Why Argo, Lincoln beat Zero Dark Thirty's odds

Presidential leadership is a prominent theme at this year’s Oscars–and a lacking theme in American politics today. Three contenders for the Oscar provide an alternative: LincolnArgo, Zero Dark Thirty (Obama). 

Each was written with a view to current (Democratic) politics. Tony Kushner wrote Lincoln to support Obama’s ideological push against the Reagan revolution; Argo is an attempt to rewrite history’s view of the inept Jimmy Carter’s conduct during the Iran hostage crisis; and Zero Dark Thirty was long suspected of being an election-year promotion for Obama (whose White House may have shared information with the filmmakers for precisely that reason). Yet only the first two are considered in the running, because Zero Dark Thirty appears to take the position that torture was necessary to obtain clues leading to Osama bin Laden.

In other words, Zero Dark Thirty celebrates the most important achievement of the Obama administration–but not Obama’s approach to terror in general. The president opposed both the Iraq War and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” both of which did produce essential intelligence leading to bin Laden. So Zero Dark Thirty simply won’t do, to many Hollywood insiders. Fans may have to wait for a remake, in which the problematic aspects of interrogation will give way to profiles of courage from the Situation Room.