Oscars 2104: Movie that wins Best Picture likely to be based on real events

Six of the films nominated are true (or true-ish) stories

Currently in Hollywood it is not so much a case of life imitating art, but rather, art imitating life.

As the schedule of summer blockbusters fills out, filmgoers annually lament the prevalence of sequels and superhero franchises and wonder aloud whether Hollywood’s creative well has run dry. But given the number of Academy Award nominees that are now based on true stories, should we also be asking a similar question during Oscars season?

This year, a total of six of the films nominated for Best Picture are true (or true-ish) stories. They include not only 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle, the two favourites for the top prize, but also Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena. For two-thirds of the nominees to be non-fiction is unprecedented in the 85-year history of the Academy Awards.

While 12 true stories have won Best Picture since 1970, the trend has intensified of late, with two of the previous three winners being historical films: Argo in 2013, and The King’s Speech in 2011. In both cases, their closest rivals were also factual: Facebook biopic The Social Network lost out to The King’s Speech; Argo triumphed over Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, Best Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio said this was because true stories resonate with audiences more powerfully than their made-up counterparts. “When an audience knows that at least part of the story actually happened, they really respond,” DiCaprio said. “Even though a writer can invent something amazing, there’s always that notion that real life produces events that are more incredible than our imagination.”

According to Tim Gray, the awards editor of Variety, there is an added incentive for film-makers who come across compelling stories of real people: their own sense of obligation to those people to tell their stories.

“Film-makers have told me that when you delve into true stories, you become personally attached to the people you’re writing about,” Gray said. “Craig Borten started working on Dallas Buyers Club 20 years ago, interviewed the real Ron Woodroof and became obsessed with telling his story.”

Truth is a relative concept when it comes to film adaptations, and the accuracy of almost all of this year’s crop has been called into question. In Borten’s film, Matthew McConaughey portrays Aids victim Ron Woodroof as a reformed homophobe, but some of Woodroof’s friends have claimed that he was not homophobic, and even that he was bisexual. Meanwhile, many of the crew of the ship captained by the real Captain Phillips suggest he was somewhat less heroic than the character played by Tom Hanks.

On the other hand, Jordan Belfort, the so-called “Wolf of Wall Street” played by DiCaprio, really did write off his Lamborghini while on Quaaludes, and wrecked a super-yacht while trying to navigate the Mediterranean in a storm. American Hustle, David O Russell’s fictionalised take on the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s, deftly deflects the issue altogether, with the disclaimer: “Some of this actually happened.”

The Oscar race can get rough, and factual inaccuracy is just one more stick for a non-fiction film’s awards rivals to beat it with. Last year, Zero Dark Thirty was the early frontrunner for Best Picture, only to become mired in a controversy over whether it endorsed the use of torture during the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The smear campaign put Kathryn Bigelow’s film out of the race.

Such tactics aren’t always effective. In 2002, director Ron Howard’s biopic of mathematician John Nash was accused of whitewashing unsavoury aspects of Nash’s personal life. But A Beautiful Mind still beat four fictional films to Best Picture.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine