Political movies look to win big at Oscars

Political movies are expected to rake in the trophies at Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony.

“Argo,” a film about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, is favored to win the biggest prize of the night: Best Picture. Several websites — including GoldenDerby.com, The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog and AwardsDaily.com — have it in the lead.

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Washington and Hollywood have been closer than ever this year. Not only are films about politics expected to do well, but politicians have inserted themselves into the Oscar campaign and the nominees have made stops in the nation’s Capital to tout their work.

The race for an Oscar has become like a political campaign: nominees hold events, answer questions from voters, do their share of glad-handling and press tours while the studios behind the movies spend millions on ad campaigns, parties, and hiring the best consultants in the business.

Part of the reason behind “Argo”’s momentum is the strategist running its Oscar campaign, according to AwardsDaily.com founder Sasha Stone.

“The best in business is on ‘Argo’ right now. She’s like Rahm Emanuel,” Stone said of Cynthia Schwartz, who made her mark masterminding “Crash”’s Oscar win in 2004.

“Argo” is up for seven awards at Sunday’s ceremony but it’s missing one notable nomination: for director Ben Affleck. Many Hollywood trades cite that snub as one of the reasons for the movie’s rise to most-favored status.

“Argo” also follows in the steps of the 2012 Best Picture winner “The Artist” in its celebration of Hollywood. While “The Artist” focused on an actor’s trouble transitioning from silent pictures to the “talkies,” “Argo” glorified Hollywood’s role in helping six U.S. diplomats escape Tehran during the hostage crisis.

The film hasn’t escaped criticism but hasn’t seen that negativity rise to levels that its rivals — “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln” — have received.

Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador to Iran during the events depicted in “Argo,” criticized Hollywood’s interpretation.

“Canada was not merely standing around watching events take place. The CIA was a junior partner,” he told The Toronto Star on Friday.

But, he conceded, the movie is a big deal.

“They’re spending a lot of money. They’re banking on an Academy Award.”

And as “Argo” went up, one of the most political movies of the year went down.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” the film about the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden, saw its Oscar hopes fade after several senators questioned the veracity of the torture scenes in the movie.

Director Kathryn Bigelow, who won the Best Director trophy in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker,” was snubbed this year.

And actress Jessica Chastain, who plays the lead female CIA agent in the film, was nominated for Best Actress but “Silver Linings Playbook” star Jennifer Lawrence is seen as the odds-on-favorite for taking home the prize.

“It just became too hot to touch,” Stone said of “Zero Dark Thirty” after the controversy, adding that the filmmakers didn’t defend the film as strongly as they could have against the allegations.

The film got a total of five nominations.

Another hot political movie that saw its stock drop was “Lincoln.” The film ran a Washington-heavy campaign: Steven Spielberg, who is up for Best Director, screened his film at the White House in November, brought it to the Senate in December and helped arrange for former President Clinton to introduce its Best Picture nomination at the Golden Globes in January.

Spielberg and Ang Lee, who directed “Life of Pi,” are seen as the two favorites for Best Director.

And actor Daniel Day-Lewis is favored to win the Best Actor prize for his portrayal of the 16th president.

But the movie’s Best Picture chances were seen as being damaged by at least two factors: Clinton’s appearance at the Globes, which was seen as an overreach by Spielberg and a letter written by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), requesting for a correction to the film’s depiction that two of his state’s three representatives voted against outlawing slavery in 1865.

Of all the movies up for awards at the Kodak Theater on Sunday night, “Lincoln” got the most nominations, with 12 total.

Seth MacFarlane is hosting the 85th Academy Awards.

The “Family Guy” creator has espoused strong, liberal views on a variety of issues during stops on “The Bill Maher Show” and in other media interviews but he isn’t expected to make any political jokes on Sunday night.

In fact, the Oscar ceremony hasn’t been political in several years. Even in 2012, which was a presidential election year, there was very little politics.

Host Billy Crystal made a few jokes. For example, when he introduced actor Christian Bale, he took a veiled swipe at the GOP presidential field.

“A dark knight, an American psycho, a charismatic crack addict,” Crystal said. “You'll get to choose one on Super Tuesday.”

Crystal also noted how much money the “Harry Potter” movies had made, adding that Potter “only paid 14 percent in income tax,” which was seen as a hit on Mitt Romney.

But the Oscars haven’t been caused a real political controversy in years.

One of the last ones was in 2003, when Michael Moore won for “Bowling for Columbine” and used his acceptance speech to criticize the Bush administration for the war in Iraq.

And, in 2007, Al Gore’s documentary "An Inconvenient Truth” won but the former vice president didn’t make any political remarks. In fact, he used the occasion for a joke.

He and actor Leonardo DiCaprio came out to announce the show had officially “gone green.” At the end of their spiel, DiCaprio, referring to speculation Gore may make another presidential bid, asked him if he wanted to take the chance to make some kind of “major announcement.”

Gore pulled out a piece of paper and said he would like to take the “opportunity to announce my intentions” — and was promptly cut off by the orchestra, which always plays when a winner has spoken over their allotted time.

Stone, who has been covering the Oscars for 14 years, doesn’t expect any political knocks.

‘You don’t want to turn off half of America by making jokes about Republicans,” she said.

She added that what you won’t see is “somebody going off script — either a recipient of an award or a presenter standing at the mike and using that moment to advocate for a cause. I haven’t seen that for years.”