The Best Films of the Decade: #16. Lincoln (2012)

| December 26, 2019
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In just 9 Days the decade will come to a close and so for movie lovers like me it is an opportunity to look over the decade of movies that are left behind. Over the next few weeks I am going to countdown the best films of the past 10 years from #40 to #1. My choices are personal choices swayed by nothing but the love I have for this medium. These are all great movies. These films all achieved something great. All reached for something special. They are the best of the decade . . .

Image result for Lincoln 2012

The 2010’s were not the most creative decade in the career of Steven Spielberg.  The Post? The BFG? Ready Player One?  These weren’t exactly the highlights of his illustrious career.  The exception (for me) was Lincoln, which made the top of my 10 best list back in 2012 and looking back on it, I am certain that my love for the film came from Daniel Day-Lewis.

His performance is the film’s great anchor.  The way he walks, the way he talks, the way he philosophizes and the way that he amuses those around him with folky stories of his youth, this is how most of us imagine Lincoln. 

Daniel Day-Lewis sees him as a deep thinker.  There is a moment deep into the film that probably reveals more about the person of Abraham Lincoln than anything else that we could ever know about the man.  He asks a young telegraph operator (Adam Driver) “Do you think we are fitted to the times we are born to?”  It is a deep and difficult question that speaks, most aptly, to Lincoln himself.  Within the structural timeline of American History, Abraham Lincoln’s tenure upon this earth ended one generation before voices and images began to be captured by recording devices.  His voice is lost to history and that, in effect, cements his legend because not knowing how he sounded or how he moved leaves us to interpret Lincoln any way we want.  We idolize him because we cannot humanize his flaws with our senses.

Lincoln captures the essence of a man whose legacy is known to every American school child, not as a five dollar bill but as a man who has become the American ideal, a person who was born in poverty, self-educated, unbendingly honest, a deep thinker who was motivated by moral right.  Yes, he was a shrewd and crafty politician but the movie also tries to find the very human essence that pulled Lincoln through a civil war, the end of slavery and personal tragedies that put strains on his marriage.

Again, the anchor is Daniel-Day Lewis an in observing his personal style both as a man and as a politician, it is easy to get caught up whirling maelstrom of the politics of the moment. The war was about to end and the task laid before Lincoln was to not only end the war but at the same time free the slaves and pull the union back together. That is likely the most monumental task ever given to an American leader and the goal is met by the passage of The Thirteenth Amendment. The film is structured in such a way that when the vote comes down, the moment is absolutely thrilling.

In the weeks leading up to the film’s release a question came up: Is the film historically accurate?  Only a historian would know for sure, but in all fairness, who cares?  This is not a documentary, it is drama and if it stretches facts for dramatic effect but keeps the basic structure of the historical outcome, it hardly matters.  What does matter is that Spielberg created a wonderfully moving drama about the greatest struggle that our country ever faced, and how the time of that struggle was fitted with a man whose intelligence and moral convictions kept this country from perishing from the Earth.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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