Historical films take center stage at the Oscars
Do you think Americans don’t care about history? Think again. In an age when historians are household names (think David McCullough and Ken Burns) and historical antiques exhibits get consistent ratings (Antiques Roadshow), add the Oscars to that list. Hollywood likes to make films that represent real historical figures and real historical events, and the Academy likes to reward them.
Last night, “12 Years a Slave” won the award for best film. This book is a memoir about a free black man kidnapped into slavery in the pre-war south, based on a contemporary account by Solomon Northup. Best actor was Matthew McConaughey, who portrayed a real person in “Dallas Buyers Club,” a man who faced AIDS as the nation tackled this relatively new and deadly disease.
But the historic 2013 list, which includes Best Picture and Best Actor winners, isn’t the only one acknowledging the story. In the last 10 years, with the exception of one year 2009, a historical work, that is to say a film depicting real people in a real historical setting, has won the award for best film, best actor in a leading role or best actress, also in a leading role. This list shows that in some years, like this year, he won a combination of all three. The year represents the year in which the films were broadcast, not the date of the awards ceremony.
2013: Best film and Best actor.
2012: Best film and Best actor: “Argo”, the story of a rescue operation during Iran’s hostage crisis in 1979, won the award for best film. That year, Daniel Day Lewis won the Best Actor award for “Lincoln,” the story of the 16th president’s attempt to pass the 13th Amendment.
2011: Best actress: Meryl Streep won the Best Actress award for “The Iron Lady”, a film about former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
2010: Best film and Best actor: “The King’s Speech”, about King George VI, won the award for best film. Additionally, Colin Firth won the Best Actor award for his role in this film.
2009: Nothing: This year was an anomaly, although Morgan Freeman was nominated for his role in “Invictus”, where he played Nelson Mandela.
2008: Best actor, several nominations: “Milk,” on Harvey Milk’s struggle for gay rights in San Francisco, and “Frost / Nixon,” on Richard Nixon’s famous post-presidential interview, were nominated for Best Picture. Neither won, but Sean Penn won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Harvey Milk.
2007: Best Actress: Marion Cotillard won the award for best actress for her role as Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose”.
2006: Best actor and best actress, multiple nominations: “The Queen”, about the life of the current English monarch after Diana’s death, and “Letters from Iwo Jima”, directed by Clint Eastwood, were nominated. Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor award for playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland”; Helen Mirren won the award for best actress for her role as queen.
2005: Best actor and best actress, multiple nominations: “Capote”, about Truman Capote, and “Munich”, about attacks on Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics, received nominations for best film. Philip Seymour Hoffman won the award for best actor for playing Capote; Reese Witherspoon won the Best Actress award for her role as June Carter in “Walk the Line”.
2004 : Best actor, several nominations: “The Aviator”, on the recluse