encountered onscreen. We’re gazing in awe at someone gazing in awe, and that overlap can gives us a rapturous emotional connection no other director achieves in quite the same way. For me it goes beyond the Spielberg Face. It’s the Spielberg Touch. It’s a style thing, and I’ve been enthralled by it hundreds of times in dozens of Spielberg films over the years.

It’s a marvelous gift to have the talent to create those moments, and I try never to forget how lucky I am to be alive at time when I can witness Spielberg’s gift evolving and maturing with each great movie he creates. It’s not just a gift he’s been given; it’s a gift he has shared with us his entire adult life. For that, we should be forever grateful. (More about gratitude and the lack of it at the end of this).

This year’s very fine films by America’s best directors represent the same a cross-section of Hollywood creativity we’ve seen on display with varying degrees of aplomb for decades. But while a director’s aplomb can provide eye-catching pizazz for instant gratification, when we look back at the films that stood the test of time with greatest dignity, we see that aplomb doesn’t age very well unless there’s a degree of grandeur onscreen as well.

That’s the choice that filmmaker with a ballot must make this year. Will Hollywood continue its recent streak of rewarding clever if sometimes gaudy showmanship?  Or is it time to give some respect to a film that aspires to that stately grandeur?  It takes a David Lean, Kubrick, Coppola, or Malick to do splendor right. Those directors have given us films of such enduring grandeur they stand as some of the supreme pinnacles of film art. Steven Spielberg is in that league. Among the directors of Spielberg’s generation, nobody but he and Coppola can carry off this kind of majesty and wrap in a package that doesn’t feel ponderous.

The power of photography evolved over the past century to enrich our lives with the power of cinema.   At an early age Spielberg chose Lawrence of Arabia as the standard he wanted to reach.  He wanted to use his gift for conveying film grandeur the way he had seen and learned from David Lean.  He’s been reaching toward and often seizing that standard for 40 years.

It’s frustrating enough when I see people who should know better taking that achievement for granted. But that persistent frustration has paled this year next to a more bewildering frustration I’m still trying to process. The frustration and inconceivable realization that there are people who can’t be bothered to sit up straight and appreciate a thoughtful, engaging and intellectually stimulating recreation of one of the most important moments in American history. Many of those people will say they know enough history already, and others openly admit they don’t care.

Naturally there are many of us here, many moviegoers all across the country, and many people holding DGA ballots right now who do care about history.   Then there are others to whom, for whatever stubborn reason, the events and issues hold no interest have heard all the reasons to please pay heed, and if they haven’t been persuaded to think differently by now, I’m fine with giving up on those individuals. It’s impossible to sway the perception of people predetermined to resist the effort. I’d much rather focus on securing the allegiance and sharing the enthusiasm with those who might recently be wavering between an easy need to be entertained and a more difficult desire toward respect for more profound significance.

I began by saying how much I was struck by the significance of the glass plate photographs that Tad Lincoln can’t stop thinking about. The first time these photos appear in the film, Tad has drifted off to sleep after looking into the eyes of the boys his own age whose lives were commodities to be bought and sold. The next time the collection of images are mentioned, Tad is protesting that the photos have been taken away from him, “because mama says they’re too distressing.”

LINCOLN
You had nightmares all night,
mama’s right to -

TAD
But I’ll have worse nightmares if
you don’t let me look at the plates again.

LINCOLN
Perhaps…

Perhaps. In fact, no doubt. President Lincoln cannot even dream of the nightmares that lie ahead for his son in a few short weeks. Abraham Lincoln will be assassinated 10 days after Tad’s 12th birthday. Tad himself will die 6 years later. Neither father nor son would live to see the multitude of nightmares that followed the end of the Civil War, nightmares that plague America to this day.

But Tad is seen at least yearning to come to grips with one of his recurring nightmares, somehow finding solace and learning lessons from looking at the stark images that reflected life stories that lay outside his experience and beyond his comprehension. Perhaps he learned something of enormous importance from those images, and we can hope that helped him find some peace from the next six years of nightmares he had to endure before he died.

A child learning essential lessons from looking images in flickering firelight. Lessons about lives beyond his comprehension but now made manifest before his eyes in gauzy shadows captured on glass. I like to think there are 12-year-old kids today whose parents took them to see Lincoln, so that those kids can learn their own lessons from the flickering images onscreen. Lessons about lives lived 150 years ago, surely beyond their comprehension, but now made manifest before their eyes in meticulous thought-provoking detail.

We don’t have to be 12 years old to need to see those lessons.

“I don’t know if the guys knew who Lincoln was…. It came as a big shock to them when he was killed.”

Kobe Bryant was joking (we hope) when he said that the day after the he and his LA Lakers teammates saw a screening of Lincoln. Some of us might scoff at the idea that movies can teach us much — or that they have any right to try. But you only have to watch 5 minutes of Jay Walking on Leno to know that millions of Americans are woefully ill-informed about what’s happening in the world today, much less what happened 150 years ago. How many people were inspired by Lincoln to stop and ponder the circumstances surrounding the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, a crucial catalyst that sparked the chains of events that led to America’s first Black President. More than a few, I’m certain.

There are lessons that teach us facts: Teheran is the capital of Iran. OK, got it. Let’s file that away. Then there’s another kind of lesson that inspires us to think about ideas. “Things which are equal to the same thing are each other.” OK, let’s remember that. That’s a concept with many applications and a good thing for Americans to consider the next time immigration reform or gay marriage comes up in conversation. Or on a ballot. A good thing to remember, or perhaps, for some, a good lesson to learn in the first place.

More than almost any other director Steven Spielberg has divided his time and talent between creating entertainments and crafting more deeply-felt, more thought-provoking fare. I used to call these two sides of the Spielberg coin, “one for the money, one for posterity,” but then along comes a film like Lincoln that offers so much substance, satisfaction and soul, it not only earns a place in the pantheon of film history, it reaps immense profits as well. But that Spielberg dichotomy is more than savvy career strategy (though as that it’s an undeniable asset), and it’s more than a handy way to sort his filmography. Since most directors choose to follow either one path or the other, it’s clear that Spielberg’s parallel pursuit of both pure art and sheer entertainment reflects a complexity we rarely see a single individual exhibit, no matter what they endeavor to do.

For those who like to look past the surface gloss, Spielberg’s populist films are sometimes burdened with extravagant expectations. On the flip side, many people have trouble reconciling the gravity of his deeper films when they’re infused with that uncanny instinct for mass appeal. That disconnect has led to some unfortunate awards outcomes for the director who’s won the DGA three times but had to earn 11 nominations to do so. After the awards pageants fold up their tents each winter, after all the chips have fallen, after the cookies have crumbled and after the dust has settled, it’s only a matter of months before we begin look back realize whatever the unlucky relationship may be between Spielberg and the fickle Hollywood accolade machine, what’s always left in the wake is an extraordinarily lucky legacy for us.

That legacy, those lessons, the images Spielberg holds up for us to see in the flickering lights of dark theaters all our lives. They are lit with his style, his passion and desire to share with us the horrors and wonders of worlds that lie beyond our experience and comprehension. I’m eternally grateful for that gift. Just wish the Hollywood community would be more grateful.

“If you can look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow and which will not, Speak then to me.”

Here’s another challenge for Hollywood. Look at the seeds of cinema and see which ones from the past have endured and which have withered.  Sure, who doesn’t like to have their heart tugged. And we all enjoy a tense suspenseful thrill ride. Yes, the little French dog was adorable too. But for me, most of the films that have genuine cultural significance are those with a more sublime sense of aesthetic majesty. Can’t we show more appreciation for movies like that?  Shouldn’t we be more grateful to the filmmakers who strive for those heights?  Especially a director who consistently reaches for that standard set by David Lean, and this year has once again seized it.

98 Comments on this Post

  1. Bryce Forestieri

    anti-LINCOLN comment in 3,2…

  2. That was a nice scene. Fantastic article, Ryan.

  3. danemychal

    Great read, Ryan! Eloquently worded. And I’m glad you have a screener because I didn’t notice the prices on the photo plates of the slave children before.

  4. Sasha Stone

    Beautifully written, Ryan. Certainly the best thing that I’ve read on this movie all year.

  5. The slave auction prices specified are in Tony Kushner’s screenplay.

    In the film the camera pans down to reveal them.

  6. Beautifully written.

  7. careful. y’all will accidentally encourage me to write more. then you’ll be sorry.

    thanks so much.

  8. ‘The more I think about the significance of that sequence in Lincoln, the more it resonates. Spielberg’s films have always included scenes like these, when someone arrives at a moment of quiet epiphany. He gives us time to watch a character’s countenance shift as they absorb what they’re seeing. Of course, many movies have moments like that, but few directors have a particular style so well-known that there’s a distinctive shot named after them. It’s The Spielberg Face. That thousand-yard stare, somehow made intimate. Gazing in awe, or shock, or dread. Or sorrow.’

    I had never thought of it like that….
    The Spielberg Face – that’s what many of his detractors often despise in his films, but I love it. Because there is a sense of purpose in that face and moment, a moral compass leading you to a truth that lies in the heart of his film and what he is trying to say. Some call it manipulative, but to me it shows heart. And Spielberg wears his on his sleeve in every frame. That’s what makes his art so relatable and resonant and human. He wants you to see that moment of clarity or sadness or realize the epiphany in the character and in the greater themes of the film.

    Thank you Ryan for a beautiful piece and yet another reason to see Lincoln for a fifth (and not the last)time.

    The passion AD has for Lincoln is bringing out the Kael in both you and Sasha in both your passion and eloquence (not that it wasn’t there before, but I’m new here) This kind of passionate film commentary is a welcome change from the snark ….and a renewal of my love for great film essay and writing.
    You guys are kicking ass.

  9. Color me impressed. Beautiful.

  10. beautifully written, Ryan!

    even though I agree with you and Sasha that “Lincoln” SHOULD win, I’ve made my peace with its possible loss = my favourites seldom win… “Tinker, Tailor…” last year; “Social Network” in ’10; “The White Ribbon” in ’09; “Let The Right One In” in ’08).

    I do appreciate the lovely writing, though. (yeah, this a purely complimentary post; you’re welcome =P).

    and Sasha… I read in a previous post that a “Lincoln” loss might just tip you over and stop writing here… as a longtime (10+ years) fan who might not always agree with you, I BEG you: PLEASE don’t!

    cheers everyone

  11. Glad I poked my head in before going to bed. Thoughtful and very well written, Ryan.

    The “sublime sense of aesthetic majesty” is that point where the director is able to pull together everything at his disposal and make that complete electric connection with one viewer – you. That’s all that matters to them and us, and that’s why we all feel so passionately about the films we love.

    I hope you keep writing.

  12. Danemychal

    Andre – It is merely twisted lowlifes who surmise (nay WISH) that a Lincoln loss would lead to Sasha leaving this all behind. I think she has been prepared for that outcome for a while now and has already stated if she survived 2010, this is a piece of cake.

  13. By reading AD I get the impression that the only movies in the Oscar race this year are Lincoln, ZD30, Argo and SLP. The only categories that seem to matter are Picture, Director and Actress. Just sayng it would be nice to read something else than an elaborate text (as good as it might be) about how Lincoln deserves to win or how ZD30 got the shaft. Is nobody interested who will win Best Supporting Actor or Editing? The overall praise for Lincoln many times feels exadurated and looks like you are jumping through hoops just to find this little speck that makes it great in your opinion. Looks forced and quite honestly is becoming really boring.

  14. one thing that moved me, also.. *SPOILER*

    when Lincoln dies and they say “… now he belongs to the ages”, my brother said “so does this film”.

    it makes me absurdly happy that a film like this provoked such a moving reaction from a casual movie watcher. “Lincoln”‘s script has the most sophisticated speech I’ve seen (heard?) in quite a while.

  15. Sasha Stone

    Looks forced and quite honestly is becoming really boring.

    Here’s the good news for you: there’s the door, pal.

  16. “In a dark room of the White House, firelight flickers, and for a moment the ghostly figures come alive. In dark theaters all across America 150 years later, those images flicker once again, and now it’s Steven Spielberg holding them up to the light….”

    It is indeed beautifully written and very moving. I dare any Oscar voter to read this and then vote any other way. There’s a deep elegiac current here and some poetic prose. Really super. And a potential game changer for any prospective voter who still has to cast their ballot.

  17. Christopher

    Beautiful! That is all. :)

  18. ‘It is indeed beautifully written and very moving. I dare any Oscar voter to read this and then vote any other way. There’s a deep elegiac current here and some poetic prose. Really super. And a potential game changer for any prospective voter who still has to cast their ballot.’

    Seriously,
    Someone needs to send Ryan’s and Sasha’s peices to the Academy…
    You guys have put into words how epic this film is.

  19. “There are lessons that teach us facts: Teheran is the capital of Iran. OK, got it. Let’s file that away.”

    Simply moving.

  20. I enjoyed reading this. Interesting how you compare Spielberg to David Lean, a filmmaker I know he has always admired and tried to live up to. Spielberg even had the chance to watch LAWRENCE OF ARABIA with Lean as they restored the film–a personal commentary that meant a lot to him (I think they were with Scorsese, too). Most people don’t realize that Lean began his directing career with intimate, personal films before he moved on to epics. One of my favorites is BRIEF ENCOUNTER, a tremendous film that stands as one of Lean’s most personal and best-directed films–arguably a perfect film. I wonder if there is a stronger comparison perhaps between LINCOLN, a film I read as extremely intimate and personal, with early Lean even more so than the cinematic “grandeur” you cite.

    After I read your comment on Spielberg and Coppola’s connection, of being able to capture “majesty,” I couldn’t help but think of another director who is in Spielberg’s generation: Martin Scorsese. I’ve always found looking at them both side-by-side fascinating AND slightly infuriating. Everyone grows up with Spielberg, and sees him as the world’s greatest director: E.T., the RAIDERS movies, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, JAWS, JURASSIC PARK–all classics. Then, there’s always a time–if you seriously follow film–when this is no longer the case and you begin to see fault in him. You read the articles that assault the films you once thought were unassailable, that pick apart his direction, his commercial tendencies. This is probably most clear in his historical/more “serious” pieces: THE COLOR PURPLE, SCHINDLER’S LIST, AMISTAD, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. But while Scorsese is always seen as the superior and “cooler” filmmaker in academic circles/film school, especially with the classics TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, and GOODFELLAS, I have always believed Spielberg to be much more versatile director, having taken on so many different genres often with more success than Scorsese. There’s a lot to be said here that I’m just touching on (and I’m sure many people have strong opinions), but it’s interesting to consider them both, and to redeem Spielberg. LINCOLN is a film that may do that for me.

    One more thing: I do agree with the suggestion in one of the comments above. Here are some ideas–I’d love to read a feature on some of the below-the-line categories. Any strong arguments for John Williams’ work in Lincoln? Or the incredible mise-en-scene, seen especially in the production design? In the major categories, I see Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and both screenplays to be very competitive. Documentary is very strong, too.

  21. Alexander

    You crushed that, Ryan. Crushed that.

    Sensationally moving writing, so precise and beautiful.

    For those who care about the fate of “Oscar history,” such as it is, this piece could indeed help to force some wavering voters which way to cast their ballot. You may have just become to this film, Lincoln, what Repesentative Stevens was to the fate of the 13th Amendment.

    Exquisite detailing of just why and how Spielberg has sadly been taken for granted, so to speak, for decades now. At least to an alarming extent.

    This reminds me of Ben Sampson’s “Visual Study” of “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” which brilliantly summed up the duality of one Spielberg work, a duality that is abundantly evident in the artist himself in myriad ways.

  22. Excellent essay Ryan. Enjoyed reading that very much.

  23. I will say this, Spielberg has directed two of my favorite films of all time: Last Crusade and Jurassic Park (his finest cast, imo), four years apart. I also love Close Encounters and found Schindler’s List to be staggering the last time I watched it.

    Saving Private Ryan changed the way war films were made, undoubtedly, but I was disappointed by the “earn this” sentiment.

    People go crazy for Jaws and Raiders, and it’s fine that people feel the same for Lincoln. I just don’t think the film with 12 nominations is the underdog in the race, no matter how you spin it.

  24. Ryan,
    Really beautifully written.
    I don’t agree whit all this love for Lincoln, but you did it very well.
    Congratulations.

    It would be very nice (serious) if all nominated film could have someting like that.

  25. Very well written article. Lincoln is truly an example of how people at the top of their craft (Day Lewis et. al. For acting, Kushner for writing, Spielberg for directing, and all of the designers) can come together, elevate each other, and create a wonderful piece of art.

    If he wins the DGA, Spielberg will be a very deserving recipient in a year with many bold, unique, and visionary films.

  26. “Here’s the good news for you: there’s the door, pal.”

    No need to get all worked up. It’s your site, do what you want with it. Just don’t expect everyone to share your opinion. “Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”

  27. thanks guys, and thanks Alexander. I’m going to use your comment from another post tonight to unpack more of Spielberg’s style:

    I think what a lot of people have missed with Lincoln is that the first five minutes with the four soldiers and the final moments with his son learning about the assassination, the deathbed scene and the flash to his Second Inaugural from that candlelight are all constructed by Kushner and Spielberg to represent the “mythical” Lincoln, where he’s revered like almost a saint. They are bookends to the real “historical” Lincoln…

    Alexander! If you were to go back and find one of our earliest Oscar Podcasts from late November or the first week in December, you’d hear me ramble on making some of the same points. Sasha asked me way back then to write that up, and I began to sketch this piece out today with that aim in mind — but then it took off in another direction.

    That podcast was so long ago, I’ve forgotten most of the things we talked about, but we definitely spoke during that episode about how I got the impression that the wooden platform in the opening scenes where Lincoln is seated in symmetrical composition seems to foreshadow a sort of rough-hewn scaffold for his eventual pose at the Lincoln Memorial.

    The framing device you mention, Alexander, I think reveals itself as bookends with the visual effect of Lincoln soaring on the prow of the ship in his dreams so fast that the outline of his body appears to wisp away in trails of smokey mist from his head and arms paired with the same effect as the lamp wick at the end of the film when the flame wavers, dips and wisps — and lap-dissolves directly over the figure of Lincoln delivering his Second Inaugural. The structure to me is so beautifully balanced I can never understand how anybody can gripe about the way Kushner and Spielberg chose to end the film. It’s not only fitting, it feels almost preordained to end that way in order to properly preserve that deliberate structure.

    As for the shot of Lincoln on his death bed, with his face an ashen shell and his intelligence obliterated — how many times throughout the film do people refer to friends and family who gave their lives fighting for the cause? 5 or 6 times at least we hear characters speak about the their loved ones making that ultimate sacrifice, right? So how on Earth can anyone question whether it’s appropriate to show Lincoln himself having sacrificed his life in the same way.

    In every aftermath battle scene Lincoln tours on horseback throughout the film, whenever he passes by broken bodies there is always somewhere on the landscape an upturned face of a fallen solider, and it’s a jolt to see that these were once living laughing young men. That same grim reminder is then mirrored at the end with Lincoln’s own face, another visual coda at the end of the elegy.

    A lot of this comment is paraphrased from pieces I had to slice out of the main post because it was already long enough. I was determined that I would find a way to repurpose some of those deleted ideas into the discussion :) so thanks, Alexander for helping me work this in without a wedge.

    All of these thing and dozens more could have been used to illustrate the point I wanted to make: far from from being a linear by-the-numbers procedural drama, Spielberg fills the frame in Lincoln with all kinds of psychologically potent cues to help trigger emotional connections. It’s just that Spielberg takes such care to ensure that his own imprint recedes in service of the story being told. His directorial fingerprint in Lincoln is incredibly refined and subtle compared to the flashier, gaudier and sometimes downright garish blunt instruments that pass for some directors’ “style” these days.

  28. It would be very nice (serious) if all nominated film could have something like that.

    Fabinho, will probably try to do 5 or 6 more over the next couple of weeks. But after that, I might run out of titles I’m this wild about.

    :)

  29. Pierre de Plume

    As Woody Harrelson says in Natural Born Killers, “Now that’s poetry!”

    The reason I keep coming here is the writing — both yours, Ryan, and Sasha’s. One can dish about the Oscars anywhere, but it’s here where we see the love of film so eloquently expressed.

    More, please.

  30. Boy, Sasha is campaigning very hard for Lincoln. I wonder if she is getting paid for it.

  31. Ryan Adams

    ^
    The way things work in Hollywood is lucky people get paid quite well to make the movies they love to make, and to write about the movies they love to watch.

    These lucky people love their work so much, probably some would do it for the love alone.
    (j/k)

    Sometimes the more people love what they do, the more they get paid. Pretty neat, huh?

    How was your day doing the job you do? My day was fantastic.

  32. julian the emperor

    Very well written, Ryan. You should do more of this.

    I don’t agree with you (or Sasha – or the majority of American critics) on the merits of Lincoln. I saw it for the first time two days ago (it premieres in Denmark today), and I was quite struck by the conventionality of the film. It is like an overlong history lesson with too many words stuck in there. I was leaving the cinema longing for a breath of fresh air.

    It’s true, that the movie avoids the sentimental trap falls of the usual Spielberg period drama, but it doesn’t really invest it with anything “artful” or interesting, either. It is so blatantly prosaic that I almost longed for some more sweeping vistas or whatever. And there are so many words…Kushner’s script is allowed to meander about (it IS accomplished, I am not saying it isn’t, but is it doing the movie any big favor?)

    What’s interesting to me is the reception of the movie here in Europe as opposed to at home turf (Sasha has made a point about this as well). Danish reviewers, for one, are not overwhelmingly positive about Lincoln (not a very accurate title in a sense, since it implies another kind of movie, a biopic, which this is not), they are merely courteous.

    What is it about Lincoln that speaks so strongly to Americans? Whatever the reason Lincoln as a movie is full of ideas, but lack a sparkling sense of ambition, nevertheless. It is very faithful, very able, very well-mannered. But it is not a daring, great piece of cinema. Not by a country mile.

    What it does is that it establishes a lot of situations and introduces a lot of characters that are familiar to Americans, I assume (but not to Europeans). The appreciation of recognition must be a fundamental part of its appeal to you, I believe.

    But a film isn’t a great work of art if your appreciation of it is determined by your knowledge of history (or a very specific part of history).

  33. Luiz Carlos

    Excelent, very good text… congratulations! You really made your point about the movie and I have to agree with you …

  34. I am happy that some films still have passionate lovers. Great, Ryan!

    Now let’s see what other bloggers can do to show their true passion.

  35. That was beautifully written and it makes me want to skip work and see Lincoln again, especially to see that scene with Tad.

  36. I so rarely re-watch films within weeks or months of having first seen them. I might have to do so with Lincoln, now. This was so well-written, and so persuasive.

  37. “will probably try to do 5 or 6 more over the next couple of weeks.”

    That is what I wanted to hear. Let’s get out of the negativity rut and talk about what we like as opposed to what we don’t like. I was starting to feel a bit worn down until this article, Ryan – well written posts followed by unsubstantiated and nearly illiterate sniper assaults can get to you after a while.

    While they all may not convince me 100% on what is best, I love reading anything somebody writes about a film they are passionate about. Every film that’s been made will connect with somebody sitting in the dark, so there are very few films that don’t deserve this treatment.

  38. The ‘on board’ cultural incest, predictive programming
    and PC moral alibi churning franchise slum Hollywood
    —show NO signs of stopping
    ——-or repentance.

    Even now, in this, the 11th hour of Globalist—RED China handover.

    AWESOME! —–DENIAL.

  39. Astarisborn

    After reading this beautiful and engaging article, I am making time to go see Lincoln for the second time tonight. I am going to try and invite as many of my family and friends to go with me so they too can experience this untimely, extremely important brilliant film.

  40. Terometer

    This article made me want to see Argo again. Thanks!

  41. Victor Barreto

    Congratulations on the article, very insightful and richly detailed.
    I believe there are very few people who can’t see at least a few positive aspects of Lincoln…

    However, I have a question for the group that consider it a perfect, flawless modern classic, what are your takes on the congress scene, for example? And I mean the entire thing, how it was conducted as a cinematic moment. To me, besides the aesthetics and historical recreation, it’s poorly crafted, and demonstrates how Kushner’s script kind of hides extremely sappy moments in between the more “cerebral” (as some of you put it) moments.

    That’s my biggest complain about this movie. Argo might be less than stellar, but it is what it is, it does not sell itself as something that it’s not. Lincoln, on the other hand, seems to make up all the corny events, strategically placing them between the sober scenes. Why would they do that, you might ask? In my humble opinion, those moments are responsible for hooking the attention of a otherwise bored and distracted audience.

    Some here will of course disagree (hopefully in a respectful way), but just look at Spielberg’s filmography, it wouldn’t be the first time he did this sort of thing. In movies like The Terminal, I think he was a bad, very bad, director. The sappiness is clear as water for everyone to see. It’s an aspect you won’t find in David Lean’s movies, and as time proves, makes these works fade in comparison to masterpieces like Jaws, ET, Jurassic Park, Munich.

    If there was an Academy Award for best sequence, I would probably root for Lincoln, among the nominees, probably for the Tad scene Ryan Adams wrote about. But for the entire thing? No.

  42. Victor Barreto

    congress scene = court scene. Sorry, that was a typo.

  43. Dave Klein

    Beautiful piece, Ryan! Here’s hoping this won’t be the last time you put together something that eloquent and informative.

    I also want to thank you – and Sasha too, of course – for literally forcing me to revisit Lincoln. First time I saw it I liked it, but didn’t really fall for it the way I fell for, say, Munich (still my favourite Spielberg film of the 2000s). I enjoyed the many solid to great performances, liked the fact that it almost completely lacked the in-your-face-sentimentality that half-ruined some of his earlier films for me, liked his decision to kinda remain in the backseat with regards to the visuals (the same way Fincher did during the beloved TSN), but not once did I hear this voice in my head telling me I have to watch this again. Then I kept on reading and reading every single word Sasha – and now you – had to say about that alleged masterpiece, so I thought what the hell? What could I possibly lose by giving this film direced by one of my favourite filmmakers another chance? I didn’t lose anything. I gained and gained and am still gaining. Seen it 5 times now and can’t wait for the 6h time. So many hidden gems (like the ones being pointed out in the essay above) in there. And let’s be clear: this isn’t about whether Lincoln is most deserving of BP or better than Argo or any other movie ever made. To be honest, it’s not even my favourite film of 2012 (ZDT and Holy Motors are). But it certainly is a remarkable film. So to anybody who has only seen Lincoln once – I strongly advise you to watch it again. It’s so rewarding.

  44. Lincoln could be like Mystic River and win Oscars for actor and supporting actor. That is a very rare occurrence. Shakespeare In Love won actress and supporting actress. In the last 22 years only these two movies have won Oscars in lead and supporting.

    Has a filmmaker ever won the best director Oscar without even getting a DGA nomination? Also Ryan should write more.

  45. There is no way but to join the voices from the crowd and say…Beautiful, Ryan! Thank you and Sasha for your passion for Lincoln.

    When I first came here to post for the first time, after seeing Lincoln at the NYFF’s ‘Secret Screening’, I did so because I wanted to express what I felt about it that very night. I was in awe, but my initial reaction after seeing was that it would be a very difficult film for people to fall in love with; not because most people wouldn’t understand it, but because I thought expectations wouldn’t be met. And I thought too it would be a shame if that happened because people would be missing a lot from the film. Scenes like the one you talked about in your piece, to me, are the moments that bring out the value of this film every time I have seen it (3 times so far). Every single dialog in the film is so rich that I cannot get enough of it. To this Brazilian, who had basic American History in high school and got interested then in the country’s Civil War, this film made me want to learn more and more about it.

    I had a great time every time I saw the film. Lincoln is the Oscar winner to me this year, even if it won’t be awarded at Oscar night. In the end, it is very simple…it’s all cool. :)

  46. the other mike

    great write up Ryan. sincerely.

    i finally saw the film and found it boring though. the reason it was boring is because the inner machinations of congress is boring. don’t belive me? just watch c-span. that is what the film is. the only reason the film is important is because of what the subject is about. slavery is the most imprtant thiing in our history. hence a boring story about an important topic is how i ultimately saw this film. i think if they had had some slaves and black radicals, it would have brought some urgency. i think only white people can truly love this film. its like, “look how noble we are”. “we set those slaves free”.

  47. ^ Come reads *came. Sorry about that.

  48. RIOBALDO

    Ryan! …That was Something.! Really ,made my day.Keep it up .

  49. . i think if they had had some slaves and black radicals, it would have brought some urgency. i think only white people can truly love this film. its like, “look how noble we are”. “we set those slaves free”.

    WOW. I don’t know how you can watch this film and actually come away from the whole experience and say it was boring. I mean even if you hate the political maneuvering in determining the fate of millions of Americans at that time bound in chains how is it that is all you walk away with? How is it that all you see is what you determine as c-spanesque mirroring? For the first time in film history we have a depiction of Lincoln that actually makes him intimate. We suffer through an education process where we learn so little about the actual man that we forget that he really was just another man. I just sat here realizing I’ve seen in the last three or four years two intimate portraits of two Presidents. Adams and Lincoln. Unless you’ve read a great deal of historical information about both Presidents your knowledge of both men is probably limited. So I guess I just don’t see how you can go into a film like this and just walk out bored. Not enough blood and guts for you? Not enough rape scenes? Not enough aliens crawling up from some mine shaft running off with our children so they can scoop out their brains? I just don’t get the mindset of boring with this film. Hell people are walking out of Anna Karenina at least raving about the set designs and the costumes. Hell everyone is raving about the song Skyfall from Skyfall. So you go see a film like Lincoln and you found no redeeming qualities? Did you notice the wigs were deliberately designed to look poorly as they would have looked at that time? Did you notice how they actually imitated the lighting as it would have been experienced at that time? I remember someone saying the lighting bothered them and just shook my head.

    There is so much that is right about this film and all most people can say when they say that they were bored is that their boredom came from watching the wrangling over passing the 13th amendment. Or they come up with the ridiculous statement that Mary Todd Lincoln just didn’t “fit” in the film. Mary Todd “fucking” Lincoln is representative of what we hope we never get in a First Lady. Yet everyone will never forget Nicole Kidman pissing on Zac Effron. Amazing.

    And as for Spielberg’s continued desire to make us feel something well folks that’s what film is about. Do you think Tarantino doesn’t try to illicit emotional responses from his blood and gore? I give up. We’ve become a society where blood and gore is much more highly valued than intelligence and just being human.

    Ryan this was one of the best things I’ve see you write so far and that’s a damn good thing but be careful. Your critics will claim you wrote it to illicit an emotional response. Damn you might be a Steven Spielberg clone.

  50. Julian the emperor, what’s the best of the lot then? Rank them maybe?

  51. apocalypsepooh

    Ryan, have you read this review of Spielberg’s EMPIRE OF THE SUN? I find it mind-blowing.

    http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Empire-of-the-Sun-Blu-ray/39522/#Review

  52. rufussondheim

    For julian the emperor…

    From an early age Americans are taught to revere Abraham Lincoln. He saved the Union! He freed the slaves! It’s very much a rah rah educational experience. And the Civil War has a great hold on our collective conscience and it’s carried through into our entertainment. It’s very much a part of the American Zeitgest. It really truly dominates our collective memory of our past. WW2, The Revolutionary War are big players too, but they really pale in comparison to the Civil War. It’s huge. I’ll say it over and over again. It’s just huge. It’s who we are, nothing comes close.

    So, in my opinion, when a technically well made movie comes along and treats that subject material with reverance, with a sense of idol worship, people will fall for it regardless of its artistic merits. Heck, even I, a Spielberg detractor fell for 75% of it, and I was happy to!

    Think of it this way, if Spielberg directed a life story about your children, you’d no doubt love it. But would anyone else?

  53. Pierre de Plume

    i think only white people can truly love this film.

    I think not. I saw the deeply emotional reaction first-hand of a friend of mine — a left-leaning woman who is politically active and happens to be black. She loved it. I’m convinced there are tons of other similar examples to disprove this silly assertion.

  54. danemychal

    In addition to what Pierre has said, I don’t think Oprah is white either.

  55. Pierre de Plume

    What is it about Lincoln that speaks so strongly to Americans?

    One point I’ll make, Julian, is I think the film gives Americans some hope in their political system at a time in history when we’re quite cynical about the ability of our federal government to accomplish anything substantive. Lincoln shows us a time when, by hook or by crook, the system actually worked — which is a far cry from what’s been happening in recent years.

  56. Tero Heikkinen

    I’m baaaackkkk!

    Good article, Ryan.

    After being absent for 2 weeks, here’s an updated Top 5 list (w/ still so much unseen):

    1. Amour
    —a huge gap—
    2. Life of Pi
    3. Argo
    4. The Master
    5. Lincoln

    So, I must agree with Academy a lot this year.

  57. Victor Barreto writes: “Argo… is what it is, it does not sell itself as something that it’s not. Lincoln, on the other hand, seems to make up all the corny events….”

    Really? It is my understanding that, while Argo sells itself as the true story of how six Americans snuck out of Iran during the hostage crisis, it stretches the truth time and again for dramatic effect. Apparently, the Americans holed up at the Canadian embassy were not pale and panic-stricken, but actually enjoyed their stay and got tanned. While the basic idea of how they slipped out of Iran is supposed to be true (that they assumed new identities), the high suspense they allegedly experienced at every step of the way until their plane finally took off was largely fabricated. So what Ben Affleck did with Argo – which, I admit, was highly entertaining – was give his audience what they wanted. And what they wanted was an adventure story. Was there a moral to this story? Did we learn anything? Frankly, no.

    The Lincoln movie, on the other hand, far from being made up of fabricated “corny events,” was not only very important history of the sort that explains how we got where we are today (and all the good and bad that goes with it), but was factually accurate. The issues, the personalities, and the challenges were all real; a huge amount of what Lincoln said in the film he really did say; the back room wheeling and dealing actually happened, even if some of the small details weren’t literally true; the rhetoric in Congress accurately represented the political rhetoric of the day; and the existence of Confederate commissioners who pretended to desire peace really did nearly derail passage of the 13th Amendment. Now, maybe this movie is not to everyone’s taste, but to dismiss it as being false is, quite simply, a bogus criticism.

