The season is almost upon us.
No, not referring to the holiday season, though I could be mistaken, but I thought I saw valentine’s candy out the other day …
Award season for films slowly is starting to create a buzz, so while the landscape has become unique this year, it will be fascinating to see who the potential front-runners are and which will garner nominations.
More on that to come in following weeks, but since this period is traditionally spent jockeying for the opportunity to win those coveted statuettes, I figure to give you a couple films that excelled at the highest level the years they were released. Not only are they critically acclaimed, they are a wonderful way to learn a little history and watch a couple actors show us how it is done.
“The King’s Speech” (2010)
Almost a full decade ago, Tom Hooper’s historical film focused on King George VI (Colin Firth) and the time surrounding his rise as the British monarch and the coming of World War II.
When King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne in order to marry an American, Wallis Simpson (played by Eve Best), the next in line is Albert, who takes the name of George the sixth. The biggest issue is that George has a debilitating stammer and struggles when speaking in public. With radio becoming more common and the war coming, George rehires an eccentric speech teacher by the name of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to help eliminate the speech impediment.
The film is a visual masterpiece as Hooper and his cinematographer Danny Cohen treat and trick their viewers with a combination of techniques that will cause a different reaction than that of a normal drama. The shots are tight and at times cramped to convey the feeling of constriction happening to George when he speaks. Many individuals with this condition observe that “words just can’t come out fast enough, causing a logjam,” and shooting the scenes this way lets the audience experience what is going on in his head.
The relationship between Logue and George is refreshingly different from many of the teacher/student combinations usually shown in movies. We see that the unorthodox methods of Logue actually have an impact on George, and the chemistry between the two actors is brilliant. There is a true love/hate scenario, and the director dazzlingly captures the throne room scene (probably the most iconic moment of the film) as he gets two of the best in the business to play off each other to the point you wonder if this is actually how it happened.
Rush, known mainly as Captain Barbosa from “Pirates” and Nigel the pelican in “Finding Nemo,” is beyond remarkable as the speech instructor. As one myself (though I teach the introduction course along with my film classes), I was drawn to him and his ways. You can’t help but like him, and when he utters his line at the climax of the film, chills will run down your spine. This is where teaching meets execution by the student, and Hooper brings the nearly two-hour film to a powerful close.
Firth is exceptional as well, and won the Oscar for Best Actor, metamorphosing into the struggling man who would become king. Hooper took home the directing Oscar and the film would be named Best Picture, finishing with a total of four of the 12 awards it was nominated for. The visual and acting pieces are among the best performances of the new millennium, but the impact of the message will resonate with you long after the credits roll. The R rating might be a little strong (mostly for language), and Prime has it for $3.99.
Speaking of speeches and acting, on today's 157th anniversary (Nov. 19, 1863) of perhaps the most famous speech in American history, it is appropriate to mention Steven Spielberg’s epic masterpiece.
Knowing full well the many different directions that a film about the beloved 16th president of our wonderful country can go, Spielberg bases the movie on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 biography, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” and has award-winning writer Tony Kushner adapt it to the screen. The focus is the final four months of Lincoln’s life and his push for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Unlike some of Spielberg’s most famous films, this one has no real action sequences, is highly dialogue-driven and works because of the incredible cast and the performances given. Names like Sally Field, James Spader, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Adam Driver, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones portray major historical figures during one of the most turbulent times for our nation.
And playing the title role is the one and only Daniel Day-Lewis. He was the original choice to play him but turned it down because he felt extremely uncomfortable bringing to life “The Great Emancipator.” Liam Neeson was cast but due to a personal tragedy stepped away, and after much deliberation, Lewis reconsidered and took the part.
Thankfully for us, he did.
His Lincoln looked like the portrait on the five dollar bill. He moved deliberately as a tall man uncomfortable with his height (he was the tallest commander in chief), and his voice was higher to carry better in a large crowd. He was a little more jovial than most people might think and surprisingly doesn’t actually deliver the "Gettysburg Address" in the film. It is discussed between a few members of the army and Lincoln, which is as poignant a scene as you may ever see in a movie.
Lewis becomes the man surrounded by myth and legend, and for the 150-minute run time, we are treated to the greatest living actor playing the most studied and researched leader of the 19th century. Obviously, he would take home the top prize at the Oscars (one of the three he has won), the film would win one other of the 12 it was nominated for (it was a banner year for films). Its PG-13 rating is fair; there are a couple disturbing shots, and the end is emotionally draining. You can catch it on Prime for $2.99.
The two films make the study of history more exciting than a textbook, led by two award-winning actors. Yes, you are welcome.
• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor of film and broadcast journalism at McHenry County College, teaching Introduction to Film, Advanced Film and Introduction to Public Speaking.