Written by Peter Lehman 
Edited by Dorrin Gingerich

In Lincoln, our 16th president Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) plans, politics, and maneuvers to pass the Thirteenth Amendment and ban slavery for the rest of US history.  The title seems to suggest a biopic, but the film, rather than focusing on Lincoln’s whole life, centers on the Amendment, only briefly touching on the aftermath of the War and the death of Lincoln.  Lincoln realizes that the Civil War may present a unique opportunity to shape the Constitution in the absence of the rebelling states, but the Amendment’s passage requires the votes of several Northern Democrats who are unlikely to favor it if they believe the end of the War nears.  In other words, Lincoln is convinced that there can be no lasting peace if the United States remains half-slave, half-free, but some rival politicians want to end the war without addressing slavery.  Thus, in order to push the Amendment through, Lincoln must not only rely on his oratory and his political allies, he must also carefully and creatively filter information about the state of the War as it concludes, knowing that wartime may be the Amendment’s best and only chance to pass.

What Worked - To save space in describing a complex film, the synopsis above only includes Lincoln’s actions, but in the film, Lincoln delegates much of his monumental task to his cabinet, lead by Secretary of State William H. Seward (David Strathairn).  In some of the film’s most interesting scenes, the two men bluntly discuss the measures necessary to secure the votes, and Lincoln even (unofficially) authorizes offers of certain government jobs to Democrats willing to vote for the Amendment.

On the opposite extreme, the Republican Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) must agree to downplay his radical support for Black equality in order to avoid alienating more conservative congressmen.  His character really comes alive in the noisy, chaotic atmosphere of the House floor, where tempers run high and the representatives freely cheer, sneer, and trade insults during their deliberations.  Playing Stevens, Tommy Lee Jones gives one of the film’s best and most eloquent performances, a joy to watch.

Indeed, every actor in this film performs remarkably well.  Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Lincoln’s oldest son, and Sally Field plays his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.  Field portrays Mary Todd as sympathetic, yet depressed, exasperated, and frightened by turns (true to historical record).  Her performance adds emotional drama to Lincoln’s life outside the political sphere, showing the wartime strain on his more intimate relationships.   Lincoln’s scenes with his family oscillate between heartwarming and vexing, and both his wife and his son have their own interesting stories, which play out alongside the film’s central conflict.

And finally, Daniel Day-Lewis absolutely inhabits the role of Lincoln, a part which won him another (well-deserved) Academy Award for Best Actor.  Day-Lewis captures Lincoln’s charm perfectly, prone to digress on tangents at the most infuriating moments with a twinkle in his eye, mostly reserved, yet able to let loose with quivering emotion when the moment calls for it.  Modeling his performance after accounts of Lincoln’s mannerisms, Day-Lewis mimics Lincoln highish voice, yet retains his charisma effortlessly.  At any given point during the film, I felt like I saw not Daniel Day-Lewis, but Lincoln onscreen.

While the performances garner the most attention, the cinematography, dialogue, character development, costumes, and historical accuracy all deserve praise as well.  Obviously a huge undertaking, the film succeeds on almost every front.

What Didn't Work - Oddly, I felt a bit put-off by some of the film’s more self-consciously dramatic moments.  In one of the early scenes, two black soldiers recite the Gettysburg Address by memory after meeting Lincoln face-to-face.  It was a bit much.  Whenever the soundtrack swells too loudly, I am reminded that this is a Spielberg picture, with all that entails.  That sounds like a minor nitpick… because it is.

Overall -  This is a truly great movie; I would call it one of the few real instant classics, a must-see on its subject matter alone, and extremely well-made besides.

A Quote from the Movie - 
Thaddeus Stevens -“The greatest measure of the 19th century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”

Ender's Game

 Written by Dorrin Gingerich

In 2086, an alien species attacks Earth and humanity is barely able to fight them off and survive. 50 years later, they are still bracing for another attack. The powers that be decide young brilliant children will be humanity's best hope for the oncoming war. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) has been hand picked by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) to join battle school. Essentially, the film shows how Ender moves ups in rank and proves to be a brilliant strategist, but underlying all that is Ender's inward struggle between two polarizing traits of empathy and brutality. Ender is constantly having to prove himself while he is endlessly being pushed to his limits.

What Worked - First and foremost I felt the visual effects were one of the most impressive things about this film. I guess that's bound to happen when a digital effects house, Digital Domain is also producing the film. The acting is good, but Asa Butterfield has the standout performance that really ups the quality of the film. Lastly, the battle room scenes were very thrilling, and a lot of fun to watch.

What Didn't Work - Ender's Game brings up a lot of ethical questions that never quite feel like they're being fleshed out properly. That may have to do with time restraints. At a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, I wouldn't have minded them adding 20 minutes or so just to elaborate on more of the story. Which reminds me, I have a hard time believing that people would accept having their children being in charge of strategic warfare. Can you even imagine our politicians agreeing to this concept? If the movie could have  explained this is a bit more it would've help me greatly. Finally the only performance I have a little trouble with was Harrison Ford's betrayal of Colonel Graff. It was fine and all, but there's nothing new or original about it. We've all seen him do this role before. He could've really done this role in his sleep.

Release Date Stupidity - Why in blue blazes would you release this movie one week before the highly anticipated Thor: the Dark World and three weeks before the Hunger Games Catching Fire. Of course it won't do well. At this point in time it hasn't even earned back its budget of $110 million. Honestly, I wouldn't have minded to see a sequel, but chances of that are now slim to none.

Overall - Ender's Game has some great special effects and some good performances, but it fails to hit informational impact and address some of the ethical questions it brings up. If you're a fan of the book, I'd say go ahead watch it. To everyone else it's only rental.

A Quote from the Movie - 
Major Gwen Anderson - When it's over, what will be left of the boy? 
Colonel Graff - What does it matter if there's nothing left at all?

Top 10 Movies of 2011

Honorary Mentions

Movies I really wanted on my top 10, but alas they didn't fit.

Jane Eyre

10.  Rango

A fun wacky western that abounds with creativity.

9. The Artist

A silent film that reminds us that you don't need special effects, color or sound to tell a great story.

8. X Men: First Class

Not only is X Men: First Class a fun James Bond like film, it has some really fantastic performances.

7. Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part 2

Harry Potter's epic conclusion, proves to be filled with thrills and chills along with some heartwarming and tearful moments.

6. The Muppets

The Muppets are back and are still relevant.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

A compelling and very dark film that hopefully opens the door to a fantastic trilogy.

4. Contagion

 A terrifying look at a killer virus as it spreads throughout the world.

3. Hugo

A charming adventure that shows the very humble beginnings of film.

2. The Debt

An extremely overlooked thriller that deserves way more praise.

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

A story that is so that compelling you eventually start rooting for the villains.