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Can Daniel Day-Lewis Break The Spielberg Acting Awards Oscar Losing Streak For 'Lincoln?'

by Oliver Lyttelton
August 24, 2012 12:22 PM
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Lincoln Poster Header

With festival season getting underway in only a few short days, we're about to see which actors will gain traction for the awards season ahead of us. But there's at least one major performance that we won't know about for a few months yet (or until we see a trailer), and it's one that's probably been the presumptive front-runner ever since the film was announced: Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," the director's biopic of Civil War-winning President Abraham Lincoln, focusing on the last few months of his life before his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.

After all, it's one of the most lauded actors of modern times, who last won in 2007 for "There Will Be Blood," in the kind of transformative historical figure role that always pays dividends with Academy voters, and working for the first time with America's most beloved filmmaker, a two-time Best Director winner. Once Day-Lewis came on board, many assumed that they might as well start carving his name on the statue. But will that really be the case? Looking at history a little more closely, it becomes clear not only that Spielberg's not necessarily the Oscar favorite that he's made out to be, but also that a win for Day-Lewis would be unprecedented on a number of levels. So before people decide that it's already sewn up based on a poster that debuted this week, let's look at the stats. It's certainly true that Spielberg's films have been frequent visitors to the Academy. Twelve of his movies have been nominated for four or more awards, and three got more than ten.


But when he picked up Best Director for the second time, for "Saving Private Ryan," the film lost Best Picture to "Shakespeare In Love." And perhaps even more importantly, no Spielberg film has won an Oscar since. "Munich" got five nominations, including Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, and "War Horse" got six, including Picture (but not director). But it's fifteen years since a film by the director actually picked up an Oscar. And perhaps more importantly, no actor or actress has ever won an Oscar for a performance in a Spielberg film.

There have been plenty of nominations: Melinda Dillon for "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind"; Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey for "The Color Purple"; Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes for "Schindler's List"; Anthony Hopkins for "Amistad"; Tom Hanks for "Saving Private Ryan" and Christopher Walken for "Catch Me If You Can." But none actually converted it for a win, and maybe it's because there were more deserving winners, or maybe it's because Academy voters have never quite shaken the view that Spielberg is a master technician first and foremost. But it's a fairly bleak precedent for Day-Lewis, as well as Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones, who are said to be the supporting players to keep an eye on, as Mary Todd Lincoln, William Seward and Thaddeus Grant respectively.

First Real Look: Daniel Day Lewis In Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln' (header)

Furthermore, Day-Lewis also has another disadvantage. If he wins, he'd be the first performer in history to win three Best Actor Academy Awards. Jack Nicholson has two, plus a Best Supporting Actor prize for "Terms Of Endearment," and Walter Brennan has three Supporting Actor wins, for "Come And Get It," "Kentucky" and "The Westerner." If he wins for "Lincoln," he'd be essentially anointed as the greatest actor in Hollywood history. And given that it's only five years since his last victory (for a performance that would be the peak of most actors' careers), it may be that the Academy won't quite be ready to make that step, especially in a year that looks like it won't be lacking in strong competition -- Joaquin Phoenix, John Hawkes, Bill Murray, Hugh Jackman, Clint Eastwood and Denzel Washington all have serious potential, at least this far out.

None of this is to say that the film, and central performance won't be a major player. It's a match of source material, director and performer that happens once in a blue moon, and should be firmly in the Academy's wheelhouse, even if the movie disappoints -- certainly, when Spielberg has taken on subject matter like this, he's been rewarded in a big way. But if one is to look at the record books, it may have a trickier awards season fight on its hands than many have anticipated. We'll find out when the film opens on November 9th. But what do you think. Does DDL have the juice to take it all the way?

Let us know below and check out this week's Best Picture Chart on page two.

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  • CR | August 27, 2012 1:24 AMReply

    Do you know what the problem with moviegoers these days? We're so focused on stats and streaks that we forget about what's important: the actual movie. Here we have movies that haven't even been released and we're already trying to predict who will come out on top. While it's okay to speculate who will win, you cannot reach these sorts of conclusions without the slightest inkling of what the movie has in store. And the Academy? Don't get me started! They have made the movie industry so political that I can't tell for sure if the best film/actor/actress did win.

  • Thomas Sundby | August 26, 2012 10:38 AMReply

    If Daniel Day-Lewis can give a close picture of "Honest Abe" I`m sure he`ll be greatly rewarded for acting.

  • AJMR | August 25, 2012 11:52 AMReply

    Regarding the Oscar chart and the placement of Silver Linings Playbook, so one person's opinion motivated you guys to move SLP from 14 to 16?...yeah, right, long as Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert DeNiro receive the nominations they so richly deserve (and from what I'm hearing, especially Jennifer Lawrence), I'll be fine if Silver Linings Playbook does not score a best film nomination. It is funny though how you totally serious film types at IW play right along with the Hollywood politics (LOL).

