Among Spielberg’s “important” films, Amistad isn’t the home run that Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List is, but it’s still a powerful film and one with an incredible ensemble cast anchored by Anthony Hopkins in an Oscar-nominated performance as former President John Quincy Adams.
In today’s political climate, it’s hard to imagine, but after Adams lost his bid for re-election as President, he ended up running for Congress and returned to the House of Representatives (the only former President to do so) and government service. There, he was enlisted to represent the “cargo” of the slave ship La Amistad before the US Supreme Court. The Africans enslaved by the ship, had escaped the hold and slain their captors before being apprehended when their ship arrived in America. The 1839 case hinged on whether this was a matter of kidnapped human beings rising up and shaking off their chains or human cargo that should be returned to its “owners”. Hopkins arguing on their behalf before the court with a ten-minute dissertation on freedom is one of the most riveting monologues and pieces of acting I’ve ever seen. Hannibal Lecter’s introduction may be the most obvious best scene of Hopkins’ career, but this is every bit as good.
Sometimes the word “favorite” isn’t exactly the right descriptor for this column. This isn’t a scene I watch over and over because it’s fun. It just happens to be one of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever seen in any film, and it’s a reminder that when Denzel Washington is paired with great material, he’s probably the best actor on the planet.
Glory is a criminally underrated film from 1989 that tells the story of the Massachusetts 54th: the first all-black, all-volunteer company in the US Army. Some were free men from the North, others escaped slaves from the South. All were fighting in a war that would be run by white men to determine the fate of their people, and they did so in the face of contempt from both sides. Directed by Edward Zwick and starring an ensemble that includes Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Cary Elwes, and Matthew Broderick, Glory is the film that made Denzel a superstar and won him his first Oscar (for Best Supporting Actor). Continue reading My Favorite Scene: Glory (1989) “One Tear”→
Lincoln is a supremely frustrating movie for me, and exemplifies everything that’s gone wrong with Steven Spielberg as a director. The opening scene is almost laughable. It seems like something out of a third grade play. As always, Spielberg couldn’t end his film when he had the perfect moment (the long way down the hall on the way to Ford’s Theatre). This film, though it wandered a bit in-between these moments, was about the passage of the 13th Amendment. Everyone knows Lincoln was assassinated. It would have been a far more poignant ending to see him walking to his death then to spend another twenty minutes showing it.
HOWEVER, Lincoln is still a must-see film because it contains one of the best performances by any actor in any role ever. Daniel Day-Lewis is famous for subsuming himself into the characters he portrays, but his Oscar-winning turn as our 16th President was on another level altogether. Lewis had to overcome everyone’s preconceptions of who Lincoln was and turn him into a real man for the audience. That’s a tough task when you’re talking about the most deified figure in American history. This scene is fantastic, but almost any time Lewis is on the screen you can’t help but marvel at the deftness with which he pulled off one of the great performances of all-time. I just wish he’d had a director who could have shaped a better movie around it.