Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Unreasonable Movie Project (Vol. 5): Lincoln and the Nature of Knowing the Ending

The two best movies I’ve seen so far during The Unreasonable Movie Project (UMP) are the last two I’ve seen: Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln. My apologies to Argo, which has already won Best Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes

Now that I’ve seen multiple Best Picture nominees, I need to define the real purpose of The Unreasonable Movie Project. Am I reviewing and ranking these movies according to my personal preferences, only using the Oscars to help me choose the best movies of the year? Or am I doing this to handicap the various award categories at the Oscars? I’m not much for real gambling, so I’ll define it as the ridiculous process of discovering my favorite movies of 2012.

Vegas is interesting, though. The bookies agree with me on Lincoln, big time. Six weeks from the Oscar ceremony, Steven Spielberg seems to have Best Picture and Best Director locked up. Daniel Day-Lewis has a stranglehold on Best Actor, and already has the vote of the DDL Club (unofficial fan club whose president is my wife). 

Tommy Lee Jones is probably going to win Best Supporting Actor whether he’s impressed by award shows or not. Lincoln is even favored to win Best Adapted Screenplay (from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s historical account Team of Rivals). Sally Field needs to pull her weight in the Best Supporting Actress category because Anne Hathaway is beating her down with blunt objects in Vegas with her portrayal of Fantine in Les Miz. Tommy Lee Jones would never smile at the mere insincere mention of his name in a winner’s acceptance speech, Sally. 

I have to agree with the oddsmakers. Lincoln is a GREAT movie. It’s epic and impressive and interesting and tense and funny and DDL (my new adjective for well-acted) and full of every semi-famous character actor known to man. It’s so epic that it’s swallowing other good movies (John Hawkes, nominated for Best Actor in The Sessions, is in it). Lincoln is the great white of this year’s Oscars and those other movies are going to need a bigger boat.

And can I just point out the logical inconsistency between UMP Vol. 4 and UMP Vol. 5 before the internet trolls do? In Vol. 4, in finding fault with Argo, I wrote “...the unfortunate consequence of any movie based on historical events is this: we know the ending.” How is Lincoln any different from Argo in this respect? 

We all know Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre, which has often been the focus of other movies and television shows about him. Most people know Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. But the focus of this movie is about Lincoln and his efforts to get Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution near the end of the Civil War, which permanently outlawed slavery in the United States. It’s essentially a new story to most people, even though it was an incredibly important moment in U.S. history.

But Tony Mendez and his exfiltration of six American Embassy diplomats from Iran in 1980 was a new story too, so say the trolls! Yes, but it was a pretty simple story. Most people who saw Argo knew the entire plot before they saw the movie (Iranian hostage crisis, fake movie, rescue some people). The trailer gave you everything. And the event on which Argo was focused was an important one, but not one with lasting effects on the country. Perhaps if it had gone badly it would have changed the course of the Iranian hostage crisis, but it didn’t.

With Lincoln, we know the outcome, but we don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s as well as I can explain it. DDL gives a completely 3-dimensional view of what Lincoln might have been like in a story that few of us know. Add to it that Lincoln is one of the most intriguing people in U.S. history, and in the age of video, no one alive has actually seen him or heard him speak. DDL becomes him completely, or at least a version of him. Lincoln is a $9.50, because I barely blinked.

I took the day off work to see Lincoln with my wife, who is a college instructor and is still on winter break. We’ve done this before, taking a day to see both Gran Torino and Slumdog Millionaire a few years ago. Since we did it once before, we decided to see two movies again, and saw Silver Linings Playbook in the morning, and Lincoln in the afternoon.

Two movies in one day is a marathon. This whole thing is an ultramarathon, but that’s what I signed on for, right? Sitting through movies and writing about movies is far more tiring than it should be. I’m tired as hell.

Thankfully, Silver Linings Playbook is the kind of movie that helps lighten things up, because even though it can be very serious, its extremely funny too. Any film with a main character that likes Metallica and tailgating at Philadelphia Eagles games means you don’t have to worry that the fate of the United States is on the line.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are both up for Oscars for Silver Linings Playbook, as is David O. Russell for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Jackie Weaver and Robert De Niro, who play Bradley Cooper’s mother and father, are up for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor. I think there’s an Best Editing nomination in there too. In other words, the movie was nominated for almost every category in could be nominated for as a movie that’s non-animated, non-costumed, and non-action (there is running, but it's for exercise).

The movie was adapted from a fictional novel by Matthew Quick. Pat, a former teacher who is being released from a mental institution into his parents’ care, is fixated on getting in shape and getting his wife back. He is bipolar, and naively thinks that by losing some weight and reading all the books in her class syllabus (she’s an English teacher), things can return to the way they were. But there are no straight paths for this guy.

He meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has some mental health issues of her own. He initially wants to avoid Tiffany because he’s attracted to her and therefore she is an obstacle in his efforts to reunite with his wife. The dynamic changes when he starts to believe if he does something nice for Tiffany, she can help him get his wife back. It doesn't quite work out that way.

I enjoyed myself in this movie more than any other so far. It’s intense and funny. It’s treatment of mental health is nuanced in ways I haven’t seen before. And it was original and unpredictable. Because this is a movie where people don’t actually already know the ending (gasp!), I won’t give anything else away. It’s worth it if you check it out - an $8.50 movie

Next post: Will I be able to drag myself to a mid-week showing of Hitchcock to have something for next post? Stay tuned...

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