  58. I have been following this site for many years. I still have it in my bookmarks as “Oscarwatch”. I very rarely add anything in the comments section but I had to today. Ryan this is without doubt the most well written and passionate thing I have read on this site. Your comments about that particular scene are something I hope Academy members take notice of. There are a couple of other scenes in Lincoln that literally took my breathe away but the scene you described is the one that my mind comes back to again and again.

  59. Tero Heikkinen

    Yes, Lincoln reviews in Europe have not been as positive as the American ones. I believe I’ve given the highest points in Finland with 4/5. Three of the most known critics here all gave it 2/5 which is way too low in my opinion. But we always knew this was an American thing. Same can be said about Zero Dark Thirty when most reviews are 3/5-ish. Amour (European, but universal themes) gets 5/5 from everybody. We already know that it will be the best reviewed film of 2012 and I’m glad that Academy found it, too.

  60. JP, Esquire

    Great observation on a great scene, Ryan. I will keep that in mind when I eventually re-watch Lincoln. Images are powerful things. And the image of the 16th-president of the USA brought to realistic life by masters of their respective craft has had power over many of us.

    And the mention of the “Spielberg Touch” immediately brought to mind one of my favorite sequences from Jaws: the scene where Chief Brody and his son make faces at each other at the dinner table. Whatever his flaws, Spielberg is great at putting such human moments in even his popcorn entertainments.

  61. Victor Barreto

    Liz Rosenthal:

    What you say is true, but it’s wasn’t my point. Frankly, I’m not sure if either Argo or Lincoln were 100% accurate, but to work as what they are, movies, they didn’t need to stick to what really happened at every scene.

    But my point is that Argo sells itself (from the trailer to the campaign, just look at the adds here on AD) as a political thriller with lots of wit and irony. Do you disagree this discription is accurate, liking the movie or not? Lincoln, on the other hand, is being held as this groundbreaking portrail of an american icon, whose political decisions weren’t disconnected from the movements of his soul. All this told in “complex” storytelling, which in my opinion, helps to hide the tearjerk, bad-Hollywoodian elements. This is my mais criticism with Lincoln, right now.

    “And what they wanted was an adventure story. Was there a moral to this story? Did we learn anything? Frankly, no.”

    With all due respect, my visions of what cinema should be are absolutely opposite to this. Just put Hitchcock’s Psycho (my intention here is to name one ridiculously obvious example) in Argo’s place for your argument and you will hopefully get my point.

  62. Ryan,
    That’s great!
    I’ll be wainting for great articles about Argo, The Master, Life of Pi and other films.

  63. Did you guys know that Kathleen Kennedy is as AMPAS vice-president?

    I was also chocked when I found that Bigelow is a governor from the director’s branch. I think it makes more sad her snub.

  64. Apocalypse Pooh

    Victor — Who would ever nominate Psycho for Best Picture?

  65. Victor Barreto

    The Academy. Why not? It got a best director nomination.

    It should be about rewarding the best movies (as cinematic achievement), not the one with the best story, or the one you “learn” the most with.

    Thanks God the Academy knows that, since movies like Indiana Jones and The Exorcist got nominations for BP.

  66. I finally saw ‘Lincoln’ yesterday and, speaking from an international (i.e non-American) perspective, I must say I didn’t like it. My main criticism is that Spielberg presents an idealized portrait of the 16th US president that obviously doesn’t match the real Lincoln. In particular, it annoys me that the movie tries to present Lincoln as a man “ahead of his time” for opposing slavery when, in reality, by the time slavery was abolished in the US (1865), it was already a defunct practice in most of the western world. In fact, slavery had already been made illegal for example in the British Empire since 1834 and, in the French colonial empire, since 1848. Slavery had also been already abolished in almost all Latin American countries, except Cuba (which was still a Spanish colony) and Brazil (which abolished slavery only in 1888).

    The 1863 emancipation proclamation itself was somewhat odd in that sense that Lincoln used his alleged “war powers” to free the slaves in the Confederate territory, over which the Union at the time had no practical jurisdiction, but did not abolish slavery in those states within the Union (like Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, or Delaware) where slavery was still legal. Likewise, the emancipation proclamation didn’t extend either to Confederate territory that had already been seized by the Union at that point (like most of Tennessee and parts of West Virginia or Louisiana). That apparent contradiction, which suggested opportunism on Lincoln’s part more so than moral conviction, was noted by the British Foreign Secretary of the time, Lord Russell, in a letter to the UK ambassador to the United States, which I quote:

    ” The Proclamation professes to emancipate all slaves in places where the United States authorities cannot exercise any jurisdiction nor make emancipation a reality; but it does not decree emancipation of slaves in any States or parts of States occupied by federal troops….There seems to be no declaration of a principle adverse to slavery in this Proclamation. It is a measure of war of a very questionable kind. As President Lincoln has twice appealed to the judgment of mankind, in his Proclamation, I venture to say I do not think it can or ought to satisfy the friends of abolition, who look for total and impartial freedom for the slave, and not for vengeance on the slave owner.”

    I wish Spielberg had dug deeper on those issues.

  67. Apocalypse Pooh

    Ah, the old “Lincoln was a racist / wasn’t really against slavery” canard. Lincoln despised slavery, but his first duty was to the Union, and he had to navigate the political waters of his time. Lincoln’s feelings on containing the spread of slavery were so well known, his election is what kicked off the secessionist movement in the first place. The Emancipation Proclamation had no real force of law, it was delivered to keep European powers from coming in and giving support to the South, by giving the war a higher moral purpose – BUT, Lincoln also prolonged the war, using the war to push through the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery once and for all. He didn’t have to do that, or take that risk, he could have negotiated peace and ended the war after it was clear the South had lost. But he didn’t. He even risked certain impeachment by lying to Congress about peace overtures from the Confederacy. That’s what the movie is about – those 4 weeks where Lincoln risked all to pass the 13th Amendment.

  68. rufussondheim

    Welcome back, Tero – you’ve been missed!

  69. To Mabruno: Maybe, before commenting on the efficacy of the Emancipation Proclamation, and whether slavery was a dying institution in the United States (i.e., not in a British colony or South America), you should actually read some American history.

    1. Slavery was as powerful an institution in the slave states as it ever was as of Lincoln’s election in 1860. The only reason that the U.S. did not degenerate into civil war earlier was that northern politicians made deals with the South to ensure some sort of equilibrium between the slave and free states. Northern politicians justified these deals, known as the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, as agreements in which both parties lost something while both gained something, too. However, with the passage in 1854 of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the issuance of the notorious 1857 U.S. Supreme Court “Dred Scott” decision, it became clear that no state or territory would have the authority for long to exclude slavery from its borders, even if the people didn’t want it. The very fact that Abe Lincoln was elected president on a platform of opposing the extension of slavery (as the U.S. Constitution protected slavery where it already existed) was enough to cause slave states to begin seceding from the Union.
    2. To be able to continue prosecuting the war, Lincoln had to keep the “border states” loyal – that is, those states which had slavery but were situated immediately north of the 11 states that eventually seceded. Therefore, he had to act very carefully. This fact did not stop Lincoln, in the two years leading up to the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, from trying to persuade the border states to change their laws to give up slavery, with the promise of compensation to slaveowners. However, the border states were no more interested in giving up slavery than was the deep south, whose economy was entirely dependent on the instituion.
    3. It was only after repeated failed importunities from Lincoln to the border states to give up slavery, as the war raged on, that Lincoln finally came to the decision to issue the Proclamation. He only had the legal authority, as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, to free the slaves held by the belligerents, as a matter of “military necessity.” Former slaves could serve in the Union Army against the South and deprive the South of its workforce.
    4. The Proclamation actually did have a beneficial effect. Wherever U.S. troops went in the wake of the Proclamation’s issuance, the slaves were able to run to Union lines and the Union Army was obligated to enforce their freedom. By the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of freed slaves had served in the Union Army.
    5. Contrary to Lord Russell’s snarky statement, the abolitionists were *overjoyed* about the Emancipation Proclamation and knew that a major blow had been dealt the institution.
    6. Passage of the 13th Amendment was necessary to abolish slavery everywhere in the Union, including in the Confederacy, the Border States and those areas of the Confederacy occupied by Union forces prior to the Proclamation being issued. With the end of the war, Lincoln could no longer argue that emancipation was a “military necessity” and there was a real risk of reenslavement of multitudes of slaves who had tasted freedom and served the Union cause.
    7. Lincoln had been anti-slavery all of his life. He made his first public declaration on the subject in the Illinios legislature in 1837. He came to political prominence because of his leadership in opposition to the extenstion of slavery in the 1850s.
    8. Lincoln was the first president to meet with African-American visitors in the White House, and he treated them just like any other visitors, chatting with them, listening to their concerns, and explaining his policies.
    9. I will disagree with one point made in someone else’s post, which was that Lincoln delayed the end of the war to ensure the passage of the 13th Amendment. In fact, while he did continue to prosecute the war, and he knew he had an obligation, politically, to meet with the Confederate Commissioners early in 1865, there was no chance that they would have come to any sort of peace compromise, as the main sticking point continued to be slavery. Lincoln wanted it to stay abolished and the Confederates wanted to keep it.

  70. Liz, if you’re on Twitter I will follow the hell out of you.

    Thanks for the backup. Terrific contributions to the page.

    Everybody should go buy all of Liz’s books.

  71. Apocalypse Pooh

    Hi, Liz — maybe “prolonging the war” was a bad choice of words, but agknowledging that Confederate diplomats were seeking negotiations with the North could have split the Republican party during the crucial days leading to ratification of the 13th Amendement, and Lincoln obscured that fact from Congress, as detailed in Spielberg’s film.

  72. danemychal

    The greatest movies are the subjects of the greatest debates. If Lincoln has gotten people (even non-Americans) talking about our history, then it has succeeded on at least one major level. The debates are of higher quality, however, when facts are checked prior to making statements. And in that regard, most of us here could stand to learn a thing or two from Liz Rosenthal.

  73. Spielberg does those seconds of film that you don’t really notice until they gang up on you and make the creation unforgettable. You may forget other details in Schindler’s List, but has anyone ever forgotten the little girl in the red coat? Life, blood, death … she’s there and won’t disappear. That is what will happen with those early photographs of slaves for sale. Unforgettable and that will make the movie unforgettable.

  74. Jack Traven II

    Very nice read indeed.

  75. Jack Traven II

    Whoops! There was a letter missing.

  76. Houstonrufus

    Bravo, Ryan. Well done, sir.

    Julian, I think Lincoln is striking a nerve in America not just because of American history or figures, but because it touches upon many frustrations and anxieties dominating American culture and politics at this exact moment. Americans are generally plagued by a sense of anxiety and fear that the American experiment may have failed, that it is failing, that our institutions don’t work, that we are all so polarized, selfished and bought, that we can’t even agree on simple, obvious facts. We’ve lost faith in our leaders and governmental bodies. Lincoln helped and helps remind Americans of how our democracy has actually worked, that one can hold on to one’s principles and accomplish important things through compromise. I guess maybe these are concerns particular to Americans, at least to our way of life and viewing ourselves.

    In addition to capturing a specific moment in our legislative history, I absolutely belive Spielberg and Kushner threw this movie down as a gauntlet for the American people to demand more of their government and its officials.

  77. Liz Rosenthal: apparently you didn’t understand what I wrote. I never said slavery was a dying institution in the United States. I said it was a dying institution in the broader western world. My point was precisely that the United States in the 1860s was just “catching up” to what was already the accepted standard elsewhere, i.e free labor. From an international perspective, it doesn’t make sense IMHO to depict Lincoln as a visionary or a man “ahead of his time” for being against slavery when slavery at the time was already condemned and rejected by most “civilized” countries. To make Spielberg’s case even weaker, Lincoln in reality was a reluctant abolitionist at best.

  78. rufussondheim

    I don’t see how Lincoln assuages an American’s fears that everything can work out in the end, that faith in our institutions can be restored.

    I mean, 8 states left the country and it caused a civil war where half a million people died. Yeah, the country was reformed, but those divisions are still alive today, 150ish years later. If anything the civil war showed us that democracy can fail, and that, indeed, might makes right.

    I don’t see how this film is a comfort, if anything it should be troubling.

  79. Houstonrufus

    Rufus, if your comment was in response to my post, I don’t think I stated my point clearly. But surely you’re not going to argue that the passage of the 13th amendment was a bad thing, even in the midst of all the chaos and division you mention. Lincoln doesn’t suggest the man solved all our problems, rescued the country from the legacies of slavery and the Civil War. It would be ignorant to suggest such a thing. Of course those divisions are alive today. But Lincoln shows how he accomplished one thing, a very important thing. You can’t flip a switch and make everything right, all perfect–to expect that is to feed into our current political climate. But you do what you can at the moment, even if it means you bend in your positions for the greater good or cause. We live in a time now with such absolutism, that the movie, for me anyway, reminds me of how the system did get things right sometimes. I also wasn’t suggesting the movie is some sort of comfort. If anything, it only demonstrates how challenging our current political climate is.

  80. rufussondheim

    I’ve thought about it long and hard Houstonrufus, and I see absolutely no parallels between Lincoln and our present-day situation. And I watch a lot of politics.

  81. danemychal

    No parallels between Lincoln and any issues we are having today? If you truly believe that, your disdain for the film has gotten out of control. There is far more relevance to today’s sociopolitical issues in Lincoln than there is the to the 1% (who Tom Hooper probably doesn’t give two shits about) in Les Mis. If you don’t think Kushner (who is gay) has thought about this parallel, then you are bathing in naivete. Kushner has stayed true to the issue at hand in the film, but there are many moments in which Lincoln’s statements are able to applied to any issue of inequality. The monologue about Euclid is a good example.

  82. danemychal

    But then again, we knew the international audience was going to hate this one because it’s being viewed as “not for them”. Well, last I checked awards like the BAFTAs and Cesars exist too. The Oscars are more and more becoming globalized, but people shouldn’t forget where they take place, where most of the voters live, and what country makes most of the movies nominated for them.

