Oscar History

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NYFF: Lincoln's Unfinished Noisy Debut

Is DDL marching toward a third Oscar?I wasn't able to attend last night's "secret" -- we're stretching the definition--  Lincoln debut at the NYFF due to prior commitments but as I lined up for Sally Potter's Ginger and Rosa premiere at 9 it was clear that we would not be filing in anytime soon. Lincoln was running well over. It had supposedly begun at 6:15 and we were informed we wouldn't see our movie until 10:00 pm. For a few biophobic moments I wondered if Lincoln could really be 3 ½ hours long; much much longer than the Gettysburg address!  I can't confirm a running time but I imagine the stars bowing and blurbing "I loved working with ____" sucked up some of the 3 hours and 45 minutes that Lincoln filled the cavernous Alice Tully Hall.

As the Lincoln crowd exited, one woman who joined the Ginger & Rosa line was asked how it was.... After a long pause she unenthusiastically announced that the acting was great. And then...

It was obviously written by a playwright. A LOT of words."

Damn you, Tony Kushner. Hee!

The playwright behind Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia On National Themes, Only Those Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy, and The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures has probably heard this particular complaint before but I imagine he feels a bit like Amadeus did when he heard "too many notes." (Remember that?)


Several moviegoers on twitter were more ecstatic though the film predictably already has its detractors too. Herewith a collection of notable tweets flung into the internet void immediately thereafter.


  • @WhoopiGoldberg I have just seen the MOST exteoadenary film directed by Stephen Speilberg & it's called Lincoln. w/ Daniel Day Lewis who will make u forget Anyother actor you've ever seen do Lincoln. It's beyond AMAZing. Tommy Lee Jones is flawless. This is a film the likes of which hasn't Done 4 the night, Sally Field,S Epatha Merkason among the great actors in Lincoln.so glad I got 2 see it History w/out agenda.Gnite y'all
  • @DavidErlich LINCOLN (C). Abraham Lincoln: Vote Hunter. best movie ever made for A&E? Spielberg restrained. Musty, redundant, bearded. ddl & tlj = great
  • @amuredda Hard not to take LINCOLN notices with grain of salt when you've just rewatched WAR HORSE, WotW, & CRYSTAL SKULL. But cautiously optimistic.
  • @DSWalber Lincoln proves that, in spite of our best efforts, American apotheosis doesn't quite work. How can we make gods if we don't even have kings? As for the film, Lincoln is effective mostly due to stellar performances from DDL and TLJ. Everything else is solidly rote.
  • @LouLumenick Daniel Day Lewis is excellent in Spielberg's LINCOLN, but Tommy Lee Jones steals the picture 
  • @ChrisJRosen Lots to like in Lincoln, lots to cut (all of JoGo?), but it's mostly very good. DDL and Sally Field should practice their speeches
  • @BilgeEbiri Spielberg's LINCOLN is the best film Roberto Rossellini never made. Also one of the best Spielberg did make.
  • @kateyrich Lincoln's got the best ensemble of bearded character actors ever. The quality of the movie varies wildly based on how many are on screen. Best parts of LINCOLN are the 19th century In The Loop you never knew you wanted. The rest can feel like a bear. Also met  long enough to form Oscar nerd hive mind opinion that Tommy Lee Jones can easily win Supporting Actor. He steals Lincoln... It's got War Horse level strength-- appealing, but not quite there for the win


So how much do we know now about it's Oscar chances?

Tommy Lee Jones aiming for a second Oscar?

Reactions during the heat of festivals like this when all the in person star wattage at premieres and Q&A can be, shall we say, blinding. But if you parse the raves you get a clearer picture. Remember when Life of Pi debuted last week and people went nuts for about two minutes proclaiming it the frontrunner it never was? But reactions to Lincoln were mostly ravish... which means that when the heat of the moment dissipates we'll have a real contender if not a frontrunner. Early suspicions that David Strathairn would be the Supporting MVP did not come to pass since all anyone could talk about was Tommy Lee Jones. I've therefore flipped them on their Oscar chart.

Sally Field is a less cut and dry case in Supporting Actress. Some early reports praise her fully but Katey writes in her review:

Day-Lewis's performance is faultless and surprisingly restrained, but he spends far too much of the film acting opposite Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln (giving a performance badly out of step with the film's low-key tone) 

And, because they're both my podcast mates I have to include Joe Reid's LOL take on Sally Field's potential third Oscar grab.

Can Sally win a third Oscar on her third nomination?

Uneven enough for a nom (maybe) but she doesn't go Full Zellweger enough to win.

"The Full Zellweger". I love it! I'm in the midst of updating all the Oscar charts so we'll tinker a bit to reflect Lincoln's upswing. How are you feeling about the impending race -- and I'm not talking about the upcoming Presidental Election. I can't!  --  the night after Lincoln's big debut? 

P.S. Oh, yes... uh Ginger and Rosa! While its premiere night was overshadowed by Presidential Spielberg, I enjoyed it. The cast is full of faces I love: Jodhi May, Allesandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening. And Elle Fanning is really something as "Ginger". More later on that one.


