Yes, the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis made history by winning his third Best Actor Oscar. Make no mistake, however, the movie "Lincoln" was snubbed at the Oscars.
It is baffling. The movie seemed to have all the serious credibility that a Best Picture should possess. It was earnest as all get-out and well intentioned. It encompassed the saga of a heroic American who was fighting on the side of the angels, for a cause that would reverberate in history books for all of time.
It showed a U.S. president who was defiant and determined to give his life, the ultimate sacrifice, to make sure that he influenced history in a just and proper way. The story surely reeked of human drama, right?
Further, it boasted a laundry list of acclaimed actors, all of them performing on film at the top of their games, whether they were in splashy leading roles or resigned to fill up the slack in the background.
To top it off, you had the maestro, Steven Spielberg, as the movie's director. No American director comes to the task with greater gravitas than the visionary behind "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan," two epic stories of courage and grit during World War II. He is also the king of the box office, going back to "Jaws" from 1975.
What more do you possibly need to persuade the hardened Academy voters that this film had all the right stuff to take home the most prized statue of them all?
And yet . . .
"Argo" got the Best Picture Oscar, in what amounted to an upset (although "Argo" had certainly received almost universally excellent critical reviews around the world, even though its director, Ben Affleck, somehow didn't receive a Best Director nomination at the Oscars. It was the most alarming snub of modern years, and its utter lack of common sense made the Academy look dim-witted and petty. Did the foolish Academy voters think, perhaps, that the film directed itself?
An epic in its own right, "Argo" told the tale of rescuing a group of hostages from the grip of the Iranian revolution of more than three decades ago. It was a very powerful story, told by skillful and sensitive storytellers.
So, why did "Lincoln" lose?
First, perhaps, there was too much hype surrounding it. "Lincoln" generally tried too hard to look earnest. The television commercials for the movie arguably made our great 16th president out to be more of a saint than a backroom politician who could horse trade with the best of them, in Washington, D.C.'s grand tradition.
To get the result that he wanted. Lincoln played the game to win in the film. If it took promises of patronage to swing those nettlesome votes, then move over Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, by God, that was what would happen in the 19th century. If Lincoln felt that he had to charm, wheedle, or outright con his naysayers to get his way, then that was acceptable behavior, too.
Lincoln was not only defining the classic political maneuvering in the film, Spielberg was deftly holding a mirror up to the current presidential-congressional stalemate gripping our nation.
Maybe that was another problem. As much as "Lincoln" was a triumph, it also reminded us uncomfortably of our woes in Washington. Maybe there was too much reality.
And the movie, of course, featured a jarring, tragic ending. Americans may be romantics at heart at the movies. Given the choice of seeing the hostages win or the president lose, it was an obvious guess as to where the Academy's heart strings would be pulled. Plus, it must be said, "Argo" was an excellent movie. Affleck is a master storyteller, too.
Hollywood should remember these points when it, inevitably, depicts Teddy Roosevelt or FDR or John Kennedy or George Washington or some other U.S. president in a major drama. You can make money at the box office, for sure. You can garner tremendously flattering reviews. And you can re-tell history. But if you want to win an Oscar, dial down the hype machine just a notch.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)invention, Shunning the Naysayers and Creating a Personal Revolution. Click here to order a copy. Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.
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