Best Picture: Lincoln vs. Argo vs. Zero Dark Thirty

Argo V Lincoln V ZeroDarkThirty

The leading 3 nominees in contention for the Best Picture award at the 85th Annual Academy Awards are all based on true historical events. Lincoln portrays the 16th POTUS during his struggle to pass the 13th Amendment in order to ban slavery in the United States. Argo dramatizes the incredible story of CIA operative Tony Mendez leading the rescue of 6 American escapees from the US Embassy during the Iranian Hostage Crises in 1979. Zero Dark Thirty follows the tribulations of a real CIA agent whose identity is still classified, but named “Maya” in the film, tracking down the infamous terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Though arguably other nominated and snubbed films are better than any one of these three movies, it would be an upset if any movie other than Lincoln, Argo, or Zero Dark Thirty won Best Picture. Their all having USA historical basis makes them quite comparable as distinct as they are.

Factually, none of these films run wildly outside the realm of believability, however they do range in how strictly they adhere to history. Those familiar with director Kathryn Bigelow’s past work, The Hurt Locker, know that truth is no object for her. Her film, Zero Dark Thirty, has attracted large controversy concerning the depicted “enhanced interrogation” leading to the killing of al-Qaeda’s leader. However, this matters little in the grand scope of the movie. Essentially, it provides fairly little to no new knowledge to any American who follows the news –though the film seems to act like it does– in that waterboarding led the American government to many wins, the CIA found bin Laden through his courier, and the various complications and doubts on the raid of bin Laden’s compound hideout. The part that comes off far from truth is the inter-workings of the CIA. One woman against all her colleagues to be right in this epic manhunt doing virtually all the work herself is better left for a story that audiences know is fictional. The breadth of still classified material on the subject leaves the film subject to a large creative license, and it shows especially large during the interaction between agents. Anyone who knows those kinds of people should realize that Bigelow has confused their intelligence and personality types with the worst meathead Marines.

Argo seemingly comes much closer to reality, though there are a number of half-truths. The complex and delicate nature of the times and events is heartily reflected in the depictions of the Iranians, the real life broadcasts being played, and is in the eyes of the actors. Near the end of the escape from Iran, however, there is some transparent bit of embellishment to raise the tension, though it does not break the movie. On the same note, there is also a controversial overreaction complaining about the movie’s diminishment of Canada’s role in the rescue. The film makes more of a case about the CIA’s factually overdo credit and at the same time gives Canada its due as a critical partner.

Lincoln has a strong historical base, namely the book off which it is majorly based on, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”. Of course not taking place during a time of video and digital documentation, there can never be an absolute agreement on the matter of such a heavily researched figure. While many Abraham Lincoln historians have greatly criticized the film, just as many defend it as “reasonably solid history” and the great pains it goes through to be accurate that other movies make no attempt at. One thing historians agree on is the film’s importance and otherwise historically indifferent people interested in Lincoln.

Giving a short review for each of the 3 films, Zero Dark Thirty is the least deserving of award for Best Picture. Outside of its controversial ignoring of facts, it simply is not entertaining enough –not being particularly action based or even smart. The formula for the movie takes some mild progression toward finding bin Laden through his courier broken up by a few suicide bombings. The worst thing about this movie is what it chooses to portray when hunting for the most infamous terrorist in modern history. The news and politicians in the mid-millennial decade used to talk constantly about the times America “almost” had him. Otherwise stated, it would have been more interesting to have a couple military operations and/or other action away from Jessica Chastain -as talented and beautiful as she may be. While the first movie about the manhunt for bin Laden arguably should have been a different one, Zero Dark Thirty is very good for what it chose to be with execution being quite remarkable. Bigelow’s direction is quite good and Chastain makes a highly competitive argument for Best Actress in a Leading Role. However, it confuses its point. Does it condone torture or is this an exposé-docudrama for things Americans for the most part already know? At the end it is easy to wonder: what was the point of this movie? Ultimately the point is probably a Hollywood caliber portrayal of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.

Argo does an excellent and distinct job from its competitors. The taking of the US Embassy is frightening and the tension has a palpable feeling worthy of the time which it depicts. In some shots, the film looks like archival 1979 footage, which is a deeply appreciated effect. That and other directorial choices like constant, unnecessary close-ups may turn off some Academy members, but overall Ben Affleck’s direction is invaluably brilliant. Argo is backed by intelligent and periodically funny writing with a strong cast. Ironically, Ben Affleck’s acting portrayal of Tony Mendez is one of the weaker parts of the movie, showing little of the range and sharpness that the actor is known to be capable of though the part does not necessarily demand a great performance. Argo tells the amazing true story as some Americans remember the tension of the time that resonates still today while younger viewers learn more about the details of the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

The most deserving of the nominees and favorite to win Best Picture, Lincoln depicts one of the most important developments in United States history. Abraham Lincoln’s ability to gather bipartisan support and political genius is not only a lesson for modern times, but a conversation about philosophical issues concerning the legality and ethical implications of what Lincoln did in order to do the just thing in freeing America from the evil of slavery. It also shows the toll heroism takes on its players in Lincoln’s (Daniel Day Lewis) relationship with First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field). Day Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones wholly deserve nominations for their prospective Oscars. Steven Spielberg’s work here has an excellent chance to earn him his 3rd well-deserved Academy Award for Best Director. Additionally, the sets and costumes are brilliant to every detail. This high budget historical feature recreates the setting with admirable ambiance. Lincoln is a masterpiece that appeals to anyone who cares about the time or events which take place during the film.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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J. Bryan Jones is a prospective writer-editor in both prose and graphic novel media. He created "Leather Wing Media" and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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4 Comments

  1. Argo snatched it at The Golden Globes so I’m expecting the same for the Oscars. Great movie.

    • J. Bryan Jones

      It is a great movie. However, while history largely shows similar nominees, the winners of Best Picture and Director vary between them more than any other category. Also, Lincoln was and is still the favorite.

  2. AnnaLar

    Interesting read! I’m excited for a number of the categories, best picture being one of them.

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