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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests