Denzel Washington


1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln. There might not be another actor alive who would devote many months just to find Lincoln’s voice. Fewer still who could take what history told us about him, subtract the multitude of falsely deep Lincoln voices because they sounded “more important” and give us the real Lincoln via his unusual and less familiar voice. He was going to take some shit for this choice, as no one was ready to accept a Lincoln with that voice. Take on its own in isolated clips it might at first have sounded  a little strange, but when you witness Day-Lewis immersed in Lincoln’s totality, the actor vanishes. The voice comes alive with thoughtfulness, and that unmistakable color of sadness that Lincoln carried around with him since he was young, when his mother and then his sister died. Somehow Day-Lewis knew how to capture that sadness. He knew that Lincoln was weary — from the war, from the burden of doing what was a right at a time when there opposing forces seemed insurmountable — and weary from his wife’s mercurial disposition, crying or raging, depending on the day or the haunting.

Day-Lewis has captured so much in one breathtaking turn that this becomes, maybe, a bar to which all others might aspire. His head hung to one side, his tall person’s slouch, his lopsided walk. That any group would award someone else for the prize of best performance only illuminates, in many ways, Day-Lewis’ unequivocal work. They can’t say he wasn’t good enough. They can only say they’d like someone else to have a chance to share the spotlight with him. If Oscars are meant to be given out as career achievements, Day-Lewis would easily and handily win his third Oscar. We all know that the Oscars, despite their intentions, do not always award the best. But history should remember Day-Lewis, whether they give him a gold statue for it or not.

The supporting players: Sally Field – for her astonishing work as Mary Todd Lincoln Field gained some weight and reseacrhed the extensive first-hand historical record, as any great actress would, to find out that Mary Lincoln possessed a fiery intelligence, shared a love for reading with her husband, and didn’t have much else to do back then but stand by her man. Field captures Mary Lincoln’s craziness, unending grief and inner battle with depression so well it makes you long for the days when you had to be this good to get into movies. Tommy Lee Jones brings with him the great memory of Thaddeus Stevens, and perhaps the best moment of his role is the conflicted scene when he has to support the notion of freeing slaves but knows he must withhold his feelings in agreeing that they’re equal in all terms. He does this through his teeth, against everything he believes in — but he does it because he knows that tearing down an old sturdy wall is done brick by brick. Other wonderful turns in Lincoln include James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the great Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley, self-freed slave who became an author.

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From Roger Ebert:

After opening with one of the most terrifying flying scenes I’ve witnessed, in which an airplane is saved by being flown upside down, Robert Zemeckis’ “Flight” segues into a brave and tortured performance by Denzel Washington — one of his very best. Not often does a movie character make such a harrowing personal journey that keeps us in deep sympathy all of the way.

Denzel Washington is one of the most sympathetic and rock-solid of actors, and it’s effective here how his performance never goes over the top but instead is grounded on obsessive control. There are many scenes inviting emotional displays. A lesser actor might have wanted to act them out. Washington depends on his eyes, his manner and a gift for projecting inner emotion. In the way it meets every requirement of a tricky plot, this is an ideal performance.

EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum:

Played by Denzel Washington in one of the great performances of his commanding career, Whip is used to coasting on his tremendous talent and considerable charm, proud of his ability to “manage” his drinking and drugging. But during the investigation that follows the event, he engages in some desperate steering to postpone his own crash landing. How the man veers and buzzes, his cocky pride scrambling more and more wearily to outrun the truth, makes for a powerful and layered action thriller.

NY Times’ Manohla Dargis:

It’s no surprise that “Flight” has salvation in mind. The shock is how deep Mr. Zemeckis and Mr. Washington journey into the abyss and how long they stay there. It can be tough for stars to play such unrepentantly compromised characters, as Mr. Washington does brilliantly here. Most charm up their villains, thinning the venality with charisma and winks at the camera; in “Training Day,” as a seductively corrupt cop, Mr. Washington’s magnetism made a mockery of the story’s moral posturing. There’s no such falsity in “Flight.” The inevitable redemption doesn’t erase what happened or ease the pain, and the performance remains astonishingly true to Whip’s harrowing aloneness and its cost. Once again, you can’t take your eyes off Mr. Washington, but this time you watch him with agony rather than just admiration.


Todd McCarthy says about Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, “Onscreen for nearly the entire running time, Washington has found one of the best parts of his career in Whip Whitaker, a middle-age pilot for a regional Southern airline who knows his stuff and can still get away with behaving half his age. In the film’s raw opening scene, he’s lying in bed in Orlando at 7 a.m. after an all-night booze, drugs and sex marathon with a sexy flight attendant. With a little help from some white powder, he reassures her they will make their 9 o’clock flight for Atlanta.”

This is easily one of the best performances of the year and will be a strong contender to win the Best Actor race. He will have some competition, though, in Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln — which has to be among the best performances of all time, and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. These are probably the strongest three in the race as we head into the final months.

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Over at Gold Derby, Tom O’Neil has seen Lincoln and says the Oscar for Best Actor is over:

Move over, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Walter Brennan and Ingrid Bergman. Daniel Day-Lewis is about to join you in the pantheon of Oscar’s second-biggest winners. After previous Academy Award victories for “My Left Foot” (1989) and “There Will Be Blood” (2007), Day-Lewis is now a shoo-in to win for “Lincoln.” He’ll soon be just one statuette shy of four-time champ Katharine Hepburn.

His “Lincoln” rules the screen with authority. It seems like a cinch to be nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Sally Field) and Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), in addition to Best Actor. There’s also an excellent chance that Tommy Lee Jones is nominated as firebrand abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and that Spielberg’s usual team of craftsman will probably score nods too: composer John Williams, film editor Michael Kahn and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. It also may reap bids for art direction and costumes.

As of now, Day-Lewis’ biggest competition is Joaquin Phoenix’s career-best turn in The Master. Given that Day-Lewis has already won two Oscars and Phoenix none I’m giving the edge to Phoenix. But I haven’t yet seen Lincoln so I can’t say for sure. The other name that is bound to cause a stir is Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables. Although he’ll be singing the whole time it already looks like astonishing work.

And then there’s Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock (one Oscar), and Denzel Washington in Flight. Washington has also won two Oscars but only one lead Oscar. He’s such a great actor and there has long been the complaint that when he played good characters he was snubbed but when he played a drug dealer, against type, that’s when he won the Oscar. The against-type thing is a killer every time.

And then there’s Jamie Foxx for Django Unchained. And John Hawkes for The Sessions. Richard Gere for Arbitrage. You can see Best Actor is filling up fast.  But if Day-Lewis or Tommy Lee Jones wins they will make history as the first actors every to win starring in a Spielberg movie.

An aside: Lincoln is the movie with the actors with three names: Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Jackie Earle Haley.

This exclusive just posted over at In Contention – Denzel Washington in Flight – word on the street is that it’s a stunning, career-best performance by the two-time Oscar winner.

Bigger pic after the jump.

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Remember when it was Hugo last year? It’s a great placement, to be the closing selection of 50th New York Film Festival (September 28 – October 14). The highly anticipated pic stars Denzel Washington, and was directed by Robert Zemeckis and is probably pretty good if it’s been chosen for this, as Rose Kuo said:

“Robert Zemeckis has shown his diversity as a storyteller in comedies, dramas and has skillfully translated narratives into special effect environments. It is a pleasure to see him bring to life this complicated, tragic-comic portrait of a man in crisis, with an exceptional and poignant performance by Denzel Washington.”

Denzel Washington is that actor I will watch in anything. And I mean, ANYTHING. But it’s always nice when he’s in a good movie. He really is one of the industry’s best.

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