The Too Old to Die Young Teaser


Here’s one for the cinemaphile’s glossary.totdy.jpg

In cinema circles, an Auteur is described as “a filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie” (Wikipedia). I’ve looked at films as a three-way set of responsibilities. You have the writer, because without the story, there’s nothing. You’ve the Director, who takes that Writer’s vision and presents it on film, and then there’s the cinematographer, who makes sure that the Director’s work is well-lit and shot. I feel all three roles can tip the ownership of a film in anyone’s favor. A great story can be damaged by a bad director, and a good director can try to the make the best out of a bad story. On top of that, you could also have bad movies that look really good.

There are a number of directors out there who fit this designation. Brian DePalma, Guillermo del Toro, David Fincher, Terrence Malick (who shows up every half a decade with a film) David Cronenberg, Richard Linklater,  Jean-Luc Godard (who I’m learning a lot about lately), the list is a large and heavily argued one. Each person has their own picks and favorites.

For me, Nicolas Winding Refn fits that role. With films like Valhalla Rising, Drive , Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon, it’s hard not to recognize the color contrasts and flow of his stories. In writing this, I also found out that Refn is colorblind, which makes what he’s done so far more amazing for me.

Refn’s latest project for Amazon Studios is a series called Too Old to Die Young. The most anyone really knows is that is supposedly “explores the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles by following characters’ existential journeys from being killers to becoming samurai in the City of Angels.”

Here’s a teaser starring Miles Teller, Callie Hernandez, Jena Malone, John Hawkes and William Baldwin. It appears to still carry that wild color scheme and may possibly be just as dark and brutal as his previous work. I’m curious as to whether they’ll stick with a standard approach or follow True Detective’s style of a single writer/director pair for all of the episodes. Either way, we’ll find out when it releases next year.

Film Review: Everest (dir by Baltasar Kormákur)


Everest_poster

If I wasn’t already scared of heights, I definitely would be after seeing Everest.

Based on a true story, Everest tells the story of two expeditions attempting to climb to the top of Mt. Everest.  One expedition is led by a New Zealander named Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), an experienced climber who, we’re told, pretty much invented the entire industry of taking commercial expeditions up to the top of Mt. Everest.  Criticized by some for being a “hand holder” who gets too emotionally involved with his clients and, as a result, cheapens the Everest “experience” by helping weaker clients make it to the top of the summit, Rob is married to a fellow climber, Jan Arnold (Keira Knightley).  While Rob tries to lead his clients to the highest place on Earth, the pregnant Jan stays home and waits for his return.

The other expedition is led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal).  Scott and Rob are friendly rivals, with Scott taking a much more hands off approach to his clients.  (It’s not a coincidence that Rob’s company is called Adventure Consultants while Scott works for Mountain Madness.)

Everest details what happens when the two expeditions are both caught in a sudden blizzard and find themselves trapped at the top of Everest.  The rest of the film is about the attempts of a stranded few to make it back to civilization.  A few make it, though not without suffering a good deal of pain and, in one particularly case, sacrificing a few body parts as a result.  Tragically, several others fall victim to the whims of nature, some dying of hypothermia while others, hallucinating from the lack of oxygen, literally walk off the side of the mountain.

Everest is one of those films where men die tragically but we’re supposed to find some sort of comfort from the fact that they died doing what they loved.  To be honest, I usually have a hard time buying into these type of narratives.  For instance, I love shopping but I wouldn’t expect anyone to be happy for me if I died while looking for a new purse.  (In fact, that’d probably upset me if not for the fact that I’d be too dead to know about it.)  At the same time, guys seems to love movies like this and I think, in the future, Everest will probably be remembered for being the epitome of a guy movie.

And that’s not meant to be a criticism on my part!  Everest does what it does with a lot of skill and confidence.  It’s an exciting film that, once the disaster hits, will leave you breathless.  And yes, at the end of the film, I did shed a tear or two.  Narratively, there’s really not a surprising moment to be found in the entire film.  I went into Everest not even knowing it was a true story and I was still able to guess who would survive and who would not.  But Everest‘s amazing visuals make up for the predictable narrative.  The term “visually stunning” is probably overused (especially by me!) but Everest is truly a visually stunning film.  For someone like me — who has asthma, a huge fear of heights, and who lives in North Texas (where, regardless of what you may see in the movies, the land is remarkably flat) — Everest is probably as close as I’ll ever get to climbing a mountain.

I should also mention that it never ceases to amaze me that Josh Brolin was born in Santa Monica, California because, on the basis of this film and No Country For Old Men, he is one of the most convincing Texans to appear in the movies.  In this film, he plays Beck Weathers, a Dallas doctor who is a member of Rob’s expedition team.  Usually, of course, if a Texan (especially one who is specifically identified as being a Republican, as Beck is at the beginning of a film) shows up in a movie, you know he’s going to end up being the villain.  Fortunately, Everest was based on a true story and, as a result, Beck turned out to be one of the most compelling characters in the film.  (If you know the story behind the film, you already knew that.  However, I went into Everest blind.)  Josh Brolin brings a lot of strength to his role and to the film overall.

Everest may predictable but it’s still an exciting film.  Make sure that you have someone beside you to whom you can hold on and that you see it in 3D!

Embracing the Melodrama #57: Winter’s Bone (dir by Debra Granik)


winters-bone

I can still remember what it felt like, back in 2010, as I stepped out of the theater where I had just watched Winter’s Bone.  I had just spent 100 minutes engrossed in that film’s world and it was somewhat jarring to suddenly find myself back in my world.  The air around me was still.  The clear sky above me seemed to be a totally new shade of blue.  The sounds of passing cars and overheard conversations echoed in my head.  When I walked, I felt as if I was moving at a different, dreamier pace than everyone else, as if I was still only partially back in my world.

That’s the type of film that Winter’s Bone is.  It’s a film about life on the fringes, a portrait of a very real part of America that a lot of people don’t even realize exists.  It’s a film that sticks with you and dares you to try to forget the people who it has introduced you to and the stories that it tells.

Winter’s Bone takes place in the Ozarks, a society and world that is dominated by meth and secrets.  Speaking as someone who still has family who live on the outskirts of the world depicted here, I can say that Winter’s Bone gets both the big picture and the little details right.  Everything from the unbreakable cycle of poverty to the defiant resilience of the people is depicted just as it is.  Make no mistake about it — the people in Winter’s Bone may not have much but they do have their pride.  It’s portrayed best in the scene where meth head Teardrop (John Hawkes) glares down the county sheriff (Garret Dillahunt), letting him know that, regardless of who is wearing the uniform, this is Teardrop’s world.

Teardrop is the uncle of 17 year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), who is considering joining the army once she graduates from high school but, for now, spends all of her time taking care of her mentally ill mother and her two younger siblings.  Her father, who is one of the county’s best meth cooks, was recently arrested and has a court date approaching.  However, he has apparently skipped bail and disappeared.  When Ree is told that, unless her father shows up for his court date, she and her family will lose their house, Ree sets out to try to find him.

05_Flatbed_1 - JANUARY

Ree, however, knows that her father would never have jumped bail and she also knows that there’s no way he died in a meth lab fire, as some people are claiming.  She knows that her father has been murdered but, unlike Teardrop, Ree has no interest in getting revenge.  She just wants to find his body so she can prove that he’s dead and her family can keep their home.  Unfortunately, even this brings Ree into conflict with the local crime boss.

Taking place on a blasted landscape of dilapidated farms, rusty pickups, and the burned ruins of abandoned meth labs, Winter’s Bone is an unusually powerful piece of Southern gothic. It’s also a film that — unlike a lot of other acclaimed movies — actually gets better with repeat viewings.  When you first see it, you’re overwhelmed by the film’s bleakness.  When it ends, you’re not sure if you should be happy or sad.  The second time, however, you can better appreciate the skill with which director Debra Granik tells her story, the way she frames Ree against the landscape as if Ree was the lone hero in a classic western and how the scenes where Ree searches for her father in a swamp are full of shadows and menace.  The third time, you can better appreciate the performances of characters actors like John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt, and especially Dale Dickey.  The fourth time, you no longer have any doubts.  Winter’s Bone is one of the best films that you’ve ever seen.

