Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Margot Robbie Says 'Suicide Squad' Is More 'The Dark Knight' Than 'Avengers'; David Ayer Says Joker Is "Majestic" Margot Robbie Says 'Suicide Squad' Is More 'The Dark Knight' Than 'Avengers'; David Ayer Says Joker Is "Majestic" Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More Watch: Paul Thomas Anderson's Sophomore Short 'Cigarettes & Coffee' Watch: Paul Thomas Anderson's Sophomore Short 'Cigarettes & Coffee' Another Oscar? First Look At Eddie Redmayne In Tom Hooper's 'The Danish Girl' Another Oscar? First Look At Eddie Redmayne In Tom Hooper's 'The Danish Girl' 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" New Looks At Daniel Craig, Dave Bautista, And Lea Seydoux In 'Spectre' New Looks At Daniel Craig, Dave Bautista, And Lea Seydoux In 'Spectre' The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki

Benghazi, The Fiscal Cliff & The Election: How Important Is It For A Best Picture Contender To Capture The Zeitgeist?

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist November 14, 2012 at 3:58PM

When President Barack Obama won re-election a week ago, more than one tweet popped up saying something along the lines of "Well, that makes 'Lincoln' the Best Picture front-runner now." You could certainly make that argument for Steven Spielberg's film. It had plenty of adoring reviews, a titanic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, and a enormously healthy box office-average in limited release, taking around $75000 on each of its eleven screens.
3
Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain

When President Barack Obama won re-election last week, more than one tweet popped up saying something along the lines of "Well, that makes 'Lincoln' the Best Picture front-runner now." You could certainly make that argument for Steven Spielberg's film. It had plenty of adoring reviews, a titanic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, and a enormously healthy box office-average in limited release, taking around $75,000 on each of its eleven screens.

And we'd certainly agree that, right now at least, "Lincoln" is the film with its finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. Much of the film is about Lincoln's efforts to reunite a hopelessly divided country, and while America hasn't been plunged into civil war, the division between the two sides of the political coin is as pronounced as it's ever been in the modern era. With Obama using his acceptance speech to place further emphasis on bipartisanship, there's a tangible link with events of Spielberg's film. And Lincoln's own battle to pass a difficult piece of legislation mirrors Obama's fight to keep America from going over "the fiscal cliff," which is likely to dominate the news cycle through to Oscar night.

Argo

"Lincoln" isn't the only film with the potential to tie in to what's going on in the world around it. "Argo" found accidental resonance with the present day due to its release only a few weeks after the deaths at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. Obama's re-election arguably benefits "Zero Dark Thirty," about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, as much as it does "Lincoln." And Gus Van Sant's "The Promised Land" is said to revolve around the controversial issue of fracking. But does it make any of them more likely to win Best Picture in a competitive field? How important is a film capturing the cultural zeitgeist, or mirroring current events, when it comes to winning Academy votes?

When you look at the recent history, there are certainly films that could be seen as having benefited from being about subject matter that was on the tip of everyone's tongues. Many attributed the victory of "Slumdog Millionaire" in 2009 to the "Obama effect," a new optimism and embrace of multiculturalism hanging in the air. "Million Dollar Baby" won Best Picture just as the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case started brewing up again. "The Hurt Locker" could have been aided by the beginning of withdrawal of troops from Iraq earlier that year.

Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln

But one could point to as many examples that point to the opposite. Months after 9/11, "A Beautiful Mind," a film with no connection whatsoever to the events of that day, took the top prize. A year later, with the Iraq war about to get underway, the musical "Chicago," about as escapist a film as you could ask for, picked up Best Picture. The recession has barely figured into the Oscar nominated films since it happened in 2008, and while 'The Social Network" was acclaimed as a generation-defining picture for the Web 2.0 age, it lost out to period piece "The King's Speech." Hell, of last year's crop, barely any of the nine nominees had any connection to the world we live in in 2012, least of all nostalgic victor "The Artist."

And politics aside, even dominating the cultural zeitgeist is no guarantee of victory. "Avatar" was a once-in-a-generation box office phenomenon, and yet lost out to a film made for a fraction of the budget, "The Hurt Locker." And that duel is, ultimately, an indicator of part of what matters much more -- the narrative of the season. That year, the narrative was of David vs. Goliath, made all the more potent by the fact that the directors of each, James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, were once married. Academy members are, in various forms, storytellers, and they want the story of that year's Oscar race to have the right ending.

So yes, the narrative can come into play  -- voters felt that "Slumdog Millionaire" was the film of the moment, and that's why Oscar publicists are keen to push those connections to current events. But also, "Slumdog Millionaire" faced a weak field, and felt like the only obvious winner. And ultimately, any connection to the zeitgeist is less important than the simple question of which movie Oscar voters liked the most. It might be "Lincoln." It might be "Zero Dark Thirty." Or it might be "Life Of Pi" or "Les Miserables." Tying into the wider world can help push a film over the edge, but it can't stop a juggernaut.  

This article is related to: Awards, Oscars, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Argo, Promised Land


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates