Argo and Lincoln – Must See Movies

So Argo took Best Picture and Lincoln took Best Actor. Neither won for director. That’s done so now I can discuss my opinions free of Oscar speculation. 220px-Lincoln_2012_Teaser_Poster

These are two of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, not just this year. The acting was top notch – the ensemble casts and supporting actors were outstanding, in fact. Alan Arkin from Argo and Tommy Lee Jones stood out, but I was also impressed with the folks I didn’t recognize. The stories were tight, focused and intended to be snapshots into two significant, unrelated political events in the history of our country – the Congressional debate on the 13th Amendment and the exfiltration of six American diplomats stranded in Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis.

What’s interesting is that we know how both events played out, no need for spoilers. Still, both movies were very gripping and had me on the edge of my seat – how would the members of Congress vote? would they get to the phone in time during a pivotal scene in Argo? I was completely swept up in the story. And that’s a testament to the films.

Lincoln rests on the shoulders of acting great Daniel Day-Lewis who rightfully took home his third Best Acting Oscar – his was a mesmerizing performance that made me feel connected to President Lincoln like none other. It was almost like watching an old video, at least when he was on the screen. The fine performances of his fellow actors – Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, S. Epatha Merkerson and so many others – just added to the strength of this movie. It was a powerful moment in our nation’s history and while Spieldberg is criticized for some inaccuracies – I believe his decision to focus on these few months was an important way for us to understand one of greatest American presidents a bit more.

ARgoPosterArgo was more of an ensemble and I’m giving credit to Ben Affleck for his director’s skills – the movie was incredibly interesting. From the way he interspersed iconic imagery from the hostage crisis to the down keyed character he himself played – the CIA agent who carried out the rescue – he drew me in. I was 10 when the crisis began and really don’t remember much at all except that my parents turned off the television quite a bit during the evening news. And I remember the yellow ribbons. So while I knew the outcome, I relished the opportunity to learn more about the bigger picture.

The movies do tie together in that the respective Presidents faced a moral dilemna. Lincoln needed to the end the war and abolish slavery, balancing the lives of millions on those decisions. Carter had to balance the lives of the 6 diplomats who escaped undetected and were secreted in the Canadian embassy with the 52 hostages, as well as the larger issues relevant to the US-Iran relationship. Embargoes harm innocent citizens – so do rescue attempts.

I’m not suggesting that slavery equates one hostage situation, no matter how serious. I’m just pointing out that the respective filmmakers did explore the moral and ethical nuances in both situations and forced us as the audience to participate in that debate. Of course, these are movies and moral quandary is always a good plot point. But there’s no escaping the fact that when I read what the hostages – all of them endured – I have to admit that American citizens were perpetrating the same and worse atrocities on other human beings with the full support of the law until the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

I highly recommend both films. You will walk away better informed on American history and with a deeper understanding of the impacts those two separate events have on our lives today.

And, hopefully, the curiosity to pursue more information about both.

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