‘Lincoln’s’ Oscar quest: It’s all about Steven Spielberg (or, well, maybe Kathleen Kennedy)


Years ago Variety editor Peter Bart shared with me a fascinating Oscar insight. In order to win Best Picture, he said, a movie must conjure up a person who academy members are rooting for. In other words, the film with the best face behind the title wins. Thus "The Departed" (2006) and "The Hurt Locker" (2009) won because voters wanted to give hugs to Marty Scorsese and Kathryn Bigelow. This year, according to that theory, "Argo" may be surging ahead because Hollywood is cheering on poor Oscar-snubbed Ben Affleck, who, after years in the industry's trenches, has finally emerged as a major filmmaker.

But what about "Lincoln"? Who comes immediately to mind when voters think about the movie that leads this derby with the most nominations? Maybe Daniel Day-Lewis? Maybe Steven Spielberg? The correct answer should really be Spielberg – it's his story and it's not properly reverberating across Oscarland. Think about what the dramatic success of "Lincoln" means: It represents the spectacular career comeback of a man who reigns as king of Hollywood filmmakers.

Imagine this poster plastering the billboards and bus stops along Sunset Blvd. (if only DreamWorks/Disney had the guts to post them): "Spielberg's baaaaack! 'Lincoln' = $170 million box office! 'Masterpiece' (NY Times) … Most Academy Award Nominations! Now … let's give Steven that overdue Best Picture Oscar."

While the King of Hollywood Filmmakers has won two Academy Awards for Best Director ("Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan"), he's only snagged Best Picture once ("Schindler's List"). That's criminal when you compare him to other directors whose movies have reaped Best Picture twice: Milos Forman ("Amadeus," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and Clint Eastwood ("Million Dollar Baby," "Unforgiven").

-ADDPREDICTION:85:4:Click to predict Best Picture Oscar:ADDPREDICTION-

Crucial to the Peter Bart Oscar Best Picture Theory is that the person behind the film title should be engaged in a compelling quest. Think Marty Scorsese being criminally overdue to win. Or Kathryn Bigelow representing the face of all womanhood being shockingly snubbed, too. In Bigelow's case, it helped that she even had a nifty second quest: revenge against her ego-mad ex-husband James Cameron, who competed against her little indie "The Hurt Locker" with his monster megahit "Avatar."

Spielberg has two quests too: his overdue second Best Picture award and a chunk of academy gold needed to hail his big career comeback, but these quests aren't being trumpeted across Hollywood by his studio because, frankly … they're embarrassing.

Take the comeback angle, for example. It's not like Spielberg is recovering from a big career crash. It's just that he hasn't had such spectacular critical/commercial/awards success as "Lincoln" since "Schindler's List" (1993). "War Horse" was a disappointment when compared to early expectations, but it still got nominated for Best Picture last year (Spielberg got snubbed in the directors' lineup). His previous "serious" film was "Munich" (2005) which got nommed for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Director (it lost to "Crash" and he lost the helmer's laurels to "Brokeback Mountain's" Ang Lee).

But, wait – maybe then the "Lincoln" story, the "Lincoln" quest, the person we should think of behind the title of that film isn't really Spielberg at all. Maybe it should really be his producing partner Kathleen Kennedy, who is holding a giant Oscar I.O.U. She's lost Best Picture seven times: "War Horse" (2011), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008), "Munich" (2005), "Seabiscuit" (2003), "The Sixth Sense" (1999), "The Color Purple" (1995), and "E.T." (1982).

Now THAT's a worthy quest – and one involving a deserving female no less. So maybe we should rip up those Spielberg posters dreamt up for Sunset Blvd. and reimagine them as Kennedy ones, saying, "Ask not what the Oscars can do for you .… Ask what you can do to get Kennedy her elusive Oscar!"


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7 thoughts on “‘Lincoln’s’ Oscar quest: It’s all about Steven Spielberg (or, well, maybe Kathleen Kennedy)

  1. Since when do you get overdue for a second best picture Oscar??? That’s insanity! Especially given when Lincoln is not that great a movie. If you have won, sorry— you are no longer overdue.

  2. It has been said, but not nearly enough: if ARGO wins it will have some merit behind it and noy just poor Ben wasn’t nominated for Best Director. I know that’s not as juicy an idea, but IMO it’s a much more interesting film than LINCOLN. I’m hoping Kennedy has to wait longer for her oscar.

  3. Jay, history makes it clear: Argo CANNOT win Best Picture. Oscar does NOT care about the merits (director or otherwise) of ANY film snubbed by the Directors Branch, unless the director was inconsequential to the film (Driving Miss Daisy).

  4. The problem with Spielberg is that he is not “due” for an award. No is clamroring for him to join the 3 Oscar club. And bringing out President Clinton to intro the movie just showed his desperation. Hard to call it a comeback as well since he had War Horse, another historical epic, nominated for BP just the last year. So I think Speilberg would be the worst reason for Lincoln to win. I don’t really think producers are ever due for anything. Being the money people behind the scenes, the get credit in other ways. If they were then Lincoln would have won PGA.

  5. Kathleen Kennedy has lost seven times! You wrote six.
    Uh, speak for yourself, PJ. Many of us are clamoring for Spielberg to win another Oscar. That he has 2 while John Ford won 4, 3 of them for westerns, is annoying. He is superior to Eastwood and much more prolific than Forman–or anyone. Capra and Wilder have 3 because they were prolific and diverse for their era, as Ang Lee is today. But they were usually not the visionary that Spielberg is. And who the F in the real world cares whether Affleck wins another Oscar, even if they like him and his movie?

  6. My mistake. It was Wyler, not Wilder, who also has 3 wins. Wyler was quite prolific and diverse, but also not the visionary Spielberg is. Spielberg has only won twice because the Academy refuses to honor sci-fi and thrillers, and here he finally did a standard but first-rate drama about the greatest American President, a film that took him a decade to make and couldn’t be more timely, and they STILL don’t want to award him. It’s just wrong.

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