This is the biggest movie of the season, not in terms of budget but in sheer immensity of subject: President Abraham Lincoln’s last months in office, and his fight to pass a constitutional amendment eradicating slavery before the end of the Civil War.
Most Academy members are already enthralled, and that admiration is only going to grow if the film does steady box office over the next several weeks.
This is epic moviemaking on the scale of David Lean and John Ford, two of Spielberg’s idols, who painted with intense emotion on massive canvases to make the kind of films Academy voters of yesteryear adored. In recent years, the Oscars have shown a tendency to go small — Slumdog Millionaire, The Artist, The Hurt Locker — but they still love their epics.
Even some voters who have a stake in rival Best Picture contenders rave about Lincoln: “I loved it. Oh my God, Christmas came early,” said one. “Daniel-Day Lewis perfectly recreated the look and just made me believe. I can’t wait to see it again.” And this is from someone who wants it to lose.
Lincoln could be the only film this year with a real chance of sweeping the Oscars, but in years where there are many top-rate films vying for Oscar attention, the Academy has been known to spread out its awards.
Maybe a victory for clear front-runner Day-Lewis will be considered recognition enough by voters, who have a lot of other choices for Best Picture. Spielberg could find himself in the same position as Saving Private Ryan in 1999: winning for director, while the top prize goes to another film that’s equally worthy in the Academy’s eyes.
Tony Kushner’s script, built from a portion of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s historical best-seller Team of Rivals , is another sure-thing Oscar contender for adapted screenplay, and Tommy Lee Jones is at the top of his field for supporting actor, playing the fearsome abolitionist congressman Thaddeus Stevens, while Sally Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln is a top choice for supporting actress. Add in likely nominations for production design, cinematography, editing, music, costumes, and make-up and you see what I mean: Lincoln is the biggest movie of the season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it claimed the most total nominations on Jan. 10.
But all of this makes it a very big target, too. Lincoln is the opposite of an underdog in every way, and Spielberg is like James Cameron: deeply admired within the industry, but facing a lot of pent-up jealousy, too.
Lincoln could be Titanic — winning best picture and director and almost every one of its nominated categories — or it could be Avatar, lots of nods, but few wins.
It needs to watch out for the movie about a kid, a boat, and a tiger.
NEXT PAGE: Life of Pi the ultimate survivor story