And, through it all, Jennifer Lawrence is there and reminding you why she became a star in the first place.  She may have won her Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook and she may be best known for being the face of The Hunger Games franchise but Winter’s Bone remains Jennifer Lawrence’s best and bravest performance.  Without a hint of vanity or reluctance, Lawrence portrays Ree as a resilient and unsentimental survivor and you can’t help but cheer her on as she refuses to back down to any authority, legal or otherwise.  By the end of the film, you know that Ree is probably as trapped as anyone but you can’t help but hope that she’ll somehow find something better.

If you haven’t seen Winter’s Bone, you need to.

Target Practice

I Got Your Golden Globes Right Here…


We’re halfway through Oscar season and that means that it’s time for the Golden Globes to weigh in.  To be honest, I think the Golden Globes are somewhat overrated as an Oscar precursor.  For the most part, the Golden Globes usually honors the films that are on everyone’s radar and then they come up with one or two nominations that nobody was expecting.  However, those surprise nominations rarely seem to translate into anything once it comes to time to announce the Oscar nominations.

So, while Salmon Fishing In The Yemen did receive a few surprise nominations (and those nominations were deserved, by the way), I doubt that we’ll see the movie mentioned on January 10th when the Oscar nominations are announced.

From the reaction that I’ve seen on the usual awards sites,  a lot of the usual suspects are upset that Beasts of the Southern Wild was completely snubbed.  Actually, they’re not just upset.  They’re about as outraged about this as they were when The Social Network lost best picture to King’s Speech.  The way they’re carrying on, you would think that someone had just informed them that David Fincher’s version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a thoroughly unneccessary rehash of an already brilliant film.  Seriously, the facade of Stone has fallen and tears are being shed.

Myself, I’m more annoyed that neither The Cabin In The Woods nor Anna Karenina are getting the love that they deserve.

Anyway, with all that in mind, here are the Golden Globe nominations!

BEST DRAMA
“Argo”
“Django Unchained”
“Life of Pi”
“Lincoln”
“Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST DRAMA ACTOR
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Richard Gere, “Arbitrage”
John Hawkes, “The Sessions”
Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
Denzel Washington, “Flight”

BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone”
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Helen Mirren, “Hitchcock”
Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
Rachel Weisz, “The Deep Blue Sea”

BEST COMEDY/MUSICAL PICTURE
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
“Les Miserables”
“Moonrise Kingdom”
“Silver Linings Playbook”
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”

BEST COMEDY/MUSICAL ACTOR
Jack Black, “Bernie”
Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook,”
Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”
Ewan McGregor, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
Bill Murray, “Hyde Park on Hudson”

BEST COMEDY/MUSICAL ACTRESS
Emily Blunt, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Judi Dench, “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
Maggie Smith, “Quartet”
Meryl Streep, “Hope Springs”

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR 
Alan Arkin, “Argo”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Django Unchained”
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
Amy Adams, “The Master”
Sally Field, “Lincoln”
Nicole Kidman, “The Paperboy”

BEST DIRECTOR
Ben Affleck, “Argo”
Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”
Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST SCREENPLAY
“Silver Linings Playbook”
“Argo”
“Django Unchained”
“Zero Dark Thirty”
“Lincoln”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
“Anna Karenina”
“Life of Pi”
“Argo”
“Lincoln”
“Cloud Atlas”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“For You” from “Act of Valor”
Music by: Monty Powell, Keith Urban Lyrics by: Monty Powell, Keith Urban

“Not Running Anymore” from “Stand Up Guys”
Music by: Jon Bon Jovi Lyrics by: Jon Bon Jovi

“Safe and Sound” from “The Hunger Games”
Music by: Taylor Swift, John Paul White, Joy Williams, T Bone Burnett Lyrics by: Taylor Swift, John Paul White, Joy Williams, T Bone Burnett

“Skyfall” form “Skyfall”
Music by: Adele, Paul Epworth Lyrics by: Adele, Paul Epworth

“Suddenly” from “Les Miserables”
Music by: Claude-Michel Schonberg Lyrics by: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg

BEST ANIMATED FILM 
“Brave”
“Frankenweenie”
“Wreck-it Ralph”
“Rise of the Guardians”
“Hotel Transylvania”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 
“The Intouchables”
“Amour”
“A Royal Affair”
“Rust and Bone”
“Kon-Tiki”

By the way, here are the Satellite Award Nominations…


In even more Oscar season news, the International Press Association announced their nominations for the Satellite Awards yesterday.  Les Miserables led with 10 nominations.

If you’re like most people who don’t obsess over film awards then chances are that you’ve never heard of the International Press Association.  And that’s okay.  The main thing to know is that it’s Oscar season and that means that everyone’s giving out an award.  The Satellites are a lot like the Golden Globes, just with less credibility.  As far as serving as a precursor is concerned, a Satellite win can help a film maintain momentum but a loss doesn’t really hurt.

That said, for the past few years, I’ve always ended up agreeing more with the Satellite Nominations than with either the Oscars or the Golden Globes.  For instance, back in 2010, the Satellites nominated Noomi Rapace for her performance in the original (and the best) version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

BEST PICTURE
“Argo”
“Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
“Life Of Pi”
“Lincoln”
“Les Misérables”
“Moonrise Kingdom”
“The Sessions”
“Silver Linings Playbook”
“Skyfall”
“Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST DIRECTOR
Ben Affleck, “Argo”
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
Kim Ki-duk, “Pieta“
Ben Lewin, “The Sessions”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST ACTRESS
Laura Birn, “Purge”
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Emilie Dequenne, “Our Children”
Keira Knightley, “Anna Karenina”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Laura Linney, “Hyde Park On Hudson”
Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”

BEST ACTOR
Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
John Hawkes, “The Sessions”
Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables”
Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
Omar Sy, “The Intouchables”
Denzel Washington, “Flight”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, “The Master”
Samantha Barks, “Les Miserables“
Judi Dench, “Skyfall”
Helene Florent, “Café De Flore”
Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”
Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”
Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
John Goodman, “Flight”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Eddie Redmayne, “Les Misérables”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
John Gatins, “Flight”
Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, “The Intouchables”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”
Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom”
Kim Ki-duk, “Pieta”
Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Tom Stoppard, “Anna Karenina”
Chris Terrio, “Argo”
David Magee, “Life Of Pi”
Tony Kushner, “Lincoln”
Ben Lewin, “The Sessions”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“Amour” (Austria)
“Beyond The Hills” (Romania)
“Caesar Must Die” (Italy)
“The Intouchables” (France)
“Kon-Tiki” (Norway)
“Our Children” (Belgium)
“Pieta” (South Korea)
“A Royal Affair” (Denmark)
“War Witch” (Canada)

BEST ANIMATED OR MIXED-MEDIA FILM
“Brave”
“Frankenweenie”
“Ice Age 4: Continental Drift”
“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”
“Paranorman”
“Rise Of The Guardians”
“Wreck-It Ralph”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”
“The Central Park Five”
“Chasing Ice”
“The Gatekeepers”
“Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present”
“The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”
“Searching For Sugar Man”
“West Of Memphis”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Seamus McGarvey, “Anna Karenina”
Ben Richardson, “Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
Claudio Miranda, “Life Of Pi”
Janusz Kaminski, “Lincoln”
Mihai Malaimare, Jr., “The Master”
Roger Deakins, “Skyfall”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Sarah Greenwood, Niall Moroney, Thomas Brown, Nick Gottschalk and Tom Still, “Anna Karenina”
Nathan Crowley, Kevin Kavanaugh, James Hambidge and Naaman Marshall, “The Dark Knight Rises”
Rick Carter, Curt Beech, David Crank and Leslie McDonald, “Lincoln”
David Crank and Jack Fisk, “The Master”
Eve Stewart and Anna Lynch-Robinson, “Les Misérables”
Niels Sejer, “A Royal Affair”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Jacqueline Durran, “Anna Karenina”
Kym Barrett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud, “Cloud Atlas”
Christian Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux, “Farewell, My Queen”
Paco Delgado, “Les Misérables”
Manon Rasmussen, “A Royal Affair”
Colleen Atwood, “Snow White And The Huntsman”

