Will Lincoln Give Daniel Day-Lewis His Third Oscar for Best Actor?

Let us all take a moment to reflect on the awful movie that was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

I think it’s safe to say that Daniel Day-Lewis is the best method actor of all time. His portrayal of Abraham Lincoln was magnificent, to say the least. Everything I’ve ever read about Lincoln’s characteristics—the high-pitched voice, the frailty of his old age, the Midwestern hospitality mixed with the Washington D.C. political wit, the endless anecdotal storytelling—was captured in DDL’s performance, which shows that he did his homework well.

Whenever Lincoln told a story during the movie, I was hanging on his every word. It was partly due to the fact that Spielberg directed the camera to zoom in during these moments, so that the audience couldn’t focus on the other actors in the scene, but it was mainly DDL’s relaxed and occasionally pausing delivery. The scene where he tells the George Washington portrait in the British watercloset story is a perfect example of this because he told the story slowly and paused right at the perfect moment, setting up the cliffhanger for an awesome punchline (In case you were curious, the punchline was that “Nothing ever made the British shit like the sight of George Washington”).

Even better was the weakness of old age and stress that DDL’s Lincoln conveyed throughout the movie. As you may have noticed, presidents age rather quickly during their terms because of the overwhelming stress that comes with the job. Well, Lincoln was no different. By the time he reached his second term in 1865, he was 56, yet he looked like he could’ve been in his late 60s or early 70s. At the end of the movie, when Lincoln was lying on his death bed in a room full of people with his gunshot wound bleeding out onto the pillow, it was amazing how frail DDL made Lincoln look—and that says something when you can make one of the tallest, most powerful leaders of this country look frail (Yes, I know he was pretending to be dead, but there was something so depressing about him lying there in a very childlike pose with his legs curled up and a slight pout on his face).

It was one of those movies where you couldn’t take your eyes off of the lead actor when he appeared in a scene. Obviously, that’s the point of having a lead role. But sometimes, there are supporting roles that steal the lead actor’s thunder. HA! Not in Lincoln. No, this was all about DDL, and he made damn sure that he was all you were watching. Because I was so enthralled with his performance, I’m saying right here and right now that DDL will win this year’s Best Actor at the 85th Annual Academy Awards. Previously, DDL won Best Actor in 1989 for My Left Foot, was nominated for Best Actor in 1993 for In the Name of the Father, was nominated for Best Actor in 2002 for Gangs of New York, and won Best Actor in 2007 for There Will Be Blood.

Basically, what I’m saying is that DDL doesn’t mess around when it comes to his films. As of right now, from what I’ve read, there are several contenders for the Best Actor race—DDL, Ben Affleck, Denzel Washington, Ewan McGregor, Bradley Cooper, Joaquin Phoenix, Jude Law, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and maybe a random foreign actor that I haven’t heard about yet (It’s only a matter of time before we see Jean Dujardin again, right?)—and all of them will get narrowed down to five. DDL will definitely make the cut. And I think the others won’t be able to stack up to his Lincoln, which is why I’m calling his win. Remember this when I’m gloating later.

I loved the dynamic between Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) and Abraham Lincoln. The setting took place during a hard time for the Lincolns, as Mary was still grieving the loss of her son William and Abe had just been elected to his second term in office. Right away, I knew we weren’t going to be seeing a blissfully happy relationship. Every scene between them was tense and somewhat spiteful, yet there was also an element of love and respect in their arguments. Personally, I preferred seeing them constantly nagging and arguing because it was more realistic of a long-time married companionship, and it followed suit with the film’s purpose of showing Lincoln’s stress as a politician, a husband, a father, and the country’s leader. It probably helped that both Sally Field and DDL are seasoned actors with Oscar wins under their belts, too.

Another great thing? Screenwriter Tony Kushner was awesome at getting the language of this movie to sound as close as possible to the language in the speeches and documents of the late-1800s. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of time he spent working with historians and linguists to get this movie’s dialogue to seem real. I will also give him kudos for the political jab mentioned above and for Lincoln’s storytelling scenes. Although it was sometimes tricky trying to keep up with the dialogue (I admit that even I need a moment or so to process the vocabulary, cadences, and semantics of the past), I thought the period’s language style added more power to the movie. I also kind of wish we still spoke in such a way.

Oh, and did anyone else notice that Lincoln had one side of his face shadowed or hidden in almost every scene? It’s strange how just shadowing Lincoln’s face or hiding it in each scene made him seem more multi-faceted without actually having DDL say or act in a way that would suggest he was complex (like the scene where he enters a room and lies on the floor next to his sleeping son). By using this little technique, Spielberg showed us that even our best president had a darker, more troubled side that few people ever saw—a side of fear, anger, impatience, grief, and lying (But…but Honest Abe!). I thought this was pretty solid in terms of this movie’s direction and tone, which was clearly meant to be dramatic.

Now, I have to tell you about the most hilarious part of this movie, but before I do, you need to leave your undying political party loyalty behind and be open-minded because I’m asking you to think about deeper messages in a movie concerning politics. And if you can’t do that, then skip to #4 of this list because I won’t waste my time trying to get you to see. For those of you sticking around, thank you, and let me explain some things. First, Lincoln coming out in November was total political timing. By the way, EVERYTHING in Hollywood is about timing (Another example? Zero Dark Thirty, which is about the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, comes out a month before President Obama’s second-term Inauguration Day. Coincidence? Only if you’re an idiot). So Spielberg creates this epic movie about President Abraham Lincoln and the reunion of our country after some serious political division in the late-1800s. When would be the best time to release that movie? Oh, right…a few weeks after an election that divided half of the country on political issues.

