KOHN: I wasn't a huge fan of Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" or a musical theater junkie so I'll take Hooper's "Les Miserables" off the table straight away. I'm looking forward to "Django Unchained" the same way I've anticipated every Tarantino movie -- that is, with a mixture of excitement and lowered expectations, because I'm pretty sure this barrage of western pastiche is going to be exactly what it looks like, and what it looks like is not an awards season player. (It does, however, look like a blast.) And I'm very curious about Katherine Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" because it sounds like one of the biggest intelligence successes of modern times channeled into a thriller mold by a filmmaker who has proven her capacity for ramping up the intensity of that genre.
But on some level I hope these movies are good enough without making the Oscar cut. Awards season tends to overscrutinize a handful of movies and lump them together as indicative of the moviegoer interests as a whole. If "Django" and "Zero" are too dark or weird to enter into that dialogue, they may avoid getting stuffed into a rat race that's actually quite unhealthy for a lot of first-rate movies.
Of course, if they deserve major accolades and receive them, great. I just worry that Oscar expectations can be a very foul red herring for truly daring works of cinema. Some amazing politicians shouldn't run for president; the same applies for certain movies. At this point, having seen Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" at the New York Film Festival's screening on Monday, I'm ready to let that one clean up. It's a big issue movie about an American icon. Spielberg's direction has rarely felt this mature. Tony Kushner's screenplay is smart and subtle. Daniel Day Lewis naturally inhabits the lead role with a mixture of charisma and gravitas (and Tommy Lee Jones delivers much-needed comic relief). The movie isn't a masterpiece -- it drags in parts and gets a tad too theatrical in its closing moments -- but it's a sufficiently provocative study of American history, never crass or annoyingly manipulative, and would certainly be the headiest Oscar movie to dominate the ceremony in years. That's change I can believe in.
KNEGT: I was not at the "Lincoln" screening on Monday, so any educated opinion in that regard is not possible. However -- based on the reaction I followed quite obsessively on the internet that night -- it seems all but assured "Lincoln" is going to get a boatload of major nominations. But it also seems to me that its biggest hurdle toward becoming the favorite to win everything is, well, so many of the folks involved have won already. And in many cases, they have won more than once: Spielberg has three Oscars (four if you count the honorary one), Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field each have two, and Tommy Lee Jones has one.
That's not to say that the Academy wouldn't be against upping each count, but it takes something truly special to give someone their second or third acting Oscar (unless you can wear down the Academy with something like a 1,000 more nominations, which explains Meryl Streep's win last year). The only directors to ever win more than two in the directing category are Frank Capra, William Wyler and John Ford. But I could see how, at this point, Spielberg belongs in that club.
Also, while reactions out of Monday's screening were definitely positive, they were not overwhelming in the way I feel warrants the kind of history Spielberg, Day-Lewis and Field would make by winning. Jones, on the other hand, is probably the safest bet for a win among the trio. But again, that's not based on my familiarity with the film, so who knows. I guess it does all depend on what's to come. If "Les Miserables," "Django," "Zero Dark Thirty," "The Hobbit" and "Promised Land" all crash and burn, maybe it will end up as the "Lincoln" show. However, I have this sneaking suspicion "Silver Linings Playbook" is going to end up being the film to beat... and that Jennifer Lawrence is the closest thing we have to a locked win already.
KOHN: Now you've got me excited for another Harvey victory.
KNEGT: That makes one of us.