BEST FILM EDITING
Alexander Berner, “Cloud Atlas”
Jeremiah O’Driscoll, “Flight”
Chris Dickens, “Les Misérables”
Lisa Bromwell, “The Sessions”
Jay Cassidy, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Dylan Tichenor, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Dario Marianelli, “Anna Karenina”
Alexandre Desplat, “Argo”
Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
John Williams, “Lincoln”
Jonny Greenwood, “The Master”
Thomas Newman, “Skyfall”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Learn Me Right,” “Brave”
“Fire In The Blood/Snake Song” “Lawless”
“Love Always Comes As A Surprise,” “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”
“Suddenly,” “Les Misérables”
“Still Alive,” “Paul Williams: Still Alive”
“Skyfall,” “Skyfall”

BEST SOUND (EDITING AND MIXING)
“Flight”
“Les Misérables”
“Snow White And The Huntsman”
“Kon-Tiki”
“Life Of Pi”
“Prometheus”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
“Cloud Atlas”
“The Dark Knight Rises”
“Flight”
“Life Of Pi”
“Prometheus”
“Skyfall”

And here are The Independent Spirit Nominations


The Gotham Awards aren’t the only awards regularly given to films that the majority of filmgoers will never get to see.  The Independent Spirit Nominations are also dedicated to recognizing the best of independent film and they tend to get a bit more attention than the Gothams.  With the early Oscar talk being dominated by mainstream studio films like Argo, Lincoln and Les Miserables, indie films like Bernie and Moonrise Kingdom are going to need all of the help that they can get.

BEST PICTURE

Bernie

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Keep The Lights On

Moonrise Kingdom

Silver Linings Playbook

BEST DIRECTOR

Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On

Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

BEST SCREENPLAY

Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom

Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks

Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On

BEST FIRST FEATURE

Fill the Void

Gimme the Loot

Safety Not Guaranteed

Sound of My Voice

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

Rama Burshtein, Fill the Void

Derek Connolly, Safety Not Guaranteed

Christopher Ford, Robot & Frank

Rashida Jones & Will McCormack, Celeste and Jesse Forever

Jonathan Lisecki, Gayby

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – (for features under $500,000)

Breakfast with Curtis

Middle of Nowhere

Mosquita y Mari

Starlet

The Color Wheel

BEST FEMALE LEAD

Linda Cardellini, Return

Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed

BEST MALE LEAD

Jack Black, Bernie

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

John Hawkes, The Sessions

Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On

Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe

Wendell Pierce, Four

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister

Ann Dowd, Compliance

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice

Lorraine Toussaint, Middle of Nowhere

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike

David Oyelowo, Middle of Nowhere

Michael Péna, End of Watch

Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths

Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Yoni Brook, Valley of Saints

Lol Crawley, Here

Ben Richardson, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Roman Vasyanov, End of Watch

Robert Yeoman, Moonrise Kingdom

BEST DOCUMENTARY

How to Survive a Plague

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present

The Central Park Five

The Invisible War

The Waiting Room

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM

Amour (France)

Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (Turkey)

Rust And Bone (France/Belgium)

Sister (Switzerland)

War Witch (Democratic Republic of Congo)

PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD

Nobody Walks, Alicia Van Couvering

Prince Avalanche, Derrick Tseng

Stones in the Sun, Mynette Louie

SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD

Pincus, director David Fenster

Gimme the Loot, director Adam Leon

Electrick Children, director Rebecca Thomas

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD (given to emerging documentary filmmaker)

Leviathan, directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

The Waiting Room, director Peter Nicks

Only the Young, directors Jason Tippet & Elizabeth Mims

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (for ensemble cast)

Starlet Director: Sean Baker Casting Director: Julia Kim Cast: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, Karren Karagulian, Stella Maeve, James Ransone

Film Review: Lincoln (dir. by Steven Spielberg)


I am a history nerd.

If you’ve read my previous reviews here on the Shattered Lens, that’s not necessarily a major revelation.  Still, before I talk about Steven Spielberg’s latest film, the sure-to-be Oscar nominated Lincoln, you should know where I’m coming from as a reviewer.  Cinema may be my number one love but history, and especially political history, runs a close second.  To me, there is nothing more fascinating than learning how those in the past both viewed and dealt with the issues that we still face in the present.  Whereas some people take pride in being able to name every player that’s ever played for the Dallas Cowboys, I take pride in the fact that I can not only name every President and Vice President in order but I can also tell you exactly who they had to defeat in order to serve in those offices.

