There was an interesting trend among the best picture nominees at the 85th Academy Awards in Los Angeles: The Academy chose a number of politically hard-hitting films. To varying degrees, Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained and Les Miserables all fit this bill.
These films tell tales of hunting Osama bin Laden (Zero Dark Thirty), the life and times of the emancipator of American slaves (Lincoln), a freed slave on a mission to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner (Django Unchained), and a film version of the musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic 19th century novel of social injustice.
To be sure, softer nominees were also in the running: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook and The Life of Pi. But there a strong political flavor was present in the Academy’s choices this year.
Prior to the unfurling of the red carpet, heated predictions put Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic, in which Daniel Day-Lewis plays the 16th American president; and Argo, produced by George Clooney and directed by Ben Affleck; in a tight race for best picture. In the end, Argo won.
In his acceptance speech, Afleck said, “I want to acknowledge Steven Spielberg, who I think is a genius. I want to thank Canada. I want to thank our friends in Iran living under terrible circumstances right now.” Reportedly, Affleck’s interest in the story behind Argo has roots in his time as a Middle Eastern Studies major at Occidental University in Los Angeles.
Argo, which took home a total of three prizes, recounts the story of a rogue, parachuting CIA agent who rescued six fugitive American diplomatic personnel hiding in the Canadian embassy in Tehran in 1980 during the Iranian revolution.
While Argo director Ben Affleck may have been snubbed for a best director nomination, Ang Lee was not. The Taiwan-born director upset many expectations that Spielberg would win the prize, winning the statue for the second time with his work on The Life of Pie. Lee first won best director for Brokeback Mountain in 2006, six years after he first came to fame with the martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which won best foreign language film.
Providing a fantastical balance to the decidedly political flavor of Argo, The Life of Pi is a film adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel of the same name, which recounts a metaphor-rich tale of a boy lost at sea (played by Indian actor Suraj Sharma), who winds up stranded on a small boat with a Bengal tiger.
Called “unfilmable” at one point, Lee managed to turn the film – with a budget of more than U.S. $125 million – into an international sensation that has raked in almost U.S. $600 million worldwide.
“Thank you, movie God,” Lee said in his acceptance speech. “I really need to share this with all 3,000 people who worked with me on Life of Pi and sharing this incredible journey with me…Suraj [Sharma], you're a miracle, carrying the movie. Everyone who worked on this, you are the golden statue in my heart.”
He added, “I couldn't have made this film without Taiwan."
To be sure, others won big: Daniel Day-Lewis (best actor, Lincoln), Jennifer Lawrence (best leading actress, Silver Linings Playbook), Christoph Waltz (best supporting actor, Django Unchained), Anne Hathaway (best supporting actress, Les Miserables) and Quentin Tarrantino (best screenplay, Django Unchained), among others.
But by the end of the show, Argo (with three awards) and The Life of Pi (with the most of any picture at four) clearly carried the night.