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Reader Comments (26)

Looks like we might have our first clear acting frontrunner (in supporting actor), no?

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Evan -- looks like it but weren't people saying that about Alan Arkin after ARGO? I'm confident there's some sort of competition coming.

October 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

A lot of words! Oy. Well I was there, so I can tell you it's just a little over two hours. The movie started almost an hour late due to a sound issue and security procedures (everyone had to check their phone and get wanded on their way into the theater).

The movie's really good but not great - an impeccably written and acted history lesson that doesn't veer far - actually doesn't veer at all - from the Officlal History Text Book version of events. Not saying that's a bad thing per se, but it does keep the movie on its back foot the whole time - there's not a lot of inherent drama in something we all know passed (the 13th amendment) so Kushner and Spielberg give their characters lots of high minded (and frequently lovely) speeches and anecdotes about why this all matters.

I do think the performances significantly elevate the script - Day Lewis is really quite extraordinary. He plays Lincoln as a very powerful man with little direct control over anything, who as a result is mostly left to putter around the White House telling folksy stories and playing with is kid. It's a very charming depiction. You get a real sense of the man without going into standard biopic blather.

Fields is kind of half and half - she knocks a couple scenes out of the part but in others comes off far too actorly and melodramatic - especially against Day Lewis, though I suspect that the contrast was largely intended. The problem for me is that Mrs. Lincoln's role in the movie is small enough that whatever intention there might have been is not developed enough to fully punch through.

Jones spends most of his screen time insulting people. He's good at it. It's a great part for him and he nails it. Most of the supporting cast is excellent, though I have to say that I thought Joseph Gordon Levitt, as Robert Lincoln, was mostly terrible - he has one big scene and he just plays it to the rafters - and, as with Fields, its against a very subdued, natural Day Lewis, so it really doesn't come off well. JGL gives the worst performance in the film, to my mind.

The movies this reminded me of are things like Charlie Wilson's War or Amazing Grace, Michal Apted's film about the abolition of slavery in the UK. At its best, in the moments with Lincoln puttering around the White House (these were my favorite scenes) it also evokes the folksy charm of something like John Ford's The Last Hurrah, but unlike that film, Lincoln never *really* took off for me. It's a highly accomplished, likable movie on an important subject - and its a lot funnier than most the early reviews are giving it credit for - but its lacking whatever extra gear it needed to hit to reach greatness.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

I was at the not so secret screening. I enjoyed Lincoln more than any recent Spielberg since Minority Report. But while better than Amistad it's still in that vein- a bit boring at times. The acting is great - Day Lewis gives a very quiet performance so while I think he will definitely get nominated this wont do for a 3 rd win. Jones' character is the only one that gets an emotional personal connection to the historical events thus MVP status - I can see him win unless we get a bigger flashier supporting turn. Field will get nominated, she gets to emote and scream the most - she is playing a mad woman after all.

There you have it - acting, below line impeccable, better than Amistad

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMurtada

I can't get enough of Kushner's words, but I'm so not interested in this one. History lessons work so much better on TV. Remember John Adams?

Ginger and Rosa looks too great to be true. I hope we get to see Alessandro's butt.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I am Pig. I like Lincoln. I like Sally Field. I go to bed now.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPig

Nathaniel, speaking of "Sally Field should practice (her) speech", have you seen this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ij0Pitfm8cQ

Sally should become a speech writer when she's done with acting. Period. I love this woman.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

As far as Sally Field going big compared to DDL's more relaxed quiet take on Lincoln to me that would make sense based on what is known of the real life Lincolns. Abe was a soft spoken, down home kind of man whereas Mary Todd Lincoln was a tightly wound, excitable, implusive, and after the death of two of her children, manic woman who was known to fly into rages at the drop of a hat. So giving a scaled down performance would seem impossible.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Hold your horses. The MERK is in "Lincoln"? How did I not know this?! I have almost no desire to see this film, but I would watch S. Epatha Merkerson do virtually anything.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I know this is an actressexual site, but the actor nerds here need to be aware that EVERY actor is in this movie. John Hawkes! Jackie Earle Haley! Tim Blake Nelson! Jared Harris! Michael Stuhlbarg! Hal Holbrook! James Spader might actually be the next highlight after Tommy Lee Jones. Even when the movie spins its wheels, the sheer number of beloved faces is consistently thrilling.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatey

Katey -- i'm so terrified to know that James Spader is in this. I get hives watching him. ALLERGIC.

joel6 -- good point but i'll have to see the film to know where i fall on this one. you can be over the top even with over the top characters ;)

Pig -- i hope you had a good nights sleep. I like Sally Field too.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternathanielr


I don't know if you mean just in supporting actor, but Jennifer Lawrence is a clear frontrunner in Best Actress. Literally the only one that could beat her is Mirren, as she is the only unseen contender, but she 'just' won six years ago...

