God, in late August and early September many film critics and Oscar writers (including myself) were predicting it would win Best Picture and a third Best Director Oscar for Spielberg. In fact, if I remember right, it was as though no other films were even in contention that year. Of course come Oscar time the Academy lost their mind in voting Crash (2005) Best Picture, one of the their lamest choices ever, while Ang Lee took Best Director for Brokeback Mountain (2005), which many felt, myself included was the years best film. Spielberg’s Munich (2005) while nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Film, Director and Screenplay won not a single award, and in fact when released, did not earn the sort of rave reviews expected. It was liked well enough, and I believe it to be among his best and bravest films, but there were simply stronger films that year, Brokeback Mountain (2005), and King Kong (2005) among them.
After perhaps learning a lesson or two the last few years, in placing a film at the top of the heap before anyone has seen the movie, no one has singled Lincoln out as the film to beat for the Oscar. While it seems likely the picture will be among the nominees for several awards, no one really has stuck their neck out and targeted the movie as THE movie to beat. This despite strong word from the set about the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd, the wife of the 16th President who fought mental illness most of her life.
Call me crazy but I sense a strong film in the works here, and I get a really good vibe about the whole thing. I like especially that Spielberg took his time to get a strong screenplay before he made the thing, losing his first choice for Lincoln, Liam Neeson along the way. He seemed to understand that audiences were going to judge this film harshly, that they expected no less than greatness because he is dealing with one of the most beloved and revered American historical figures. There is no room to screw this up. This is Abraham Lincoln. He cannot make mistakes.
And I do not believe he will.
There is hope that Lincoln will come to a festival or two, though it really does not need to do so, being a Spielberg film, as his very name assures at least a strong opening weekend. If the reviews are what I think they are going to be, the movie will launch in November and move towards the Oscar circle like a well-aimed arrow, building momentum, grabbing some critics awards along the way. People forget that twice Spielberg has won the National Society of Film Critics Award as Best Director, the LA Film Critics Association as Best Director, and three times has earned the Directors Guild of America Award as Best Director. Count me among the critics who like very much the work of Spielberg and believe him to be among the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema. Sure there have been weak films along the way, but when he latches on to a subject he believes in, he gives it everything he’s got and we are the ones who benefit most.
Consider. With Lincoln he is making a film about perhaps the greatest President in the history of the United States, based on a best-selling book, adapted by strong writers which deals with one of the nations’ darkest times. He has cast two-time Best Actor Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis and two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Sally Field as the President and First Lady, and rounded out the cast with such fine actors as Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Janusz Kaminski will again be his Director of Photography and Michael Kahn will edit, as always, all of which places the film with one of the strongest casts and crews of the year.
But more. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)? Patton (1970)? Raging Bull (1980)? Gandhi (1982)? Amadeus (1984)? Out of Africa (1985)? The Last Emperor (1987)? Schindler’s List (1993)? Titanic (1997)? The Academy loves biographies and films based on historical events, Amadeus (1984) and Titanic (1997) representing aspects of history, not necessarily facts. Lincoln has all of those qualities, and it’s based on an American figure which should attract the Academy.
And of course there is Spielberg. The man is responsible for some of the greatest films in the history of the medium, along with major box office hits. Time and time again he has proven his brilliance as a director, and at this point in his career he has nothing left to prove, yet he does not stop evolving. He continues to seek artistic excellence, to grow as an artist, to work with those who challenge him and who are in turn challenged by him. Since winning his Academy Awards, he has consistently made brave choices, making films that would tax him as an artist, allowing him to continue to grow. The exception would be of course Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) which was, for lack of a better word, weak.
Lincoln feels good, and if history has proven anything, it is that in the right role Daniel Day-Lewis works miracles, as he is an actor of astounding gifts. Could a third Oscar be possible? You bet it could. And Field, who last won in 1984 for Places in the Heart (1984) is known to this generation as Forrest Gump’s mother, when in fact for a time she was among the finest actresses at work. The role of Mary Todd could return her to that glory as it does something her roles have not done for a long time…once again, challenge her. Artists, the great ones, always respond to such challenges with great effort.
So I could be totally wrong, and in a few months I may look like a fool, but I think Lincoln is the unseen, unspoken frontrunner (until now) at the moment, and if the film is as good as I suspect it will be, as it should be, look for it in the winners’ circle come Oscar night. I hate predicting this early, because the room for failure is too great, but it’s a feeling I have, and a very strong one.