As Abraham Lincoln in "Lincoln"

By Chris Nashawaty
December 21, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST
  • Movie

Most of us look at Abraham Lincoln every day. After all, he’s on both the lowly penny and the ubiquitous five-dollar bill. But when Daniel Day-Lewis appears on screen at the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, it’s as if we’re seeing the 16th president for the first time. At 55, Day-Lewis has already delivered so many authentic and artful performances that it’s hardly a surprise that he was able to transform himself so fully into Lincoln, from the reedy, high-pitched voice to the world-weary lines etched on his face. Still, this may be the two-time Oscar winner’s most impressive feat of movie magic yet. He seems to be channeling the Great Emancipator’s ghost — the fiery oratory, the homespun anecdotes, the steely determination to push the 13th Amendment through Congress. A lot has been written about Day-Lewis’ method of losing himself in his characters. Probably too much. But our greatest celluloid conjurer can even make his directors forget who and where they are. ”Daniel is so good that I forgot to yell ‘Cut!’ a lot,” says Spielberg. ”Watching him act was like stepping into a time machine and going back 150 years. I didn’t feel like I was on a set, but that I was really there when these great issues were being debated. It felt like a privilege.” We know the feeling.

Best performance by a singer after invasive throat surgery: Adele at the Grammys