TLJ seems like a good bet for the win but I wouldn't even call him THE frontrunner, since I could easily see PSH or DiCaprio take this. I don't think Arkin was ever considered a contender for the win.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMYS

Picture: I don't see how it misses the nomination (especially given how 'easy' it was for War Horse to get in) - but I don't think it works as well on an emotional level to get serious about a WIN. If they cut some and really focus the film, it could be a different story...but much easier to respect than really fall for.

Director: Certainly a better shot than he had with War Horse. Very possible.

Actor: DDL is simply incredible. He's definitely in, but as some others have said it's a fairly restrained performance. You never see him 'acting,' and I don't think that will win him votes. And obvs a third Oscar is an uphill climb no matter who or how good you are.

Supp. Actor: TLJ has the better role and is so easy to root for, but I personally didn't flip for him. I wish Strathairn would get traction b/c I thought his moments with DDL were the best of the movie. By the end though, it's pretty clear they want TLJ's character to resonate more. And it does.

Supp. Actress: I feel like Field is like Amy Adams in The Master. I love both actresses and I always root for them, but I was slightly underwhelmed by both. I think both are certainly in the conversation for a nomination, but I don't see a win in their future.

And of course Kushner's script and several technical nominations are quite likely.

As for James Spader, the second his face appeared on screen, many in the audience laughed. And while his character was certainly there to provide "comedy" - I don't think that reaction was what Spielberg and co. could have intended. Took me out of the movie. Allergic is right.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCinemateo

FIY the film is 2hrs and 27min long.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRafa

the DDL performance that this most reminds me of is The Age of Innocence – quiet, restrained, never rising to a crescendo

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

I saw the screening last night, and yes, the performances of TLJ and DDL will DEFINITELY get nominated. Still, however, they do not compare at all to PSH and JP of the Master, both of whom I believe to have the STRONG ADVANTAGE thus far. The script is, yes, talky, and the story itself, though historically intriguing, plods through at times, and many supporting players are simply not given enough to do. JGL's role as Lincoln's edest son was completely wasted, in my opinion, and I fault the script for this. All in all, I honestly do not understand the initial raves for this film. The argument that it is a very 'non-Spielberg' film is not enough to make me sing the high praises. So the score isn't stifling, the sentimentality not as typically over-cooked. This is, in NO WAY, SHAPE, or FORM, a Best Pic Winner. Mark my words. Nominations will be plenty, and I honestly expect it to win a big fat ZERO, in the end.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy E


What an insightful review of Lincoln!!
You simply must write more


October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Totally agreed on James Spader, Nathaniel. I find him physically upsetting to watch. When he was a semi-regular on "The Office" last year (a series that had long felt like a chore I wasn't even sure why I was continuing), it felt like some kind of all-knowing force was saying to me "You do not need to be watching this show anymore. Stop."

On the Tommy Lee Jones tip, It is strange that there are no acting frontrunners at this point. Usually by this time we have at least one and very often it is supporting actor. With that in mind, I'll buy it. Tentatively. For now. But I can't stop considering the fact that Spielberg has never directed an Academy Award winning performance. Ever. In fact, of all the directors that have been nominated 5 or more times, Spielberg is the only one who holds this dubious distinction.

murtada -- and DDL wouldn't have been nominated for that one (though he was of course nominated that year for his other picture). but Lincoln should be a cakewalk given BIOPIC

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternathanielr

Pretentious Know It All--

Surely Jennifer Lawrence can be considered an acting frontrunner at this point?

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

"Words" and lots of them, by Tony Kushner, just makes me want to see it more. The only disappointing aspect so far is that Mark Harris won't be writing an Oscar column this year because of conflict of interest, being part of the Lincoln contingent.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteradri

@Liz N

Lawrence kind of feels like a frontrunner by default at this point, but there are still a lot of variables there. Lately, Oscar hasn't given Best Actress to comedic performances--even comedic performances that lean more serious. Really, Gwyneth and then Helen Hunt before her are the most recent examples I can think of and that was well over a decade ago. I'm very skeptical about the notion that she can/will win. I don't know...I'm kind of getting at Bening-2010 vibe from this Jennifer Lawrence buzz that's been thrust upon the narrative. That is, a presumptive Best Actress frontrunner that's sort of there as a placeholder until something else happens. Call me crazy, but if Amour is what people say it is and Sony Pictures Classics hits the gas hard (which they are planning on doing), I think it will be Emmanuelle Riva's to lose.

if they watch amour, I think Riva has this. doubtful the award will go to best actress instead of buzz though. Saw 'Amour' at NYFilm fest and it is unbelievable. Haunting, doesn't leave you for days after you've seen it.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy E

An unknown foreigner in a semi-accessible French film will not beat a hot young previous nominee who has just lead a massive franchise, is in a crowd pleaser and a Best Picture nominee. Riva will be glad to nominated.

October 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMYS

Tommy Lee Jones and Alan Arkin gunning for the supporting actor trophy? Does that mean supporting actress goes to a younger person by default?

October 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

adri -- i'll see what i can do about Mark Harris' absence. lol.

October 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R
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