Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron,' Brings Mass Destruction Along With Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver Watch: First Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron,' Brings Mass Destruction Along With Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver Watch: 'Star Wars' Prequels Recut Into 2 Hour 40 Minute 'Turn to the Darkside: Episode 3.1' Watch: 'Star Wars' Prequels Recut Into 2 Hour 40 Minute 'Turn to the Darkside: Episode 3.1' Edward Norton Says He Didn't Return To Play Hulk Because He Wanted More "Diversity" In His Film Roles Edward Norton Says He Didn't Return To Play Hulk Because He Wanted More "Diversity" In His Film Roles Oscar Buzz: Who Could Be Set For Nods In The Supporting Actress Race? Oscar Buzz: Who Could Be Set For Nods In The Supporting Actress Race? Juliette Binoche Says Her Performance In 'Godzilla' Made Quentin Tarantino Cry Juliette Binoche Says Her Performance In 'Godzilla' Made Quentin Tarantino Cry Listen To Chvrches "Get Away" From The Rescored Version Of Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive' Plus Check Out The Trailer Listen To Chvrches "Get Away" From The Rescored Version Of Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive' Plus Check Out The Trailer The Essentials: The 10 Best Michael Keaton Performances The Essentials: The 10 Best Michael Keaton Performances George Lucas Says Studios "Don't Have Any Imagination And Don't Have Any Talent" George Lucas Says Studios "Don't Have Any Imagination And Don't Have Any Talent" Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 7 ‘Friendless Child’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 7 ‘Friendless Child’ Watch: Spoiler-ific Local News Report On 'Batman v. Superman' That Caused WB To Lauch A Lawsuit Watch: Spoiler-ific Local News Report On 'Batman v. Superman' That Caused WB To Lauch A Lawsuit Watch: Baz Luhrmann's Chanel No. 5 Short Film "The One That I Want" Starring Gisele Bündchen Watch: Baz Luhrmann's Chanel No. 5 Short Film "The One That I Want" Starring Gisele Bündchen Christopher Nolan Says 'Interstellar' Is About "What It Means To Be A Dad”; Plus Check Out New Pics Christopher Nolan Says 'Interstellar' Is About "What It Means To Be A Dad”; Plus Check Out New Pics Paul Schrader, Nicolas Winding Refn & Nicolas Cage Campaign Against Their Film 'Dying Of The Light' Paul Schrader, Nicolas Winding Refn & Nicolas Cage Campaign Against Their Film 'Dying Of The Light' WTF: Horror Hit 'Annabelle' Yanked From French Theaters Due To Rioting WTF: Horror Hit 'Annabelle' Yanked From French Theaters Due To Rioting Gone Girls And Gone Boys: 11 Films That Dissect Marriage Gone Girls And Gone Boys: 11 Films That Dissect Marriage Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

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.


E-Mail Updates