Steven Spielberg

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Spielberg at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival where he presented his E.T.

Steven Spielberg has been named jury president for the 2013 Cannes International Film Festival. Collider says, “As arguably the most important American filmmaker working today, Spielberg is an ideal candidate.”

The director remarked, “My admiration for the steadfast mission of the Festival to champion the international language of movies is second to none. The most prestigious of its kind, the festival has always established the motion picture as a cross cultural and generational medium.”



I dig Richard Rushfield’s rumination on Hollywood’s love/hate with the king of the them all, Steven Spielberg (“Once again, the Best Picture prize slips from his hands. What does Hollywood have against its most successful resident?”)

Two Oscars ain’t half bad for the king of them all so I figure, hey, he can go down in the record books with the greats. Most times, the greats don’t win.  I thought Ang Lee’s prize last night was a glorious moment and a well-deserved win – he is a man who REALLY knows what matters in life and what doesn’t and to Ang Lee the film itself is the reward. He is the zen master and his mere presence seems to always throw the Best Director race in flux. At the same time, the Academy just doesn’t have a strong enough pair to really go all the way with Lee.

Sense and Sensibility was not nominated for Director. The same year Ron Howard won the PGA/DGA/SAG and then lost the Oscar to Mel Gibson for Braveheart.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon nominated for DGA, won. The same year, Steven Soderbergh got Best Director for Traffic and Gladiator won Best Picture.
Brokeback Mountain was nominated for and won DGA.  Lee also won the Oscar but Best Picture went to Crash.
Life of Pi, nominated for DGA, lost to Ben Affleck. Won second directing Oscar, lost Best Picture to Argo.

Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg are anything but losers. They are carving and shaping cinema. Both of them made movies that changed the way I see the world. I can’t say that about any other films in the Best Picture race with the possible exception of Zero Dark Thirty and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Winning the Oscar doesn’t define success, nor does it define greatness. Far from it. It is to the benefit of Academy voters that they get to call Ang Lee and Spielberg among their two time Best Director winners. It doesn’t make them better. It doesn’t improve their body of work.  The Academy improves their own history by picking great films.

John Ford won Best Director twice without winning Best Picture, The Informer (Mutiny on the Bounty won) and The Grapes of Wrath (Rebecca won) until he finally won both for How Green was My Valley.  George Stevens won best Director twice and never won Best Picture for Giant (Around the World in 80 Days won) and a Place in the Sun (An American in Paris won).

Ang Lee is only the third director in history to do that.

Steven Spielberg is now the fifth director in Oscar history to enter the race with a film with 12 nominations not to win Director or Picture. Lincoln is the only film with 12+ nominations to win just 2 Oscars.

I love this video of the young Spielberg who was famously “snubbed” for Jaws.  He learned his lesson later with The Color Purple when he was snubbed again he made sure there were no cameras around. Now, they didn’t snub him but are about to award Best Picture to a director who was snubbed. Spielberg can’t catch a break. But he’s a beautiful loser, and I’m going down with the ship, by god, down with the ship! He was my hero as a young girl and he’s my hero now.  The industry can argorfuckthemselves.

Fans truly believe that Ben Affleck was “snubbed” by the Academy and that the Academy will be sorry when Argo wins Best Picture.  Every pundit from Scott Feinberg to Steve Pond is saying Argo can’t lose – by now, the guilds tell the Academy what to do anyway so perhaps the Oscars are just an afterthought — or maybe they will surprise us. Doubt it. This scenario has only played out twice and both times the Academy chose a film that had a corresponding director nomination – they defended their choice.  The DGA backed their choices for Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg but the Academy went a different way with Out of Africa and Braveheart.  Now, Spielberg will be on the losing side of that scenario as Argo sails to victory.  So Spielberg will have lived twice through one of the rarest events in Academy history.  Argo is fifth in line for most nominations and has no director nom.  That pretty much sends the message that the movies the Academy nominated most strongly, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Silver Linings, Les Mis are not as worthy as the one that got less nominations than any of those.  Funny, that.  Either way, an object in motion stays in motion and the winning streak doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.