Okay, since you’re following me on the political timing point, I’m going to veer you off into the deep political shit. (Please get this through your head right now—what follows has nothing to do with Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, but rather the Republican and Democratic parties). So in the House of Representatives scenes in the movie, we’re constantly shown the mud-slinging and disaccord between the Republicans and the Democrats, which, in and of itself, is an awesome commentary of how American politicians work (or don’t because they’re too busy fighting each other). Right about now, you’re probably thinking, “Oh! Spielberg wanted us to see how ridiculous it is that we can’t work together because we’re more obsessed with being associated with a party name than actually fighting for specific issues!” While that is essentially the end message of the joke, the joke, itself, is subtle. So subtle, in fact, that most people in the audience probably won’t catch it.

During these mud-flinging scenes, it was clear that, as an audience member, you wanted to side with the Republicans because most of them were voting for slaves to be freed (and they had much better insults when it came to fighting with the Democrats). No big deal, right? Because you should side with the Republicans, as they were clearly better than the “Screw the slaves! They aren’t equal to us” Democrats of 1865. But here’s where it gets truly funny. I saw Lincoln on a Sunday afternoon, so my audience consisted of a bunch of retirement home escapees—and in Nebraska, that means that at least 90-95% of them consider themselves Republicans, conservatives, or magical Medicare wizards. My entire audience was jeering every time one of the Republican characters hissed the word “Democrat” or made a Democratic character look like a dumbass. I, on the other hand, laughed at the audience. Why?

Because what most people who didn’t take American history courses beyond their freshman year of high school don’t know is that Republicans back in President Lincoln’s time are the equivalents of modern-day Democrats. Yes, you read me correctly. Lincoln, himself, today would be a Democrat based on his political views. The joke here is that the very people who sat in my theater, laughing at those “Democrats” in the movie, had no idea that they’re actually laughing at the very party with which they affiliate today; and while they sided with the movie’s “Republicans,” they had no idea that they were essentially siding with a party they now hate just because it is called “Democrat.”

Can you see this irony? Because I sure as hell did, and it was hilarious. It really doesn’t get funnier than a movie making fun of its own audience’s ignorance and loyalty to party names over political issues. I imagine someone who didn’t let go of their party loyalty and disregarded my earlier message about being open-minded will probably get pissy and say this is a mean jab at modern-day Republicans because Spielberg is outwardly Democratic (which is true), and then they’ll rattle off something about the liberal media, but seriously…you can’t tell me that this isn’t ingenious AND a good point.

Hmm…something bad, something bad. Oh, yeah! Tommy Lee Jones’ wig for his Thaddeus Stevens character was a hot mess. Yes, I’m aware that he even made a joke in the movie about how bad his wig was since Stevens was supposed to be bald, but I couldn’t stop noticing how crappy it was. I mean, even in old photos, the real Stevens’ wig doesn’t look THAT bad. With four(?) production companies pouring money into this movie, you’d think they could have afforded a better wig.

Overall, Lincoln was beautifully shot, acted, directed, and written, but it’s not a movie for people who don’t appreciate history or for moviegoers who need an explosion every four minutes because they can’t stand the slower development of an epic movie plot. Daniel Day-Lewis was the driving force of this movie, what with his very obvious studying of Lincoln’s mannerisms and method acting. After seeing this movie, I’m convinced that Daniel Day-Lewis was born to play Abraham Lincoln. It will be hard for me to imagine anyone else taking (let alone mastering) the role of Lincoln in future films. Spielberg should also be commended for adding another classic to his already well-reputed director’s list. I would not be surprised if we see this movie listed under the nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Picture, and more. And as I mentioned above in my discussion of the movie, I am quite positive that Daniel Day-Lewis will win Best Actor for his performance in Lincoln.

Lincoln: A+

4 thoughts on “Will Lincoln Give Daniel Day-Lewis His Third Oscar for Best Actor?

  1. re your statement that Spielberg’s “joke, itself, is subtle” – I haven’t seen Lincoln, but this reminded me of a subtleish political bit at the end of Spielberg’s Amistad. Normally, I assume, British Redcoats are considered oppressive bad guys in US movie lore and elsewhere, suppressing freedom and upholding tyrants and burning down the White House and so on. But in this movie the Royal Navy and British Redcoats are shown fighting to free slaves from slave ships and liberate slave holding forts in Africa, all as part of the actions after the 1807 Parliament decision to ban and suppress the slave trade. Spielberg didn’t lay it on with a trowel & overegg the pudding* (as he sometimes does), just showed military guys in red coats freeing slaves.

    *If you’re not familiar with overegging puddings, look down this list of “untranslateables” in Lynne Murphy’s blog Separated By A Common Language http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/nominate-wotys-untranslatables-month-ii.html ; she’s an American linguist in the UK.

  2. Thanks for linking that blog post! I had no clue what “overegg the pudding” meant until now. I actually read a few more of her posts as well and have decided that I need to follow her blog. I love reading about British English and American English linguistics 🙂

    1. She doesn’t blog so frequently at the moment but apparently does regular tweets.

      Another blog you might like is Not One-Off Britishisms (NOOBS), this time by an American in the US on the lookout for the appearance of British expressions in America, especially those with staying power. http://britishisms.wordpress.com/

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