Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Jesse Eisenberg And Kristen Stewart Go On In The Run In Red Band Trailer For 'American Ultra' Watch: Jesse Eisenberg And Kristen Stewart Go On In The Run In Red Band Trailer For 'American Ultra' Tilda Swinton Joins Benedict Cumberbatch In 'Doctor Strange' Tilda Swinton Joins Benedict Cumberbatch In 'Doctor Strange' Watch: Jason Segel Plays David Foster Wallace Opposite Jesse Eisenberg In The First Trailer For ‘The End Of The Tour’ Watch: Jason Segel Plays David Foster Wallace Opposite Jesse Eisenberg In The First Trailer For ‘The End Of The Tour’ The Top 10 Films Of The 2015 Cannes Film Festival The Top 10 Films Of The 2015 Cannes Film Festival 5 Innovative Ways The Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard 'Macbeth' Differs From Previous Versions 5 Innovative Ways The Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard 'Macbeth' Differs From Previous Versions New ‘Ant-Man’ Photos; Movie May Include More Marvel Cinematic Universe Characters New ‘Ant-Man’ Photos; Movie May Include More Marvel Cinematic Universe Characters Over 30 New 'Jurassic World' Photos, Plus 2 New Clips & Lots Of New TV Spots Over 30 New 'Jurassic World' Photos, Plus 2 New Clips & Lots Of New TV Spots Matt Damon Goes Interstellar Again In New Pics From Ridley Scott's 'The Martian' Matt Damon Goes Interstellar Again In New Pics From Ridley Scott's 'The Martian' Cannes Awards Winners: Jacques Audiard's 'Dheepan' Wins Palme d’Or; Rooney Mara Ties For Best Actress With ‘Carol’ Cannes Awards Winners: Jacques Audiard's 'Dheepan' Wins Palme d’Or; Rooney Mara Ties For Best Actress With ‘Carol’ First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Lonely Island Movie Is Called 'Conner4real,’ Targets Justin Bieber & Katy Perry, Adds Sarah Silverman, Imogen Poots, & More Lonely Island Movie Is Called 'Conner4real,’ Targets Justin Bieber & Katy Perry, Adds Sarah Silverman, Imogen Poots, & More Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen 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 All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

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