A tweet just now:



“Unconsciously we all have a standard by which we measure other men, and if we examine closely we find that this standard is a very simple one, and is this: we admire them, we envy them, for great qualities we ourselves lack. Hero worship consists in just that. Our heroes are men who do things which we recognize, with regret, and sometimes with a secret shame, that we cannot do. We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself, there would be no heroes.”
― Mark Twain

As we march towards the Oscars and Hollywood readies itself to crown its new king, the director category sits there like the guests at the dance who didn’t bring a popular date. Every other member of every other branch, seven in total, but only six if you count the individual branches using the preferential ballot, picked Argo.  But the directors didn’t.

In the past 40 years of Academy history, Chariots of Fire is lone Best Picture winner that trailed its competition with the 4th highest nominations tally overall.  Argo stands in line behind 4 other films this year with only the 5th highest total.  With that 8th nomination, a directors nod, Argo would have tied with Silver Linings Playbook and Les Miserables, giving Affleck a realistic chance to win.  But there was a reason Argo was left off the Best Director list.  No one has adequately come up with a good enough reason to satisfy his fans.  “It was a fluke,” some say. “It was just a quirk of weird timing in a weird year.” But the truth is that the directors branch knew Argo was a frontrunner and they knew everyone expected them to nominate Affleck.  We were all surprised when he wasn’t on the list.   Probably he split up the vote along with Bigelow, Tarantino, Anderson and other strong directors in a strong year.  Affleck’s unexpected absence ended up working in the film’s favor and now, inexplicably, Argo is the film to beat.  No film has ever won with the fifth most nominations.

If the names that replaced Affleck and Bigelow had been bad choices, lazy choices I could see condemning the Academy.  But you have to admire a group that picked Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke, stepping outside the box to reward visionary auteurs.  How can you complain about that? For once, the Academy has proved itself more daring than the critics.  Whoda thunk it?

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Before I begin, let me explain. It’s true that we’ve reached the moment in every Oscar year where the pundits and the bloggers have thrown up their hands and decided, the Oscar race is over.  Argo will win Best Picture and for the win to make sense it has to take Screenplay, Editing and perhaps one other award — score? Supporting Actor? Sound? Something in me prevents me from being to give my prediction completely over to Argo yet and that’s a certain nagging feeling that comes from looking at Oscar history.

Argo’s a great choice to win.  If it does split and make history, no harm done.  It’s not an embarrassment.  Freaky Oscar years do happen and it’s only when we look at them in retrospect that we use them to compare with today.  For instance, this NY Times piece about Driving Miss Daisy makes it seem obvious the film is a favorite to win and doesn’t make a big deal about the lack for a director nod but that’s because the movie was a bit of a phenom — led the nominations, made a lot of money, was about to win Jessica Tandy her first Oscar in decades and was a hit play on Broadway for years.

The thing about Driving Miss Daisy was that it was produced, famously, by Richard and Lili Zanuck — they were famous enough, like Ben Affleck and George Clooney are famous enough, to override the lack of a director nomination which could prove to be the key to this whole thing.  They also had a great story about a movie no one wanted to make, low budget, huge hit. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’d be Kathleen Kennedy and Steven Spielberg for Lincoln — a movie nobody wanted to make, a famous producing pair and Kennedy, the most nominated producer in history not yet winning an Oscar.

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“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” — Abraham Lincoln

I was ten years old when Jaws was released in theaters. It’s hard to believe that was 37 years ago. Director David Fincher calls that moment in time the “Summer of the Shark” and indeed it was. In California there was life before Jaws and life after Jaws. Even though great whites weren’t really so much of a threat, and even though Jaws took place on Amity Island (“it’s only an island if you look at it from the water”), the ocean that we’d plunged in for much of our young lives was no longer a safe place to be — it still isn’t.

Tight cotton pants, halter tops, shag haircuts, Bonne Bell lip gloss — the 1970s in Southern California never saw anything like Steven Spielberg. I don’t remember the first time I saw Jaws but I remember loving it so much that I went back to see it fourteen times, waiting in line sometimes for two hours, paying for a ticket. We liked it so much that my mom would drop us off there and we’d watch it all day long in the summertime. It wasn’t just a thrilling film about a shark attacking people in the summer — it was a character study of three distinct types of people banding together to find him for three but to catch him and kill him for ten.

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Vulture dives into the collaboration of Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski, starting with AI and working up to Lincoln. For Lincoln he chooses the opening shot. But I suspect the one that will be most remembered for the film is this one. It has stirred conversation by critics who believe the film should have ended there. And it easily could have. I prefer the way Spielberg chose to end it, though I might in the minority. Still, I like that there’s discussion about it.

Funnily enough, they bring up the often discussed sex scene in Munich. It marks one of the few times Spielberg has ever gone there. For many, that was when the film jumped the shark but I have to wonder now how it would play. Every time a director delivers a film that inches them forward in their career it causes you to rethink their body of work. I suspect after Lincoln that Munich will be reassessed.

Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens after the cut.

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Because movies are mostly disappointing these days you sometimes forget why there are film critics at all, until a movie like Lincoln comes along. It takes awareness of both history and film history to appreciate Lincoln. It takes an attention span and a curiosity about life in general, politics, American history. If none of that works for you, you must know enough about acting, writing and directing to recognize greatness when it comes along.  Most of us have grown up with Steven Spielberg. While he’s out there hunting down projects, making films and waiting for the reaction from the public and critics, we sit back and judge him to our liking. We take a gifted filmmaker like him for granted because he has such a high delivery rate. But just as Lincoln is a moment to stand back and behold just how gifted Spielberg really is, so it is a time to appreciate those writers out there who are enriching film criticism. It is almost as enriching an experience reading these reviews as it is watching the film. I’ve excerpted them here, but you would do well to go back and read all of them.

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir:

Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” has a lot to live up to, even when you get past the fact that its subject is the greatest of all American presidents and one of history’s most mythologized characters. Its cast members have won at least five Oscars, with two apiece belonging to the odd but compelling duo at the center of the story, Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, his tormented and demanding co-strategist and life partner. The two best-known previous films about our 16th president were made by D.W. Griffith and John Ford, who represent exactly the kind of classic American cinema against which Spielberg measures himself.

Then there’s the question of Spielberg’s up-and-down directing career, which includes three Oscars of his own, several of the biggest hits in movie history and a marked propensity for sentimental overreach when he tries to tackle serious drama. (I remain somewhat willing to defend both “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List,” for example, but both are great in parts rather than great as a whole.) Expectations for “Lincoln” could not possibly have been higher, and I’m inclined to think that Spielberg’s biggest challenge in making it lay in overcoming his own worst impulses, in avoiding sweeping oratory, montages of Civil War dead and a slow-motion assassination scene in Ford’s Theatre, all set to a keening John Williams violin score. (“Lincoln” does in fact have a score by Williams, but it’s effective and rarely obtrusive.)

I wanted to take a moment to honor Spielberg’s accomplishment here because it would be easy to overlook it. You don’t think about the way “Lincoln” is directed while you’re watching it, mostly because you’re working through the bristly, challenging language of Kushner’s screenplay, or caught up in Day-Lewis’ portrayal of a dry, angular prairie lawyer, prone to long-winded and semi-relevant anecdotes, who finds himself in the White House at a crucial turning point in the nation’s history. You’ll certainly notice Janusz Kaminski’s gorgeous, subdued camerawork, along with Rick Carter’s production design, which captures the muddy streets and rough-hewn, horizontal landscape of 1860s Washington in documentary detail.

Spielberg’s greatest strengths as a director lie in structure and balance – the way he handles main plot and subplot, central characters and supporting characters. Add in Kushner’s remarkable ability to create distinctive characters in a line or two of dialogue and you get one of the richest and deepest casts in recent Hollywood history. Certainly Day-Lewis as Lincoln dominates his scenes, with his angular raven’s frame, the smile that lets you know he’s thinking a step ahead of you, the flattened and slightly ironic Midwestern cadence of his speech. (Obviously no films or audio of Lincoln exist – he was a few decades early for that — but Day-Lewis has clearly studied the many descriptions of his physical and vocal manner.)

But there are so many other vivid characters and scenes in “Lincoln” I cannot possibly list them all. There are major supporting roles, like Tommy Lee Jones as Pennsylvania congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a radical abolitionist who had long viewed Lincoln as a sellout, or David Strathairn as the stern but loyal William Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state (who played the role of in-house enforcer that a White House chief of staff might play today). There are memorable bit parts, including James Spader as a New York scoundrel hired by Seward to win over wavering Democratic congressmen, or Lee Pace as the pro-slavery Democrat and famous orator Fernando Wood, who gave fulminating House speeches accusing Lincoln of setting himself up as an American Caesar. And then there’s Sally Field.

We don’t have time to unpack all the theories and arguments about why Field – who won two best-actress Oscars in the ‘80s, the only two times she’s been nominated – seemed to drop off the Hollywood radar screen after she turned 50, even as Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep sailed from one triumph to the next. She was more of an ingénue than they ever were, I guess, and I’m aware of the general opinion that a little Sally Field goes a long way. Whatever moment of inspiration caused Spielberg to cast her as Mary Todd Lincoln, it was sheer genius, because this is a role that demands bigness.

By all accounts a feared and respected woman who was not much liked or loved (arguably not by her husband either), Mary was seen by many contemporaries as the power behind the throne, if not something more than that — the fire that drove Lincoln forward. While some biographers have understood her as mentally ill (and that remains a possibility), Kushner presents her, in just two major scenes, as a woman of tremendous agony and pathos, sublimating all her ambition and desire into her husband and her sons. In our own age, Mary Lincoln could have been a politician herself, or almost anything else she could imagine; in Field’s ferocious portrayal, she is a feminist hero many decades before the advent of feminism, who made her own indelible contribution to American history.

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EW’s Owen Gleiberman says Speilberg’s Lincoln, scripted by Tony Kushner, “is one of the most authentic biographical dramas I’ve ever seen.”

As the title character of Steven Spielberg’s solemnly transfixing Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis is tall and elegantly stooped, with thatchy gray-black hair, sunken cheeks, and a grin that tugs at the corners of his mouth whenever he tries to win someone over by telling them a good story (which is often). Day-Lewis looks so much like the photographs of Abraham Lincoln that you don’t have to squint, even a bit, to buy that it’s him. He nails Lincoln’s thousand-yard stare — a gaze directed at once inward (at the whir of his own mental machinery) and outward (at the cosmic hum of history). Day-Lewis’ performance has a beautiful gravitas, yet there’s nothing too severe about it. He gives Lincoln a surprisingly plainspoken, reedy high voice that retains the courtly cadences of the South. That voice — from everything we know, it’s quite accurate — makes Lincoln sound like Will Rogers as a professor of human nature. This Lincoln lives deep inside his own unruly-haired head, yet he loves the people around him, even the ignorant (and racist) common folk, who repay the favor by loving him back. And that’s where he draws his political force.

Lincoln, which Spielberg has directed from a lyrical, ingeniously structured screenplay by Tony Kushner, plugs us into the final months of Lincoln’s presidency with a purity that makes us feel transported as though by time machine. (Kushner is the husband of EW columnist Mark Harris.)

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These appeared on Press Play back in December, 2011. But since Spielberg talked about father figures in his work, and his relationship with his own father, it’s worth taking a look back.

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Don’t miss tonight’s 60 Minutes:

Steven Spielberg took more than 10 years to research his film about Abraham Lincoln. He wanted to get it just right because he’s always wanted to tell the story of America’s 16th president. It’s a story of leadership and healing, both relevant topics in today’s world, he tells Lesley Stahl in his first interview about the upcoming film, which he says is like no other he has ever done.

The interview, which will contain the first clips from the film “Lincoln,” will be broadcast on 60 Minutes on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT.

“I’ve always wanted to tell a story about Lincoln. I saw a paternal father figure, someone who was completely, stubbornly committed to his ideals, his vision,” he tells Stahl. “I think the film is very relevant for today. It’s about leadership.”



John Williams above. Steven Spielberg, Janusz Kaminski, Kathleen Kennedy, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and David Kross after the cut.

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“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.” — Hugo

This year saw films by arguably the greatest directors America has ever produced — Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. Those guys are the reasons many people have become filmmakers at all. Whole schools of filmmakers, generations flooding film schools everywhere, cut their teeth on their films. And they happen to be my own personal favorites. You might say my whole life has been shaped and decided by what I saw in films by these men over the past three decades. It is a strange turn of events that they will be in the race the same year. Though all three of their films are so good — even with their weaknesses they are still better than almost everything else we’ve seen this year. But of the three, only one has directed a masterpiece. And this because he’s telling the story from his heart, telling the story for his daughter, and at the same time, delving into the evolving technology of 3-D. In other words, Martin Scorsese is still growing, not resting on his laurels.

These three directors, though, have led three different schools of thought where filmmaking and storytelling are concerned. They all three started in the 1970s — was there ever a better decade for filmmaking? The 1970s was a time for open minds, when Fellini and Bergman were the flavors that changed how people thought about movies. The 1960s loosened the knot but the future of American film had its biggest quake in the ’70s because it signaled the beginning of Allen, Scorsese and Spielberg.

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