  • JD | August 25, 2012 11:26 AMReply

    DDL will almost certainly get a nomination, as the guy just dosen't give bad performances, even if not every single film he's starred in has been great (although most have) and he is by general consensus far and away the best actor of his generation in an iconic role of one of history's great figures so the stars seem to be aligning. However the competition will be tough, yes Phoenix will more than likely garner a nomination as his performance is the best of his career. Whilst I favour Murray to get a nod for playing another president in Hyde Park on Hudson as for the others it is difficult to say who will come in the final nominations but at this stage it looks a 3 horse rivalry for the top honour, but this of course means nothing when you consider the snubs (Pacino 72-74 stands out) and unjustified wins that the academy has handed out (Tom Hanks Twice). So predicting the winner is hardly an exact science, only guessing the nominees is the closest we can get.

  • LA2000 | August 25, 2012 4:44 AMReply

    This feels like Joaquin Phoenix's year. The Oscars are selected by storytellers and it always seems that there is some narrative psychology going on (more than simply a clinical evaluation of merit) when they pick a winner. These people love a "come back" story, they love obvious actor-ly transformations like losing or gaining weight, they love the notion of hard earned redemption, and they love to anoint a new "king/queen for a day".

    Phoenix's narrative aligns with all of these. I think he's going to win because not only is the performance good, but because it will make a good story.

  • DG | August 24, 2012 8:07 PMReply

    Marie- Good point!

  • DG | August 24, 2012 8:06 PMReply

    Good point!

  • Xas | August 24, 2012 7:32 PMReply

    I read this argument before and I think this could be the biggest Day-Lewis' big disadvantage - Himself . His Daniel Plainview is considerated by many as one of the best Oscar winning performances and we need to remember he became unstoppable in that award season. The bar is too high and his Lincoln needs to surpase it with critical acclaim -Even more than Daniel Plainview- and unfortunally for him, his second Oscar is too recent in AMPAS members' memories. And next, his competition is strong: Hawkes -Character actor playing a real life diseable man in a feel-good movie hit by Sundance-, Joaquin Phoenix -One of the best actors of his generation who can make a great comeback with a tour-de-force performance in a PTA film not less-, Hugh Jackman -One of the most succesful Hollywood stars and Tony Award winner who has found a perfect role for his talents-, Bill Murray -Ex comedian playing another beloved US president in difficult times-, Denzel Washington -Maybe the most respected black actor of our times and also, he's still a magnetic Hollywood star- and even Brad Pitt -International Hollywood star whose last six years is making excellent choices working with auteurs and could have afterglow love after his last year's defeat-. So, I think, unless Day-Lewis surpass himself with an excelent film by Spielberg, he could be happy with just the nomination.

  • Flor | August 24, 2012 6:15 PMReply

    All I hope is that Joaquin Phoenix will win the Oscar for best actor, is excellent and deserves it for years!

  • Rajat | August 24, 2012 6:14 PMReply

    It's too early to say anything but i wish its DDL.He is the one of the greatest actors alive.He has done just 11 films since 1989,and given everything to each and every role.Other actors are also great but he is the best indeed.

  • Mark | August 24, 2012 5:47 PMReply

    Let's wait and see the performance first. Personally, I reckon it'll be a magnificent performance and the Oscar is his to lose.

  • Tom | August 24, 2012 5:37 PMReply

    I trust DDL to give the right kind of performance for Lincoln. That said, the Academy does seem to prefer showy work. It's a bit ridiculous to predict without seeing any of the films yet, but I'd say DDL, Joaquin and John Hawks are the three main players.

  • MAL | August 24, 2012 2:25 PMReply

    There was no more deserving winner than Ralph Feinnes the year he was nominated (but didn't win) for Schindler's List. As Marie sites below, his was subtle, nuanced and frightening -- too frightening for the Academy. Instead, the award went to the showy, over-the-top performance by Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. Mr. Jones is an outstanding actor but there is really no comparison between his performance in No Country for Old Men to The Fugitive. Nope - the Academy goes for showy over subtle.

  • sp | August 24, 2012 2:12 PMReply

    Marie, you made a very good point .

  • Marie | August 24, 2012 4:22 PM

    I want to make it clear though that I think DDL was brilliant in There will be Blood and more subtle (in most of the film) than he is given credit for...That being said, both Daniel Plainview and Bill the Butcher are extreme characters, showmen, rageful, and on the fringes of society. They were unbalanced. LIncoln even with all his demons and eccentricities was not a man filled with rage. He was a balanced, thoughtful man who lacked malice..even if many people died becuase of his decisions. (now that's a tough spot to be in-- He apparently did have guilt which was evident in the fact that his favorite Shakespearean soliloquy was that of Claudius in Hamlet when he was praying for relief for his guilt.
    Back to DDL, his subtle work in the BOxer and the very underrated Ballad of Jack and Rose rivals any of his bigger performances. Good actors can play extreme characters or more down-to-earth characters. There is room for appreciation of both.

