Inside the Best Picture nominees: A deep dive into 'Lincoln'

Lincoln

Image Credit: David James

Name: Lincoln

Release date: Nov. 16, 2012

DVD release date: March 2013

Run time: 2 hour, 30 mins.

Box office: Opening wide weekend: $21.0 million; Total domestic box office: $173.6 million

Rotten Tomatoes score: 90 percent

Lincoln movie math: Amistad  + Mr. Smith Goes to Washington + The West Wing + (Downfall – Hitler)

Tweetable description: In the final days of the Civil War, Abe Lincoln marshals all his political skills to pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery forever.

What Owen said:Lincoln brilliantly dramatizes the delicacy of politics, along with the raw brutality of it. All that’s pushing the amendment forward is Abe Lincoln’s will, his ability to do anything — even flirt with impeachable deceptions — to fulfill his vision of justice. And that’s why he spends the movie alone in spirit. When he bangs his hand on the table, roaring at his lobbyists to procure him the votes he needs because he’s ”clothed in immense power,” we’re seeing the birth of the presidency as we know it — a force that can shape the consciousness of the world. Lincoln is a stirring paradox, a dream of history as it might truly have happened.”

What Lisa said: “Just as Zero Dark Thirty holds up a mirror to who we are as a nation today, so Lincoln contains within its rich storytelling vital intelligence about the soul of our nation as it battled to define itself nearly 150 years earlier: This resonant, stirring movie tells a great story of how we came to be. A triumphant three-cornered collaboration linking director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner, and the profound actor Daniel Day-Lewis (doing one of those uncanny transformations of his, disappearing right into the president’s bones), the movie shines with intelligence. It brims with precise performances (the joy of actors given something tasty to chew on). And it’s lit by a beautiful conviction that the work of democratic engagement is, in its mess and hubbub and urgency, something thrilling to behold..”

Number of Oscar nods: 12. In addition to Best Picture, it’s also nominated for Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Director (Steven Spielberg), Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski), Costume Design (Joanna Johnston), Production Design (Rick Carter and Jim Erickson), Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), Editing (Michael Kahn), Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Ronald Judkins), and Original Score (John Williams).

Movie’s Oscar history: Get comfortable; this will take longer than the State of the Union address. Spielberg has been nominated 15 times, winning three Oscars — twice for Best Director (Schinder’s List and Saving Private Ryan) and once for Best Picture (Schindler’s List). Day-Lewis, who’s been nominated five times, is poised to take home his third Best Actor trophy. He previously won for My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood. Tommy Lee Jones has been nominated four times, winning Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fugitive. This is Sally Field’s third nomination, first for Best Supporting Actress; she won Best Actress for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. In addition, the cast includes other actors with Oscar credentials: David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, and Jackie Earl Haley. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski has been nominated six times, winning twice for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Production designer Rick Carter has been nominated four times, winning Best Art Direction for Avatar. This is the second nod for set designer Jim Erickson, who also was recognized for There Will Be Blood. Screenwriter Tony Kushner was also nominated for his work on Spielberg’s Munich. Michael Kahn, who’s edited Spielberg films for more than 30 years, has been nominated eight times, winning for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. Sound mixer Andy Nelson has been nominated 18 times — including this year’s Les Miserables — winning for Saving Private Ryan. His cohort Gray Rydstrom has been only nominated 17 times — but he’s taken home the trophy seven times for his work on Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Titanic, and Saving Private Ryan. Rounding out the sound mixing trio, Ron Judkins has five nominations and two Oscar wins, for Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. And last, but certainly not least, composer John Williams is the most nominated artist not named Walt Disney. The man who scored Indiana Jones and Superman now has 48 Oscar nominations to go along with his five wins for Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., and Schindler’s List.

What is has won thus far: Once the presumed frontrunner, Lincoln has lost ground to Argo in the pre-Oscar preliminaries. But there seems to be no stopping Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s swept the major Best Actor contests for his portrayal of the 16th president. He would become the first actor ever with three Best Actor statues. (Katharine Hepburn has four Best Actress trophies.)

Why it should win: Fifty years from now, which film from this year’s crop will best stand the test of time? No disrespect to the other Best Picture nominees, but Lincoln — thanks in part to Daniel Day-Lewis’ monumental performance — already is redefining the way multiple generations of Americans envision the 16th president. Lincoln had become a myth and a historical logo, but Spielberg, Kushner, and Day-Lewis combined to make him a living, breathing mortal, weary from war, guilt, and family obligations, but never crumbling beneath their collective weight. When your grandchildren and great-grandchildren imagine Abraham Lincoln, they’ll forever be thinking of Daniel Day-Lewis.

Why it shouldn’t win: Spielberg and Kushner elected a high-degree of difficulty, framing their biopic about one of American history’s most fascinating figures with a tiny chapter of his presidential biography almost entirely about the inside-baseball intricacies of passing a Constitutional amendment. Kudos, but the challenge to dramatize the legislative process also failed to gift other major D.C. political figures with the complexity and humanity that graces their Lincoln, and the gnashing of teeth, the huzzahs, and the see-the-light reversals that accompany the final congressional vote feel like trumped-up melodrama.

Vegas Odds: 4/1

Best Line: “I am the President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power! You will procure me these votes.” Day-Lewis gave Lincoln a soft, high voice, surprising audiences who associated the famously tall president with a booming voice, but delighting historians who suspect that Lincoln had a scratchy, almost nasally delivery that traveled well in crowds. Day-Lewis told Oprah that a character’s voice is a “fingerprint of the soul,” and when that gentle, soft-spoken man unloads on his lieutenants with or-else demands, you gain a greater appreciation for the depth of that soul.

Worst Line: “Four score and seven years ago…” Just kidding. Kushner’s well-documented historical research into the period was obsessive, but when several lame-duck Democrats inclined to oppose the Amendment to abolish slavery change their mind at the last possible instant, the forces of freedom are rescued with convenient and inelegant outbursts, like, “I said ‘Aye,’ Mr. McPherson. Ayyyyyye!!!” and “No…. Oh to hell with it. Shoot me dead, too. Yes!… I mean… abstention!” It’s like every Congressmen with a crisis of conscious suddenly came down with a bout of HowardDean-itis.

Read more:
Check out all of EW.com’s “Inside the Best Picture Nominees” series
‘Lincoln': Meet the Cast
Oscar Race: Eyes on the Prize
‘Lincoln’ behind-the-scenes special debuts on iTunes

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