• By Billy King
  • Posted Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Movies We Recommend

And the Oscar Went to…The most recent Academy Awards ceremony is a few months past and the acclaimed nominated films are now making their way onto DVD. The library has acquired copies or will acquire copies shortly so it is a good time to have a look at some of the best films that came out in 2012. Your library is a good place to catch up on films that you may have missed or to revisit films that you loved the first time around. I've chosen three films that represent a trend I noticed in last year’s nominees. All three films depict a specific and important event in American history that many people did not know a lot about. Whether it was a detail of history that was lost in time or a super secret mission that had to be cloaked in mystery, the incidents in these award-winning movies provided fertile material for their cinematic storytellers in 2012.

Lincoln by legendary director Stephen Spielberg does not spend hours and hours telling the life of the 16th president of the United States. Instead the director chooses to bring his widely heralded talents to the telling of one momentous achievement made by the war-time president, the passage of the 13th amendment to the Constitution that outlawed slavery.

Daniel Day-Lewis deservedly won the best actor Oscar for his chameleon-like portrayal of the president who used an array of tactics, both hard and soft, to persuade enough congressmen to vote for the amendment. You would never expect such political wrangling to achieve such high drama and suspense but in Spielberg’s hand you are drawn into the debate and almost forget that the outcome is part of history. We all know what will happen but we remain transfixed by the arguments of such lively characters as Tommy Lee Jones’s Thaddeus Stephens and Sally Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln. Even though the film traces only one period in Lincoln’s life, the interactions with his son, his wife, his political friends and foes and even the soldiers who are fighting the war leave the viewer knowing the president as a human being instead of an icon.

To enhance the viewing experience the library has many books on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War including the acclaimed book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin upon which the film was based.

Argo won the Oscar for best film this year and it tells a story from recent American history that very few people knew about. Director and star of the film, Ben Affleck, recreates that long and arduous year when Americans were held hostage by Iranian students.

The year was 1979 and, as the film succinctly summarizes at the beginning, the people of Iran were very angry over the United States’ support of the deposed Shah. The revolutionaries in Iran attacked the US Embassy and took the staff as hostages. However, six Americans escaped to the Canadian ambassador’s home and were secretly given asylum.

Affleck plays the CIA agent who masterminds the idea to rescue the six by posing as a Canadian film producer and sneaking them out as a film crew. The “Argo” in the film is a cheesy science fiction film in need of a location in the Middle East. Affleck and his real crew recreate the feel and look of the time period with astonishing detail. He uses actual TV footage to heighten the feel of realism and viewers who remember the hostage crisis may see this period in a different light. Decades of exposure to the media’s coverage of global and national upheavals can affect perspective.

The film balances the tension and terror of the crisis with the outlandish and often funny business of Hollywood’s involvement in the plot to create a believable film called Argo. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are the standouts here as an award winning makeup artist and producer who take Affleck’s baby and runs with it.

Zero Dark Thirty, methodically and brilliantly details an even more recent piece of American history, the hunt for terrorist Osama bin Laden. Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow focuses on the CIA agent who over several years relentlessly tracks down clues and patiently waits for a break. Her determination eventually leads to the famous raid in 2011 on a house in Pakistan that killed the mastermind of 9/11. Jessica Chastain won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of the agent who, despite skepticism from her superiors and attacks on herself, never gave up on the pursuit.

As with Bigelow’s earlier film, Hurt Locker, the style of the film is gritty and realistic with a measured pace that builds tension to the ultimate crescendo. Just as in Lincoln the viewer knows the outcome but precise and creative storytelling illustrates how we got there and the sacrifices that were made for it. The result is riveting entertainment. Bigelow does not shy away from controversial methods of interrogation used by American agents to obtain information and some of these scenes may be disturbing. The filmmaker does not judge but instead depicts the complicated and difficult choices that are made in times of war as well as the consequences of those choices.

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