This year's Outguess Ebert contest seems a little like shooting fish in a barrel. For the first time in many a year, maybe ever, I think I've guessed every one correctly.A few years ago, I came across an article about the newly identified psychological concept of Elevation. Scientists claim it is as real as love or fear. It describes a state in which we feel unreasonable joy; you know, like when you sit quiet and still and tingles run up and down your back, and you think things can never get any better.
I tried applying it to that year's Oscar nominees. Did it work any better than any other approach? You need Elevating nominees. An example of Elevation would be when the bone morphs into a space station in "2001." Did I feel Elevation in making any of my Guesses this year. That doesn't mean it was a bad year at the movies. Harvey Weinstein, accepting his achievement award from the Producers' Guild, said he thought 2012 was the best in 90 years. Maybe he felt Elevation when he gazed upon the Weinstein Company's box office figures.
At the heart of Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is a quiet scene between President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) and two young men, Samuel Beckwith (Adam Driver) and David Homer Bates (Drew Sease), in an otherwise empty telegraph cipher office. Lincoln has to make a crucial decision: Does he consider a peace proposal from a Confederate delegation on its way to Washington, and thus perhaps immediately end the bloody Civil War that has claimed the lives of more than half a million Americans, knowing that it would doom his attempt to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, officially banning slavery in the United States? Or does he try to legally solidify and extend his Emancipation Proclamation by getting the Thirteenth Amendment passed during a narrow window of opportunity (during the lame duck session of Congress between his re-election and second inauguration) at the cost of extending the war?
Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2102) is exactly what we would expect it to be. It is reverent. It is of such epic scope, with such microscopic attention to detail, that it competes with any period piece in the history of cinema. Daniel Day-Lewis disappears into Abraham Lincoln. So many supporting players ornament this film that a familiar face appears on screen every few minutes, adding depth, personality, and charm. Tony Kushner's script is complex, pious, and at times mesmerizing. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography, mixed with Rick Carter's production design, provides a portrait in every frame.
Tony Kushner knows the difference. He responds to Clive James' playground insults (see How Not To Write About Film) in kind, with a scathingly funny (and totally accurate) letter to the New York Times. The Pulitzer-winning writer of "Angels in America" and co-screenwriter of "Munich" says: In his review of Phillip Lopate's anthology "American Movie Critics" (June 4), Clive James, wanting to demonstrate to critics how to "take down" a film they don't like, pans "Munich." He accuses the film's writers of not knowing "half enough about politics." No instances of our semi-ignorance are provided; not one line of the script is cited....
I, having been taken down, will run for cover in a moment, but first I would like to respond to James's devastating analysis. I do so know more than half enough!... Since "Munich" isn't mentioned in the anthology, his attack isn't merely vague, it's utterly gratuitous. After using up an awful lot of paper and ink sharing his opinions of real film critics, James exposes himself as the sort of writer who slags the people behind the art because he can't summon the substance or wit to articulate his unhappiness with the art itself — or, I suspect, in the case of "Munich," with the politics he feels the art expresses. That's the difference between a critic and a crank.
"I knew the minefield was there," says Steven Spielberg, describing the storm of controversy over his new film "Munich." He has been attacked on three fronts, for being anti-Israeli, being anti-Palestinian, and being neither -- which is, those critics say, the sin of "moral equivalency."