It began the awards season as one of the favourites for Best Picture, but on Sunday night in Los Angeles, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty was so comprehensively snubbed that it had to share its only win with Skyfall. For just the sixth time in Oscars history, a tie was announced, in the Best Sound Editing category, between Ms Bigelow’s film about the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the latest movie in the James Bond franchise.
In December, Zero Dark Thirty was named Best Picture by both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, but its awards campaign was derailed by a 19 December letter to studio Sony Pictures from a trio of US senators, complaining that the film was “grossly inaccurate” for implying torture played a part in tracking down the al-Qa’ida leader.
Ms Bigelow failed to earn a nomination in the Best Director category, but the film’s producers still held out hope of Oscar wins for actress Jessica Chastain and screenwriter Mark Boal. It was not to be. On the morning of the Oscars, Zero Dark Thirty was afflicted with yet more controversy, as the family of a woman killed in the 9/11 attacks criticised its use of a recording of her final phone call in its opening sound montage. Harry Ong, brother of American Airlines flight attendant Betty Ann Ong, described the film as “outrageous”.
Ms Bigelow’s movie paints a dark portrait of the US intelligence services, in marked contrast to the Best Picture winner, Argo, which tells the story of a daring CIA rescue during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. This film, directed by Ben Affleck, has seen its own fair share of controversy. Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran, who sheltered the hostages before their escape, criticised Argo for underplaying the part played by Canada in the rescue.
After Affleck’s film was named Best Picture by the First Lady, Michelle Obama, Iran’s Mehr News Agency suggested the victory was “politically motivated”, while the Iranian state broadcaster dubbed Argo “an advertisement for the CIA”.