God bless America’s love of a good political drama

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After a brutal Presidential election campaign which found America forced to scrutinise itself and its politicians, its film academy has honoured films focusing on the battle for the country’s soul set in the past, and looking to its future.

The film that dominated today’s nominations was Lincoln, which was named in 12 categories, and perhaps little wonder.

At a time when America’s disdain for politicians has never been higher, Lincoln provides a weighty biopic of a strong leader who inspires admiration across the political spectrum, and from the White House to the man in the street.

Lincoln’s shadow looms large in American lore to this day, and Steven Spielberg’s film has been widely praised. It also provides a central performance by Daniel Day-Lewis that left a producer at the Baftas announcement on Wednesday saying he could scratch his name into the trophy now.

Argo also delves into a moment of turbulence in America’s past when militants stormed its embassy in Tehran. Following strong leadership, and an extraordinarily quirky plan – spoiler alert – the true result gives something for Americans to feel good about. 

At the other end of the patriotism spectrum is Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s chronicle of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Where Lincoln and Argo looked to the past, it covers what Newsweek recently dubbed “America’s finest hour in the battle against al-Qaeda”. Yet it leaves uncomfortable questions for the future, ranging from the ethics and efficacy of torture, to the question of when the “war on terror” will finally be over.

Django Unchained also offers a muscular revenge thriller. Like Lincoln it is set against the backdrop of slavery, although the two are miles apart in style and tone.

The great British hope for the best picture statuette is Les Miserables. It may be set in France, but the Americans love a story of the people rising up against an uncaring authority and, with a few show-stopping tunes thrown in, it may just cause an upset.

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