Getting into the home stretch of our alphabetical countdown with Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln” (yes, this year’s list is heavy on the first half of the alphabet). Inspired by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” screenwriter Tony Kushner’s first draft of “Lincoln” was reportedly 500 pages (an average screenplay might be 120). But he and Spielberg narrowed and shaped it to cover a relatively brief period in the life of President Abraham Lincoln: his last four months, during which the 13th Amendment was passed and the Civil War ended. The result is a remarkably vivid history lesson that’s resonated strongly with audiences: “Lincoln” has the highest box-office total of all of this year’s Best Picture nominees, and was a front-runner for the top awards long before it was even released.
Total U.S. box office: $176 million
Total Oscar nominations: Twelve (the most of any film this year), for best picture, director, actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), supporting actress (Sally Field), supporting actor (Tommy Lee Jones), adapted screenplay, cinematography, costume design, film editing, original score, production design and sound mixing.
Best chance for a win: That Daniel Day-Lewis will win his third Oscar for best actor seems to be this year’s safest bet; it’s hard to imagine anyone, even the beloved Hugh Jackman, beating him this year. That’s the only sure thing, but “Lincoln” is a contender in numerous other categories: It’s still a dark horse for best picture (though “Argo” seems to have momentum), and Spielberg could well take best director for the third time. And quite possibly composer John Williams, who has more Oscar nominations than any other living person (48, counting this year), could win his sixth Oscar — and his first in 20 years.
Odds of this film creating some fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: Well, you know Day-Lewis is good for a memorable speech, though I suspect he won’t do it in character. (The actor, famous for his intense approach, stayed in character throughout the shooting of the film, with Spielberg addressing him as “Mr. President.”) And a Best Picture/Best Director split is always interesting; should it happen this year, I think “Argo”/Spielberg is the most likely combination. And, should Sally Field surprise all those Anne Hathaway-predictors, we’ll know for certain that the Academy really, really likes her. (She wouldn’t dare say that again in a speech, would she?)
Fun fact: Spielberg acquired the film rights to Goodwin’s book back in 2001, long before it was published, and Field campaigned early for the role. At one point, Liam Neeson was in talks to play Lincoln opposite Field, but things didn’t work out. When Daniel Day-Lewis came on board in 2010, it appeared that Field might be too old for the role (she’s ten years older than Day-Lewis; Mary Todd Lincoln was in fact ten years younger than her husband). Spielberg gave her a screen test, rejected her — then ultimately cast her after Day-Lewis saw the screen test and agreed to read with her. They improvised for an hour — and, as the story goes, sparks flew.
Remember, you’re invited to join me at 4 p.m. this Oscar Sunday at seattletimes.com, for a chat about red-carpet arrivals and the awards ceremony.
(Photo: Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln,” by David James, courtesy of DreamWorks II Distribution and Twentieth Century Fox.)