"Lincoln" -- For anyone who cringed just a little while watching the trailer and worried that this might be a near-parody of a Steven Spielberg film, with its heartfelt proclamations, sentimental tones and inspiring John Williams score, fret not. The movie itself is actually a lot more reserved than that -- more a wonky, nuts-and-bolts lesson about the way political machinery operates than a sweeping historical epic that tries to encapsulate the entirety of the revered 16th president's life. That was a smart move on the part of Spielberg and Pulitzer prize-winning screenwriter Tony Kushner. Talky and intimate but also surprisingly funny, "Lincoln" focuses on the final four months of Abraham Lincoln's life as he fought for the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, and sought to unite a nation torn apart by the Civil War. This tumultuous period provides a crucible to display everything Lincoln was made of, both his folksiness and fortitude. Totally unsurprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis inhabits the role fully. He disappears into it with small details and grand gestures, from his carriage to the cadence of his speech, and the Academy should probably just give him the best-actor Oscar now and get it over with. Although "Lincoln" itself often feels too conservative, stagey and safe, Day-Lewis' performances is full of so many clever choices that he keeps it compelling. Of course, the film has all the top-notch technical hallmarks we've come to expect from Spielberg: It's handsomely staged and impeccable in its production design. But this is a movie that's easier to admire than love; it's impressive but not exactly moving. Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, John Hawkes and David Strathairn are among the supporting cast that might be too crammed with gifted character actors. PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language. 150 minutes.
"Skyfall" -- To borrow a line from Depeche Mode, death is everywhere. James Bond's mortality has never been in such prominent focus, but the demise of the entire British spy game as we know it seems imminent, as well. Still, this 23rd entry in the enduring James Bond franchise is no downer. Far from it: Simultaneously thrilling and meaty, this is easily one of the best entries ever in the 50-year, 23-film series, led once again by an actor who's the best Bond yet in Daniel Craig. So many of the elements you want to see in a Bond film exist here: the car, the tuxedo, the martini, the exotic locations filled with gorgeous women. Adele's smoky, smoldering theme song over the titles harkens to the classic 007 tales of the 1960s, even as the film's central threat of cyberterrorism, perpetrated by an elusive figure who's seemingly everywhere and can't be pinned down, couldn't be more relevant. In the hands of director Sam Mendes, it almost feels like a reinvention of the series. With Mendes collaborating once again with the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, it's definitely the most gorgeous. This time, James Bond must try and protect his no-nonsense boss, M (the always intelligent and dignified Judi Dench), from what feels like a very personal attack, even as it seems that she may not necessarily be protecting him in return. Javier Bardem pretty much steals this entire movie away from a cast of esteemed and formidable actors as the villainous Silva, the former MI6 agent getting his revenge against this staid, old-fashioned organization in high-tech, ultra-efficient ways that make him seem unstoppable. PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. 143 minutes.