  • MJ | August 24, 2012 1:52 PMReply

    If it brings back the subtle DDL of old, I have no problem crowning him "the greatest actor in Hollywood history".

  • Mike | August 25, 2012 1:03 AM

    There's certainly merit in his performance in There Will be Blood, but I'd take the DDL of In the Name of the Father, The Boxer, etc. any day.

  • MAL | August 24, 2012 2:30 PM

    SP -- it's a shame you let the trailer sway you. DDL's performance in There Will Be Blood, while bold and brash, was nuanced with tremendous humanity and realism that made an impressive film truly powerful.

  • sp | August 24, 2012 2:26 PM

    MJ, I hate the current over-the-top DDL. I still have not seen There Will Be Blood, because DDL was unbearably over-the-top in the trailer.

  • Mike | August 24, 2012 1:35 PMReply

    DDL might be really great in Lincoln and he might win a lot of precursor awards this upcoming awards season, but I think the Academy voters will say pass on him. Just like what happened with his performance in Gangs of New York. The Oscar will go to somebody else. Either for Murray who hasn't won or maybe Phoenix who will stir up more talks in The Master.

  • mpbstereo | August 24, 2012 1:16 PMReply

    "Oscar losing streak..." most directors would consider it a compliment to even qualify for a losing streak.

  • yer | August 24, 2012 1:16 PMReply

    Having seen THE MASTER a couple of days ago in SF, DDL's performance will have to be right up there with his best to beat Phoenix. Phoenix gives a De Niro in his prime type of performance in TM.

  • Dan | August 24, 2012 1:02 PMReply

    Joaquin Phoenix or John Hawkes will win.

  • sandra | August 24, 2012 12:58 PMReply

    Not if Joaquin has anything to say about it.

  • DG | August 24, 2012 12:46 PMReply

    I'm not sure why people are treating Lincoln like some sort of guaranteed success already. Yes it has a lot going for it in terms of cast and the idea of DDL doing something like this sounds obviously amazing but I think the subject matter honestly sounds like a potential snooze rest. Maybe I'm totally wrong and the movie will be riveting but I'm guessing if that happens it will because DDL gives an intense performance, in which case he'll deserve awards talk/recognition, but for now it seems a little premature no?

  • Marie | August 24, 2012 11:09 PM

    You have a point. To be honest, I don't care if he wins an Oscar. I just want him to deserve a nomination. Deserving an award and getting one are not always the same thing. I am fairly confident this won't be Amistad. Kushner is too good of a writer. Another thought...let's say, that this movie is really good and the performance is really strong and it makes a boatload of money (perfect ideal situation and just for the sake of argument obviously because historical films can be tough to make perfectly) , could the academy be even more impressed because DDL is playing someone so much the opposite of Daniel Plainview. If his Lincoln is really really likable, perhaps he could win on likeability. Its happened before--I mean compare Sean Penn's harvey milk to his character in Mystic RIver.. In all honesty though, I don't think he's going to win. And I don't imagine the film will be a massive blockbuster and its bound to have some people who dislike it (Spielberg's got some haters; hell, Lincoln's even got some haters or people not so impressed with heroic status.) The things I am most concerned about the performance are that he does a convincing rustic accent, has at least a somewhat high-pitched voice and doesn't forget that LIncoln had a droll sense of humor. If he nails those aspects, he'll be fine. The more brooding elements of lincoln are easy for an actor like DDL.

  • ben | August 24, 2012 6:42 PM

    @marie: you're right, performances don't have to be "intense" to be compelling/worthy of awards. The question is, does the Academy generally agree? Would they give it to a guy who's already won two for a performance more subdued and less immediately impressive (like his Daniel Plainview)? And for a possibly mediocre film (this could very well be another Amistad, for all we know)?

  • Dan | August 24, 2012 1:28 PM

    Marie is right. Those are great performances. They do get nominations, but not wins. Oldman sadly lost for the best performance any actor gave last year for the low key Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Spy. Pacino lost for his best film performance in The Godfather Part II, and Liam Neeson and Anthony Hopkins lost for great work in the same year (Schindler's List and The Remains of Day). This is sad when you do consider how great these are, and how dated or over the top some of the performances that do win awards become over time (take note: Some not all!)

  • Marie | August 24, 2012 12:51 PM

    Do all performances have to be 'intense' to be compelling or worthy of awards? What about nuanced, thoughtful,quietly determined, charismatic, idiosyncratic, funny/droll, conflicted, cunning and sad performances. BTW, these are all traits that the supposedly- boring Abraham Lincoln had. I personally don't want a maniacal and extreme performance. DDL proved he could do that already.

  • Prolly Not | August 24, 2012 12:32 PMReply

    No. Daniel Day-Lewis is bound to give an incredible performance but I can see him being passed up for either Joaquin Phoenix in THE MASTER or Bill Murray in "Give Me An Oscar in Hudson"

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