LOS ANGELES – Do you want a lesson in U.S. history? Look no further than the front-runners for the Academy Award for best film, to be announced Thursday.
Nearly half of the movies nominated for best picture Oscar are about key events in America’s past, from the abolition of slavery to the post-Sept. 11 hunt for al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Steven Spielberg’s drama “Lincoln” could also offer a lesson to current U.S. politicians, as the 16th U.S. president schemed to get bipartisan support in Congress.
Slavery and the American Civil War era also provide the backdrop for Quentin Tarantino’s latest blood-fest, “Django Unchained,” about a slave-turned-bounty hunter seeking to free his wife from Leonardo DiCaprio’s clutches.
Historical accuracy is not necessarily guaranteed: “Argo” allegedly takes liberties with facts about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and the CIA has blasted the depiction of torture in the bin Laden flick “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Spielberg’s latest movie, which led the field with nominations in 12 categories, tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s drive to secure crucial votes to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States.
Played with uncanny realism by Daniel Day-Lewis — front-runner for best actor — the Republican president stops at little beyond outright financial bribery to twist Democrats’ arms into backing the constitutional amendment.
Non-Americans might learn a thing or two as well: that it was the Democrats who opposed abolition seems surprising from the modern point of view, as are the political machinations that eventually ended the Civil War.
“Django Unchained” is set a few years before the Civil War, when Jamie Foxx’s title character is freed by a wandering German dentist-turned-bounty hunter, embarking on a killing spree typical of the “Pulp Fiction” director.
Tarantino justifies relentless use of the “N” word as historically accurate, but that has not stopped critics from slamming it for linguistic exaggeration, as well as shooting overload — notably after last month’s Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage crisis drama “Argo” tells the story of a CIA agent — played by the actor-director himself — bidding to free six American diplomats who take refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s residence in Tehran.
Critics have included then Canadian envoy Ken Taylor, depicted as playing a clearly supporting role in the plot to get them out of the country disguised as a Canadian film crew.
“The movie’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s pertinent, it’s timely,” Taylor told Canada’s Star newspaper recently. “But look, Canada was not merely standing around watching events take place. The CIA was a junior partner.”
Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” also focuses on a CIA agent: the female one credited with tracking down bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, where U.S. Special Forces killed him in May 2011.
The movie includes graphic scenes of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” widely seen as torture, and portrays their role in pinpointing the al-Qaida chief’s courier, who eventually led the U.S. to his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
That has earned it criticism from lawmakers, including former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, and from acting CIA chief Michael Morell, claiming the film exaggerates the importance of information obtained by such techniques.
A rights group joined those voicing concern on Thursday, after the movie’s five Oscar nominations.
The Center for Constitutional Rights said it was “profoundly disappointed to see that Hollywood is prepared to bestow its highest honor upon a film that glorifies one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history.”
Bigelow failed to pick up a best director nod, in what was seen by many as a snub.
‘Twilight’ finale razzed
The “Twilight” finale had better reviews than the franchise’s previous four movies, but you would never know it from the Razzie nominations singling out Hollywood’s worst of the year.
“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2″ led the Razzies lineup with 11 nominations, including worst picture, lead-acting slots for Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, and supporting-acting nominations for Taylor Lautner and Ashley Greene.
Other worst-picture nominees were the naval action tale “Battleship,” the family flick “The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure,” Adam Sandler’s raunchy dud “That’s My Boy” and Eddie Murphy’s comedy flop “A Thousand Words.”
Winners for the 33rd annual Razzies will be announced Feb. 23, the night before the Oscars.
The final installment in the romance involving vampires, werewolves and a moody schoolgirl, “Breaking Dawn — Part 2″ also had nominations for worst director for Bill Condon and worst sequel, screenplay and screen ensemble. It picked up two nominations for worst screen couple — for Stewart and Pattinson and for Lautner and child costar Mackenzie Foy.
Stewart’s worst-actress nomination came for two performances: her Bella Swan of “Twilight” and the title role in “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
Also in the worst-actress lineup are Katherine Heigl for “One for the Money,” Milla Jovovich for “Resident Evil: Retribution” and Barbra Streisand for “The Guilt Trip.”