by March 8, 2013 at 2:00 pm 0

From Mary Burgan. Email her at mary[AT]

"oscar"Well, I don’t have to Jump off the 14the Street Bridge. I threatened to do that if Django Unchained won the Best Picture Award at this year’s Oscar handouts.

But I do have a moral qualm about my 14th Street Bridge promise in light of Django winning two other major prizes — for Best Original Screenplay and for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Shouldn’t I demonstrate my disapproval of these? A comic-book plot with “scintillating dialogue”?  Really?  And another award for Christoph Waltz for very similar thespian effects in Tarentino’s Inglourious Basterds only four years ago?

I feel excused and consoled, however, that my pick for the best film of the year did win a bunch of major awards. Neglected by the pre-Oscar forecasters, Life of Pi surprised everyone by winning Best Director, Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Music. It should have won for Best Picture.

It seems that Life of Pi didn’t get Best Picture because of politics — both Oscar and national politics. Inside Hollywood voters felt it was time for Affleck to win a big one because he had gone from the unhappy pastures of his youth to the draft-horse work of his maturity. His turn-around story is so compelling: from J.L.o to Jennifer Garner and three children in 10 years!

And then the political correctness of an inventive American rescuing other Americans in captivity, with no disasters — it was a workman-like job. It also offset two other politically awkward front-runners in the Oscar race.

Those movies had problems in terms of political “truthiness.” Zero Dark Thirty suggests that some members of the CIA waterboarded some prisoners to get information that helped in the search for Bin Laden. These suggestions summoned the wrath of some powerful senators — one of whom deserves an Oscar for Sorest Loser. They were offended by the suggestion that something that nasty could ever, ever happen under the supervision of our guys.

And then some representatives from Connecticut — citizens of the Nutmeg State, the Provisions State, the Land of Steady Habits – were upset that Lincoln depicted two of members of their Congressional Delegation voting “No” on the XIII Amendment in 1864. This factual lapse, coming in a movie proud of its research, may have given Academy voters the push they needed to vote against Lincoln for Best Picture.

Lincoln tried so hard for authenticity that it gave Tommy Lee Jones a horrendous black wig to match the hair of Thaddeus Stevens. That authentic hair may have robbed him of Best Supporting Actor Award, handing it over to Waltz — a more graceful and less wrathful foe of slavery, after all.

Now that it’s all over, I do think the Best Supporting Actress Award should have gone to Helen Hunt. Anne Hathaway’s Award-winning performance in Les Mis looks too needy once you’ve seen a marvelously revealing parody of  dreaming her dream on You Tube. Very few women could parody Hunt’s tender nudity in The Sessions without a major gym makeover — unlikely.

This season after the Oscars seems to be the season of parody. I wonder whether Downton Abbey can command the affections of American Masterpiece aficionados once they’ve seen Jimmy Fallon’s takeoff in Downton Sixbey. That parody, and several others, is also making rounds on You Tube these days.

I know, I know, Downton Abby is TV. I’m watching more on my little screen post Oscar–renting some of last year’s nominees like Brave (good animation, boring story), trying out recommendations of lowbrow box office smash hits like Pitch Perfect (good singing, boring story), or catching up on Downton.

But then the Sequester may shut down Masterpiece Theater, and I’ll have to read a book!

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by January 3, 2013 at 4:00 pm 0

From Mary Burgan. Email her at mary[AT]

"lincoln"I do not like movies that teach lessons. I find costume drama artificial, and I am deeply suspicious of history films punctuated by rousing (or pitiful) music designed to make us get the point. That means that I try to avoid films by Stephen Spielberg. I went to see Lincoln out of my sense of duty as a movie fan rather than  a burning desire to sample one more historical epic.

I was wrong. Lincoln is a really good film when it gets down to portraying the negotiations that went into getting the Thirteenth Amendment passed. It manages action and dialogue and setting wisely,  explaining what was at stake and why President Abraham Lincoln was so adamant about maneuvering Congress into doing the right thing at the end — only a month or so before his second inauguration… and his death.

Of course, the film shares the usual drawbacks of filming history. One is complexity. So many roles need to be filled in Lincoln that Spielberg must have auditioned all the TV actors that were  on hiatus from Law & Order or CSI for them. So one of the distractions of the movie is trying to figure out where you’ve ever seen the actor before Lincoln?  The venomous looking leader of the New York voting bloc — is that you, Jackie Earle Haley?  Jackie Earle Haley?  The last time I saw you in a movie, you were playing a spindly teenager in the long-forgotten indie movie, Breaking Away.

There is a lot of facial hair in Lincoln, and it can also distract. Nevertheless, Tommy Lee  Jones manages to break through his elaborate hair get-up to convey the passion of his original — the abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. The other actors in Lincoln do almost as well, and you can find out how closely they follow their originals if you Google a few.

Daniel Day-Lewis did not need many physical changes to fit the role of Lincoln. From time to time he does seem more a figure in costume than the real man — the one sculpted in marble by Daniel Chester French, watching over us from the Memorial at the west end of the Mall. But as I got used to the movie, I realized that I was watching a fine performance by Day-Lewis.

I got the sense that the actor was melding all the history-book details about Lincoln’s posture and voice to create the portrait of a determined, downright leader who was not above the politics of coercion when sweet persuasion wouldn’t work. Day-Lewis’s performance is, then,  a wonderful piece of historical imagination.

There are, of course, other excellent parts in the film. I would count the performance of Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln among them. She and Day-Lewis enact a believable version of a long-term marriage that is full of give and take. And since Field is an actress who always seems over-eager, I was relieved that she acts with restraint in Lincoln, providing the domestic side-story needed to balance the historical account.

And so I sat through Lincoln willingly, despite my uneasiness about all the Spielbergian touches at its beginning — the gruesome images of ferocious battle, noble black soldiers asking for justice as the president pauses to speak to them, and young white recruits helping each other recite, for heaven’s sake, the Gettysburg Address!  (According to many scholars, that great statement did not become sacred text until after Lincoln died.)

But I stuck with Producer and Director Steven Spielberg, and I was rewarded with an engrossing version of a Lincoln at once idealistic and fully engaged in the messiness of getting significant legislation passed by a recalcitrant Congress. Sound familiar?

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