Daniel Day-Lewis did win for best actor, and his performance was extraordinary. No one alive today can know what Lincoln was really like. But Daniel Day-Lewis certainly captured what I like to think Lincoln was really like - far more so than Henry Fonda and other great Lincoln performances over the years. Day-Lewis conveyed a combination of humor, sadness, in touch with the profundity of Presidential power in that time which felt so true to me it hurt. His Lincoln wants to free the slaves, permanently and unambiguously, but also has the in-depth smarts as a politician to know the only dangerous way to get that done.
The scene in the House of Representatives, taking the vote to send the 13th Amendment on its way to be ratified by the states, was more than worth the price of the movie in itself, and Lincoln was barely in it. Instead, we get a tableau of the House with eloquence and insult simply unknown today. Again, who today can say what the House of Representatives was really like back then. But Spielberg's portrayal felt just right.
That scene also had something bound to please any historian of media - the use of the telegraph, to get word of the vote out, on a vote by vote basis, to the military headquarters outside of Washington. What we saw there is the very beginning of electronic news coverage and reporting - the first expression of radio, television, and the Web.
We all knew Lincoln's story before this movie. But having seen it, and the brave political behavior of people across the political spectrum of the Congress in 1865, you have to wonder where those Congress people are today. Where are they for the burning issues our day - such as gun control? Our missing them, and a rekindled drive to find them today, may be the most important legacy of this remarkable movie.