It was a catch-up weekend for me at local theaters.
Ever since the recession hit, the big studios have been offering fewer advance screenings in midmarkets the size of Omaha. With four to seven new movies opening every week, there’s no way for even a movie reviewer to see everything that looks worth checking out.
I used my time wisely.
Having tried every trick in the book to get to see “Lincoln” before it opened, and having failed, it was first on my list.
Steven Spielberg is one of the most brilliant directors of his time when it comes to broad entertainment and action (“Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the Indiana Jones franchise, “Jurassic Park,” “E.T.,” “Catch Me If You Can”).
He’s also had a strong track record when he brings his considerable skills to historical drama (“Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Amistad,” “War Horse”).
He’s cast “Lincoln” impeccably. The list of Oscar winners and Oscar nominees is long: Daniel Day-Lewis, a visual match as President Lincoln; Sally Field as the first lady; Tommy Lee Jones as a leading abolitionist in the U.S. House; David Strathairn as the secretary of state; Jackie Earle Haley as vice president of the Confederacy; Hal Holbrook as a power broker from a wealthy family.
And the script is by “Angels in America” writer Tony Kushner, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s prize-winning book.
With such a terrific pedigree going in, it wouldn’t be surprising if “Lincoln” failed to meet expectations.
But I wasn’t disappointed. True, as some critics have noted, this is a talky movie that doesn’t have a whole lot of action, and its tone and visual vocabulary are both quite dark.
But the historical details are incredible. That’s Lincoln’s actual pocket watch you hear ticking in one scene. Costumes, art direction and cinematography are all admirable. Reproductions of the U.S. House chamber and interior rooms of the White House from 1865 are something to see.
Spielberg’s and Kushner’s aim is to profile Lincoln as a crafty and skilled politician, as he wheels and deals to get the 13th Amendment to the Constitution passed in the U.S. House during a lame-duck session of Congress.
His give-and-take with his Cabinet and members of Congress over outlawing slavery is fascinating. His interaction with the members of his family humanizes him, sheds light on his difficult marriage and crystallizes his dilemma as the father of a son old enough to enlist in the Army (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
Some will not have the patience for Lincoln’s vast supply of rambling stories, or for the creative insults back and forth on the floor of the House.
I loved every minute of it.
And here’s a prediction: This movie will get Oscar nominations for best picture, director, actor, supporting actress and supporting actor (maybe more than one in the latter), adapted screenplay and art direction. I expect to see it again over the holidays.
Meanwhile, I finally got to “Flight,” in which Denzel Washington plays a heroic pilot who brings down a crippled jetliner in a way that saves scores of lives. But amid the media glare and talk of heroism, his alcohol and drug addiction comes to light.
Washington is one of the premiere actors of his generation. Not only is this the best performance he’s given in years, it ranks among his very best.
Just as watchable, and hilarious to boot, is John Goodman as the pilot’s drug dealer. Both men could score Oscar nominations.
As usual this time of year, there’s a terrific movie waiting for you in theaters this weekend no matter what your favorite genre might be.
For action fans, “Skyfall” ranks among the very best James Bond movies of this 50-year-old franchise.
For small fry and animation lovers, “Wreck-It Ralph” does for video game characters what “Toy Story” did for bringing favorite toys to life. “Rise of the Guardians” is another animated wonder.
A documentary worth catching: “The Imposter,” which opens Friday at the Dundee, about how a European con artist claims to be an American teen who disappeared three years earlier — and the teen’s family takes him in.
“Argo,” Ben Affleck’s depiction of rescuing several escapees amid the Iran hostage crisis back in the 1970s, is also looking like best-pic material, and features yet another great turn from John Goodman.
“Life of Pi,” which I reviewed just yesterday, should satisfy those who eagerly await literary adaptations. Director Ang Lee has brought his A game to making this one about a shipwreck survivor and a tiger sharing a lifeboat.
If you like a little romance along with your historical drama or adaptation of great novels, “Anna Karenina,” starring Keira Knightley, arrives at Film Streams in a week.
Close on its heels should be “Silver Linings Playbook,” a dramedy about two very broken souls whose jagged edges may or may not find a way to fit together. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are both stellar in this movie, which manages to be moving, enlightening and funny all at once.
No wonder this is my favorite time of year for the movies.