Director: Steven Spielberg
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Design, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing
It’s a period piece directed by the most famous director of our time, written by a prestigious playwright and starring a two-time Oscar winning method actor as America’s most famous President. This movie is exactly what you would expect from that combination. This movie focuses on the final months of Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency, mainly on the end of the Civil War and his efforts to have the Thirteenth Amendment passed by Congress, while also focusing on some aspects of his personal life. It begins with a scene of brutality, depicting a battle during the Civil War. Besides a few scenes showing observations of destruction, the movie rarely focuses on this aspect of the time period. Instead, the movie focuses mostly on the political atmosphere at the time. The House of Representatives is depicted as being more vibrant and loud compared to the present day. Congressmen yell and openly insult each other on the floor; they jeer and scream in either anger or celebration. We also see the work of political operatives, mainly Republicans played by James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson. Their sometimes amusing methods of winning votes from Congressmen form the more lighthearted moments of the movie. At the center of the movie, we have Daniel Day-Lewis going all out as Abraham Lincoln; he has transformed into the man himself, adapting a historically-accurate voice along with various other subtleties in his body language. Day-Lewis performs long monologues and tells drawn out stories to convey the relaxed and pensive nature of the 16th President, but he is loud and intense when he needs to be. Opposite Day-Lewis is Sally Field as the First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln. The First Lady has been through much before the events depicted in the movie, such as the loss of a child, which is reflected by her unstable nature. This movie has an expansive cast, and one of the best ensembles in recent memory. This would include Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln, David Strathairn as Secretary of the State William Seward, and most prominently Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Congressman and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens is stern, loud, bold, and colorful in his language. Steven Spielberg’s direction takes a backseat in favor of Tony Kushner’s script and the acting; this movie is full of monologues. But visually, this is still an impressive film. Washington D.C. is made vibrant and lifelike, and the production design is very detailed.
As a way of understanding how politics worked during the time of the Civil War and the character of Abraham Lincoln, this movie excels, especially thanks to its wonderful performances. Its play-like nature may turn off a few, however.