  83. [please stop with the repetitive spam]
    – Ryan

  84. I liked Lincoln. A lot, actually. I’ve been waiting most of my life for a film about Abraham Lincoln, and I’ve been attentively following all news of the film since it was announced it would be directed by Steven Spielberg, and then later when Daniel Day-Lewis (omG!) was reported to play Lincoln. The film was very well written, very well acted, and attention to the period details as evidenced in the scenic design and the sound effects was remarkable. Without a doubt Spielberg’s most mature film to date,it certainly satisfied my desires to see a decent film about our greatest President.
    Having said that, the film was not perfect. The final 2 scenes of the film, in particular the one at the theatre, sort of spoiled and demeaned the overall impact of the film. It seemed a Tad (no pun intended) unnecessary and emotionally exploitive: of course, Lincoln’s death was a terrible thing, and after all that he did emotion is what is to be expected at the news of his death, but for Spielberg to achieve so much with such masterful restraint for the vast majority of the film and then to do this seems a bit of a cop out. Ultimately, Lincoln is a very good film and one of the best of the year (and one of my favorites), but it strikes out just short of becoming one of the greatest American films

  85. Terrific piece, Ryan. Thoughtful, articulate, informative and, most importantly, intelligent.

    I am surprised to hear – still – the major complaint about “Lincoln” is that there’s too much talk. With this kind of thinking, the likes of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill would never have flourished. I can only think that it comes down to: intelligence.

    Tony Kushner has written one of the smartest, intelligent screenplays in the history of American cinema – but it’s too talky. Or it’s too boring.

    Lincoln IS the best film of the year, even if it doesn’t win the Oscar (which I am still holding out hope it will win). History will teach us that. Like we know Brokeback Mountain was the best film of 2005, Saving Private Ryan was the best film of 1998, and so on.

    Thanks Ryan for sharing your perspective, your passion and your intelligence!

  86. Alexander

    Thank you so very much, Ryan, for using my brief little commentary to spark the opening of the floodgates from you! I will indeed seek out this Oscar podcast you and Sasha put together a few months back.

    Indeed, to me, there’s no question as to why Spielberg employed the two uber-iconic shots of Lincoln in the places he did (the camera pan from behind his head just before the dream sequence about which you so eloquently write as a foreshadowing of the candlelight seeping into the Second Inaugural) and the much-celebrated shot of him walking down the long hallway toward his fate.

    Splendid writing, Ryan. Thank you for dishing it out so generously here!

  87. cindy duncan

    Intelligent superb piece about an intelligent articulate screenplay written for the best film of the year.

  88. Berlin Film Fest winners! David Gordon Green wins Best Director!

    http://thescreenteen.blogspot.com/2013/02/berlin-film-festival-winners.html

  89. More memorable around here than Argo winning BP without a director nom, will be the editors obsession with Lincoln.

    Yes it may be the superior film, but Oscar has never been about that. It happens year after year.

    I know once Affleck were snubbed you thought it meant Lincoln for BP, but critics choice happened before the noms, the Argo train had already started.

    I hope you two can try to enjoy the Argo victory, remembering how much Sasha originally loved Argo. Please don’t hate on it when it wins

  90. Christophe

    Wait a minute! I think I’ve read that post before. OMG I’ve finally managed to go back in time, this is so awesome! Now let’s go back one year in the past and tell Hooper to pls stop sticking his camera in his actors’ faces and turn those ridiculous and repetitive lesser songs into dialogue. Just focus on those big numbers dude and make them truly epic!

  91. ChrisFlick

    I think we’re all lucky that there are so many films this year which will stand the test of time and that you can imagine watching again in years to come, if not sooner. Can’t say that every year. Fully prepared for the Argo victory (I watched a making of DVD this afternoon which reminded me how much I liked it) but yet truly believe Lincoln will come out on top in the end. Hope for the Best!

  92. Please Academy, if you have good taste, so please give the Oscar to Emmanuelle Riva for her superb performance in Amour

  93. Lincoln is too dry for present Academy taste, they prefer the period epic that emotes.

    Now there is a danger that even Lincoln’s clumsy historical (as perceived by the membership) screenplay prize will lose out to the tightly written Argo, or the Weinstein campaigned Silver Linings which has the compelling father-son narrative.

    All the other techincal prizes may be claimed by others.

    Even the Director’s prize may go to Ang Lee, unless Spielberg’s win is seen as a “consolation prize”.

    With the safe exception of Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln’s performance in the Oscars may resemble The Colour Purple.

    Lincoln, a terrific film, a terrible Oscar campaign.

  94. I notice there are two Andrews here. I note Sasha that you told that poster where the door is. You shouldn’t lose readers like that. You can tell from my posts over a number of years that I love this site and don’t come here just to hate.

    I would just implore you to not hate on Argo, or bloggers who point out how Lincoln- obsessed you are.

    There have been better films than Lincoln that have lost, and far worse films than Argo that have won.

  95. Today Maureen Dowd is pretty unsympathetic to Kushner/Spielberg. If they’ve lost MoDo….

  96. Tony,
    you posted this twice and it’s misleading. MoDo didn’t diss Lincoln nor was she ‘unsympathetic’…
    She mentioned the controversies of Argo, ZeroDarkThirty and Lincoln and was merely discussing the line between drama and historical.

  97. Lincoln is a rich, elegantly written, directed, intriguing cinematic masterpiece. 1) Steven Spielberg’s stunning vision conveys and displays and exceptional and exquisite presentation/skill-Best Director Oscar #2 long overdue; 2) President Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) executes his role, mannerisms,gestures to perfection; 3) Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) dominates every scene between his entertaining glances and sumptuous, passionate range of words. Lincoln deserves recogition in fine film achievement, acting and directing.

  98. Kevin Klawitter

    @Yvette:

    I just read that article, and in fact came here because I figured it’d be a place to post and/or talk about it. To be blunt, it was a silly piece at best.

    My favorite part was when she said that use of artistic license “makes viewers think that realism is just another style in art”. As if it isn’t.

    And she’s even a bit hypocritical. She focuses on Tony Kusher’s statements about CT when Steven Spielberg made it quite clear from the beginning that their intention wasn’t to make a definitively historically accurate piece… I believe his actual words were something to the extent of “leave that to the historians” or “read that in the books”.

    Spielberg gets it. One of the purposes of historical movies is to get people more interested in the subject. They can then do more research and learn more about it themselves. In a twisted, roundabout way, popular movies that are less accurate can bring facts to the forefront more efficiently than an “accurate” one would. Would so many people have known about the Canadian’s role in the “Argo” mission had Ben Affleck’s movie not inspired so many articles “correcting” its facts?

    I’m reminded of this passage from Roger Ebert’s 1.5-star review of “Gods and Generals”:

    “Gods and Generals” is the kind of movie beloved by people who never go to the movies, because they are primarily interested in something else–the Civil War, for example–and think historical accuracy is a virtue instead of an attribute.”

    Historical accuracy should be a means rather than an end. If a work of art doesn’t work on its own level first, nobody will care about how “Accurate” it is. Shakespeare knew that.

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