The recent holiday not only made me reflect on the things I’m thankful for (family, friends, my health, blah blah blah)…but two trips to the cinema made me especially thankful that is finally movie awards season once again. I was absolutely smitten by Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln. SLP is pretty much The Fighter, minus all the boxing. So in other words, all the good parts about The Fighter (Not a coincidence – both are directed by David O. Russell). It focuses on a dysfunctional New England family, with Bradley Cooper leading the story as a guy having a bit of a mental breakdown following the dissolution of his marriage. Things get more complicated when Jennifer Lawrence enters the picture as a young troubled widow. They have great chemistry and the story, albeit predictable at moments, carries an overall light-hearted weight in the midst of some heavy subjects. Robert De Niro also impresses as the superstitious patriarch and the film manages to balance drama and comedy in an effective way. There’s even a great small role with Christ Tucker, and an even shorter appearance of Julia Stiles, that I loved. Most of all, I was really impressed and relieved by Bradley Cooper’s performance. I’ve been a fan of his since he played the near-perfect man Will Tippin on Alias, but have been disappointed by his continuous streak of playing d-bags (i.e. Wedding Crashers, The Hangover movies, He’s Just Not That Into You, etc.), so I’m glad to see him playing a more nuanced character here, and someone that we can actually root for. This might have made me more excited for the film, but I’m really hoping it makes the Academy’s list for Best Picture.
To continue that sentiment, I’m hoping the same for Lincoln. I feel like there’s been a slight digression of conversation about the film recently and I’m not sure why (is Life of Pi really that great?!). There was a part of me prior to seeing Lincoln that was worried it might feel too long, or worse, that I might get bored. But, I earned a bachelor’s degree in history, so the history nerd in me brushed up on some textbook readings on the era over Thanksgiving. By the time I walked into the theater, I was pumped. And it didn’t feel like it was two and a half hours. Nor was I ever bored. Not once. Instead, I was pulled in by this unique film, with its unusual rhythm, and by its honesty. I wasn’t sure how much of a biopic it was going to be – were we going to see Honest Abe’s youth in Kentucky, his famous debates with Douglas, or deviate into the aftermath of his assassination? But screenwriter Tony Kushner cleverly set the film in the weeks leading to the vote on the 13th Amendment and thus the end of the war. This made it a much more politically fueled and dramatic. Interestingly, the story used Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Thaddeus Stevens, a radical democrat, to better reflect our feelings towards slavery from a modern context, which I admired to an extent, but can also see from a storytelling perspective that the film needed him to be on the right side of history. Lincoln was against slavery, but more so politically in that it was a site of contention for the country. Stevens was seen as a radical then for actually believing that ALL men, women, and children are equal. We needed a character like Stevens to represent our views since Lincoln, although a reasonable and shrewd man, didn’t believe in equality with the same gusto that we might like to think he did. But I’m glad for this, for the film doesn’t shy away from making Lincoln more human, a man who manipulates words to his advantage and loves to tell a good story, and taking him off the pedestal that history has put him. Of course, without a doubt, Daniel Day-Lewis will and should win that Oscar. I was so enthralled by simply watching him. Same goes for Tommy Lee Jones, who had some lovely, emotional moments. Sally Fields was terrific too, and my man Jo Go-Lev was also superb. I was surprised and entertained by the many many familiar faces that kept popping up that I did not know were in the film – James Spader as a man named Bilbo? That one guy from O Brother, Where Art Thou? Independent movie superstar John Hawkes? That hot guy from Pushing Daisies? Adam from Girls as a Morse code specialist?? And Jared Harris of Mad Men as Ulysses S. Grant?!?! Mind blown.
Thank you, movies, for forever entertaining and surprising me.