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Oscars 2013 and Spielberg: The storyteller is part of our cultural DNA

Oscars 2013: Oscar or not for 'Lincoln,' Steven Spielberg has not only shaped our fantasies, he's influenced a generation's perspective on history.

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Spielberg's Lincoln is not only the public figure carved into Mt. Rushmore or sitting on the Washington Mall; he remains vulnerable, struggling with a depressed wife, raising his own children, and ultimately confronting the death of his son Willie. He also has an awkward sense of humor that both delights and frustrates colleagues.

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As Spielberg puts it, the goal was to "show a man, not a monument." The film itself contains none of the flashy pyrotechnics for which Spielberg has become so famous, but is more a series of tableaux with intense dialogue showing the president deftly maneuvering through a political mine field and enlisting unsavory men to help him pass transcendent legislation.

Although Spielberg spent 12 years re-searching the19th century to endow this production with authenticity, he made sure not "to get too fancy in the cutting room," wanting to draw attention to the political process, not the imagery: "Many scenes play to one angle because I wanted them to exist in seemingly real time," he says in the companion book to the movie.

Spielberg has also spoken often of how he uncharacteristically wore a suit while filming "Lincoln" – to boost his own sense of the needed reverence and gravitas. He also addressed Day-Lewis – noted for his method of living in character during a film shoot – as "Mr. President," and Sally Field as "Mrs. Lincoln" or her nickname, "Molly."

The New York Yankees of cinema?

Though Life magazine named him "the most influential person" of his generation – the most superlative of the infinite list of accolades he's gotten over the years, including two Oscars for Best Director – a large and vocal segment of the "serious" film community still views Spielberg as the New York Yankees of cinema.

Spielberg is the man they love to hate because he fields the best players, controls the biggest budgets, draws the largest crowds, and reaps the highest profits. And his penchant for happy endings – only one of his movies, "The Sugarland Express," has a truly unhappy ending – further fuels the criticism. Whenever his movies win awards, the applause barely dies down before the accusations of unfair advantages, immature characters, and superficial ideas quickly surface.

Some critics say Spielberg's films remain too filled with earthly pleasures, too stuffed with things that go bump in the night, too reliant on emotional manipulation to command serious analysis. They view Spielberg as little more than a modern P.T. Barnum, a technically gifted and intellectually shallow showman who substitutes spectacle for substance and raw sentimentality for reflective contemplation. They assail Spielberg for two of the greatest problems in modern cinema history: the Blockbuster mentality that now permeates the commercial film industry, leaving little room for intellectually challenging works; and the dumbing down of contemporary movies that promotes bloated budgets and relies on wham-bam action flicks.

Spielberg, in effect, has become a brand name that epitomizes this dichotomy of reactions to his work: To call something "Spielbergian" is to characterize it as wondrous and full of powerful feeling, or as pandering and relentlessly manipulative.

The kind alien and broken home


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