Richard Pena, left, Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg speak onstage at… (Larry Busacca / Getty Images…)
Steven Spielberg's long-gestating "Lincoln" finally arrived last night at the New York Film Festival, and as with any blessed event, the debut prompted a level of excitement not seen since ... well ... the last time Spielberg made a much-hyped, awards-season movie.
Or as Matt Dentler, former producer of the South by Southwest Film Conference & Festival, put it in a tweet: "'LINCOLN is Steven Spielberg's best film since 'WAR HORSE'!!"
Our own Steven Zeitchik, covering the festival, saw the movie last night, writing that it "got off to a strong if not spectacular awards-season start," playing to an "appreciative if not overwhelmingly loud festival audience," which sounds like a solid, if not ringing, endorsement to us.
PHOTOS: Celebrities by the Times
The headline writers at the Hollywood Reporter eschewed that sort of measured approach, trumpeting that last night's screening "turns the Oscar race upside-down," which means either A) they didn't see this one coming or B) up is down, down is up and that with "Lincoln's" arrival, we have a new best picture front-runner and its name is ... "Piranha 3DD."
Spielberg does this to people. His movies have made billions both for the studios and himself, earning six best picture nominations and another six for directing along the way. His entertaining, ambitious brand of filmmaking populism is celebrated by some, derided by others and impossible to ignore. His Oscar triumphs ("Schindler's List") and snubs ("Saving Private Ryan" losing to "Shakespeare in Love") have provided two of the ceremony's most memorable moments in the last 20 years.
For the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to turn a shoulder on a movie like "Lincoln," a prestigious project Spielberg has nurtured with playwright Tony Kushner for several years, the film would have to be a complete failure, and, even then, that doesn't mean Oscar voters wouldn't lap it up. (Some would cite "The Color Purple" as an example.)
FULL COVERAGE: Awards season 2012
"Lincoln," by all accounts, succeeds enormously with its filmmaking, ideas and, (again) unsurprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis' impassioned turn as the 16th president. (We'll be seeing it Thursday night at the Directors Guild to form our own opinion.) With "Argo," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "The Master" already carving out individual pockets of support, this year's best picture Oscar race is shaping up to be one of the most competitive contests in years. "Lincoln's" long-expected addition to the contenders will only increase the level (and volume) of the conversation.
Michael Haneke looks death square in the eye in 'Amour'
'Lincoln' sets off on awards campaign trail
Oscar 8-Ball: 'The Dark Knight Rises'
PHOTOS AND MORE:
PHOTOS: Hollywood back lot moments
Latest movie reviews
PHOTOS: NC-17 movies: Why they got the rating