I love history and therefore, it was hard for me not to feel as if Lincoln was a film that was made specifically for me.  Covering the final four months of the life of the 16th president, this film tells the story of Lincoln’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment and to bring an end to the U.S. Civil War.  The film also documents Lincoln’s troubled marriage to the unstable Mary and his son’s decision to enlist in the Union Army.  Even though Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner don’t include any vampires*, there’s still a lot going on in Lincoln and it is to their credit that the film remains compelling despite the fact that everyone already knows how the story is going to end.

Daniel Day-Lewis is getting a lot of critical acclaim for his performance in the title role and, for once, I actually have to agree with the critics.  Abraham Lincoln is one of the most iconic figures in American history.  He is such an icon that, at times, it’s hard to believe that this larger-than-life figure, with his stove-pipe hat and his homely face, was an actual human being who lived and breathed and died like any other human being.  It’s easier to think of him in the same way that Jesus Christ used to be represented in films like Ben-Hur, as an inspiring character who is always standing just a little bit off-camera.  The brilliance of Day-Lewis’s performance is that he makes us believe that this legendary figure could actually exist with all the rest of history’s mortals.  For lack of a better term, Day-Lewis humanizes Lincoln.  His performance contains all the bits of the Lincoln legend: the fatalistic melancholy, the steely resolve, the quick humor, and occasional flashes of self-doubt.  The genius of the performance is the way that it takes all the legendary pieces and arranges them to create a portrait of a very believable man.

Though the film is dominated by Day-Lewis’s lead performance, the film’s supporting cast does a good job at bringing to life the people around Lincoln.  Whenever one film can manage to find roles for Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn, Jared Harris, James Spader, John Hawkes, and Jackie Earle Haley, you’ve got good reason to be optimistic about what you’re about to see.  Probably the film’s showiest supporting role goes to Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the firebrand abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.  Admittedly, Tommy Lee Jones gives a standard Tommy Lee Jones performance here but, especially when paired with Day-Lewis’s more internal acting style, the end result is still fun to watch.  Also giving a good performance is Sally Field, who plays Lincoln’s mentally unstable wife.  Historians have rarely been kind (or fair) to Mary Lincoln but Field makes her into a difficult but sympathetic figure.  Finally, even though the role of Lincoln’s son is not a challenging one, I’m always happy whenever Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows up onscreen.

Ultimately, however, Lincoln is a Steven Spielberg film.  Spielberg is a very good director but he’s also a very safe one.  The same can be said of Lincoln as a film.  The film’s cinematography, art design, and costume design are all brilliantly done and award-worthy but it’s still hard not to occasionally wish that Spielberg would have enough faith in his audience that he wouldn’t feel the need to have John Williams provide constant musical cues to let us know what we are supposed to be feeling about what we’re experiencing.  If you’re looking for hints of moral ambiguity, an unflinching examination of the rivers of blood that flowed on the Civil War battlefield, or for an in-depth portrait of Lincoln’s personal demons (and most historians agree that he had a few), you might want to look elsewhere.  This is not Martin Scorsese’s Lincoln.  This is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  This is a film that is meant to be inspiring (as opposed to thought-provoking) and, for the most part, it succeeds.

I have to admit that I went into Lincoln expecting to be disappointed.  Ever since the film first went into production in 2011, websites like Awards Daily have been hyping this film to death.  Before many of them had even seen the completed film, online critics were announcing that both the film and Daniel Day-Lewis were the clear front-runners for the Oscars in 2013.  As anyone who has read my previous reviews on this site knows, nothing turns me off more than the bandwagon mentality of the critical establishment.  Often times, when a film is embraced as vehemently and as early as Lincoln has been, I feel almost honor-bound to be a hundred times more critical of it than I would be of a film like Step Up Revolution.

However, Lincoln is a rarity.  It’s a film that, for the most part, actually lives up to all the hype.

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*I imagine that little joke will cause a lot of confusion to anyone who, ten years in the future, happens to stumble across this review.  To you, future reader who has forgotten all about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I can only apologize.