Your Handy-Dandy Guide To Oscar Movie Controversies

Your Handy-Dandy Guide To Oscar Movie Controversies

It wouldn’t be Oscar season without artsy film-type people arguing passionately about movies you haven’t seen. Here’s a crib sheet of brewing controversy.
Rebecca Cusey
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It wouldn’t be Oscar season without artsy film-type people arguing passionately about movies you haven’t seen. Here’s a crib sheet of brewing controversy.

‘Selma’: Oscar Chances Good

“Selma” is a very good, very focused biopic of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. By all accounts, it sits near the top of the list of Best Picture nominees. To the ring! On one side, we have historian Mark Updegrove. He faces off against formidable “Selma” director Ava DuVernay in the Historical Accuracy Championship (medium weight). In a Politico article, Updegrove came out swinging, objecting to the depiction of President Johnson as obstructing civil rights. DuVernay hit back on Twitter:

I can argue, @HitFixGregory. Notion that Selma was LBJ’s idea is jaw dropping and offensive to SNCC, SCLC and black citizens who made it so.

— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) December 28, 2014

Bottom line is folks should interrogate history. Don’t take my word for it or LBJ rep’s word for it. Let it come alive for yourself. #Selma

— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) December 28, 2014

Here, she responded to me:

RT @Rebecca_Cusey: .@AVAETC throws down on LBJ mini controversy. (Trying to squash it because it’s so mini. Moving on! Happy holidays all!)

— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) December 28, 2014

It’s a delightful little controversy because, really, how many people have firm or resolved concepts of LBJ and MLK’s respective effects on civil rights? What a wonderful thing that people are discussing such thing, using energy that otherwise would have been wasted on selfies and Words With Friends. Furthermore, in the movie, Johnson makes a fairly heroic moral choice to put his pragmatism aside and do what he knows is right. In my book, it makes him look good at the end. See the movie and decide for yourself!

Prediction: Because the movie is so good, the match will go to DuVernay, making her the reigning world champion of popular civil rights history.

‘American Sniper’: Oscar Unlikely

This story of America’s best Iraq War sniper Chris Kyle is directed by Clint Eastwood and pushes all the cultural buttons. As Armond White points out, Bradley Cooper does an amazing job embodying the ethos of red-state America. He’s a rodeo cowboy, a career soldier, a lethal killer, and unapologetic.

Hollywood does not usually do red state well. This is the understatement of the year. Unapologetic Iraq War heroism does not go over well in the anti-war, anti-American-involvement crowd.

Vulture’s David Edelstein calls the film “propaganda” and “a Republican platform movie.” Max Blumenthal, who can always be relied upon for far-left histrionics, repeatedly attacked Kyle and the film on Twitter.

@LoveFor714 @rpgirl27 John Lee Malvo, another mass murdering sniper, would not be glorified on prime time.

— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) December 26, 2014

@ArabVoicesSpeak the whole film’s appeal seems to derive from the latent racism that led America into Iraq.

— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) December 25, 2014

Other usual suspects joined him:

“Kill every male you see”: American psycho sniper Chris Kyle and the role of US snipers in Iraq https://t.co/BzzEt70T64

— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) December 30, 2014

The movie appears to be gaining ground, however. Not only did it break records for sales in its limited release on Christmas Day, it’s also generating respect from mainstream Hollywood:

I just watched American Sniper. You have to see what Bradley Cooper does in this movie. His performance is next level.

— Jonah Hill (@JonahHill) December 30, 2014

American Sniper: best Eastwood pic since Unforgiven over 20 years ago.

— Scott Derrickson (@scottderrickson) December 27, 2014

Post got it right . American sniper is a great movie. I just watchied it and i had to tell someone. no, I’m not getting paid dickhead.

— Howard Stern (@HowardStern) December 24, 2014

Bradley Cooper is awesome in #AmericanSniper Should be nominated.

— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) December 29, 2014

#AmericanSniper is Clint Eastwood’s “strongest” effort in the last 8 years http://t.co/M2YG1mL66z pic.twitter.com/uuoJVUm1ys

— Variety (@Variety) December 28, 2014

Prediction: Look for this battle to heat up as the movie moves into wide release. The quality of the acting and directing is hardly debatable, which makes this film a proxy for Americans’ feelings about the Iraq War. And those are hotly debatable.

‘Unbroken’: Oscar Unlikely, Despite Success

“Unbroken,” a PG-13 rated story of human spirit, doesn’t have a cynical moment from title sequence to credit roll. This does not please critics or awards voters, who mostly suffer from a clinical-level addiction to cynicism. The big question about “Unbroken” is whether its massive popularity or goodwill for director Angelina Jolie will earn it a spot in the Best Picture list. If you think, “Hey, I’ve actually have seen ‘Unbroken’ and I liked it. I think it is one of the best pictures of the year and, thus, should be nominated as one of the best pictures of the year,” well, you’ve just encapsulated why Hollywood is so out of touch with the audience it tries to reach.

The main battle over “Unbroken” isn’t about awards, though. It revolves around Jolie’s decision to leave Louis Zamperini’s Christian conversion and acts of forgiveness to epilogue comments in the credits. Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote that the decision might disappoint Christians. Jolie clarified that Zamperini himself approved of a broad, universal portrayal of faith in the film. Bailey was right. Christian reviewers seem to be disappointed:

#Unbroken is the wrong tale of triumph http://t.co/SgTBAQO5T3

— CT Movies (@ct_movies) December 30, 2014

Anyone see this yesterday? // The Uneven Inspiration of ‘Unbroken’ http://t.co/a5IOTVlDel via @RELEVANT

— Greenlight Exchange (@OpGreenlight) December 26, 2014

It hasn’t stopped audiences, however, from making the film a shocking success:

Angelina Jolie’s #Unbroken pulled off a Christmas box office miracle http://t.co/SfMBsEy4X9 pic.twitter.com/RrpJRXjxHb

— Variety (@Variety) December 30, 2014

Prediction: “Unbroken” will become a beloved classic and make piles of money, cementing Jolie’s new role as respected director. The controversy over the ending will fade away. It will not, however, be nominated for awards.

‘Foxcatcher’: Best Actor Oscar Likely

Channing Tatum’s portrayal of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz is considered a lock for a Best Actor nomination, especially since the story of wrestling, wealth, elite sports, and murder has such a delicious and ambiguous love triangle aspect. Steve Carell plays heir John du Pont, who lures Schultz and his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) into his would-be wrestling empire.

The ambiguous nature of the triangle exploded in threats and rage New Year’s Day when Schultz took to Twitter and Facebook to denounce the movie he had previously endorsed. He specifically called out “Foxcatcher” director Bennett Miller. He said he was angry about the implication there was a sexual relationship between himself and du Pont.

In tweets that have since been deleted, Schultz said:

twitter-mark-schultz

Schultz responded more calmly this morning, but did not back down, saying in a Facebook post:

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 10.24.57 AM

Prediction: Hollywood loves a good scandal, especially one possibly but not certainly involving sex. This can only boost the film’s chances of awards success. However, Schultz is not Hollywood and remains an unpredictable wild card. Who knows what he will do next? It’s like a real-life sequel to the movie onscreen.

‘Boyhood’: Oscar Unfortunately Likely

Unfortunately, there is no controversy for “Boyhood.” It sits firmly atop the predicted list of winners across the board. While the film is not terrible, just long and boring, it is nowhere near the best picture of the year, in my opinion. If a film ever needed a controversy to shake it up, it’s this one. But it’s a favorite for Best Picture.

It just goes to show that those who write about movies and vote for film awards are far less diverse—ethnically, socio-economically, by gender, and by overall philosophy of life—than the masses who go to the theater.

Rebecca Cusey is a movie critic based in Washington DC. She is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Society and a voting Tomatomer Critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey.

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