Past Political Oscar Wins

PHOTO: Daniel Day Lewis play President Abraham Lincoln in the Spielberg movie, "Lincoln".AP Photo
Daniel Day Lewis play President Abraham Lincoln in the Spielberg movie, "Lincoln".

This year the big winner at the Academy Awards won't be a specific actor or movie, but a whole category of films. Politically-focused movies like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln are all favored to win at least one Oscar category at Sunday's 85th Academy Awards, with a combined total of 24 nominations. In the spirit of political Academy Award winners, here's a look at some of the memorable past Oscar winners across categories:

The Hurt Locker - 2009 (Best Director, Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay)

Before the Zero Dark Thirty hype, Kathryn Bigelow's claim to fame was being the first woman to win an Oscar for best director at the 2009 Academy Awards. Bigelow won the award for directing The Hurt Locker, which was nominated in nine categories and won another two Oscars for best picture and best original screenplay.

The Hurt Locker chronicles the experiences of a three-man explosive ordinance disposal team who were responsible for the destruction of bombs during the Iraq war. Mark Boal, a former embedded journalist, wrote the screenplay as a reflection of his time with an EOD team in 2004.

Since the EOD team does not typically engage in combat, Bigelow and Boal faced criticism from war veterans about inaccurately depicting the protocol and responsibilities of this type of military unit.

Criticism aside, The Hurt Locker vividly framed the concept of war as a dangerous addiction. While the United States was depicted as being symbolically addicted to war through troop deployment, the movie also demonstrated how war led soldiers to become accustomed to an adrenaline-fueled lifestyle which prevented their return to normal civilian life.

Bigelow's method of presenting controversial political topics continues to gain acclaim at this year's Academy Awards with Zero Dark Thirty.

An Inconvenient Truth - 2006 (Best Documentary Feature, Best Original Song)

Typically, a movie about a guy giving a presentation would be anything but riveting let alone controversial, but Al Gore managed to make a blockbuster out of a slideshow with An Inconvenient Truth. The movie won two Academy Awards for best documentary feature and best original song in 2006..

The setup of the movie is simple. Gore takes viewers through the history of the world's climate changes and features experiences from his own life that made him aware of environmental issues. His narrative is paired with pop culture references, detailed photographs and video clips from environmental science experts.

"The world won't 'end' overnight in 10 years," Gore says in the movie. "But a point will have been passed and there will be an irreversible slide into destruction."

Four years away from the limit of Gore's timeframe, the global warming debate still rages on while both Congress and businesses see the public's growing demand for green energy sources.

The former vice president maintains his reputation as a leading climate-change activist and continues to give talks about the subject.

Bowling for Columbine - 2002 (Best Documentary Feature)

More than a decade before the Sandy Creek Elementary School tragedy, the nation was introduced to mourning the loss of life as a result of gun violence in 1999 with the massacre at Columbine High School.

In response to the shooting, Michael Moore wrote, produced and directed Bowling for Columbine as an attempt to find the cause for widespread gun violence in the United States, which won the 2002 Academy Award for best documentary feature. The film traces many popular theories behind the issue including the impact of the media, weapon accessibility, American culture and government action.

While the film stirred debate between gun control and gun rights activists on Capitol Hill, the most political topic associated with Bowling for Columbine was Moore's Academy Award acceptance speech. After being announced as the winner, Moore rallied the rest of the documentary film nominees on stage to accept the Oscar with him and proceeded to voice his disdain for the Bush administration.

"We like nonfiction, and we live in fictitious times," Moore said. "We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president."

Amidst cheers and jeers, Moore continued his speech to specifically target George W. Bush before being cut off by the orchestra.

Although the speech faced an abrupt ending, the issue of gun violence seems to have no end in sight as it continues to be debated between the Obama Administration and Congress.

Milk - 2008 (Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Original Screenplay)

From Capitol Hill to Hollywood, the topic of gay marriage is often tied to politics. The movie, Milk, depicted this link through the life of gay rights activist and politician, Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person to be elected to office in California. Milk was assassinated a few months later in November 1978.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein was the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors when Milk was assassinated and had to announce his death to the public.

Sean Penn portrayed Milk in the film and won an Academy Award for best actor in a leading role for his performance. The film also won an Academy Award for best original screenplay. Penn voiced his support for gay marriage in his acceptance speech.

"I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support, " Penn said. "We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

Today, Harvey Milk's legacy continues in politics through constant debates about the legalization of gay rights.

All the Kings Men - 1949 (Best Picture)

Based on Robert Penn Warren's novel of the same name, All The King's Men is a cinema classic that follows the ascent and demise of a southern politician when he becomes involved in corruption and is plagued by scandal. The movie won a 1949 Academy Award for best picture, and was remade in 2006.

As cited by the Modern Library, Warren "never intended for the [story] to be about politics," but popular culture dictates otherwise. Another Academy Award-winning movie, All the President's Men, tipped its hat to its political predecessor, in both its title and topics of political corruption and scandal.

All the President's Men - 1976 (Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay,Best Art Direction, Best Sound)

All The President's Men depicts President Nixon's involvement in the Watergate scandal of 1972. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they attempt to put together the pieces of one of the most infamous American political scandals in history.

Although neither Hoffman nor Woodward gained Academy Award nominations, Jason Robards won a best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

Manchurian Candidate - 1962 (Best Supporting Actress)

Angela Lansbury won a best supporting actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Eleanor Shaw Iselin in this classic cold war political thriller.

The story saw a facelift in 2004, but the original version was preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress due to being "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant."

Lansbury's character was recognized as one of the top 10 greatest villains in cinema history by Newsweek magazine.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - 1939 (Best Writing, Original Story)

Despite only winning one award out of 11 nominations, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is still highly regarded as one of the best films about American politics to this day.

James Stewart plays the role of Jefferson Smith who is appointed senator and finds himself under the guidance of a secretly corrupt senior senator, Jim Taylor. Taylor tries to corrupt Smith and later tries to destroy his political career through scandal.

A television series based on the movie aired in the 1960s and was loosely adapted in the 1992 film, The Distinguished Gentlemen.

The Candidate - 1972 (Best Writing)

Written by a former speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy, this film follows the campaign of Democrat Bill McKay (played by Robert Redford) as he runs against a popular Republican. McKay is told that he can't lose and can say whatever he wants on the campaign trail. As his approval dips in the polls, McKay must decide if he is going to continue speaking his mind or resort to generic statements.

This classic satire continues to gain relevance with each election cycle, as politicians continue to struggle to find themselves in politics.

JFK - 1991 (Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing)

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, JFK won in two categories for its depiction of an investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Kevin Costner plays Jim Garrison, a prosecutor who is suspicious of the official assassination story disseminated by the FBI against a backdrop of iconic Kennedy Administration events.

The film featured an all-star cast including Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kevin Bacon, but missed awards in major acting roles. Even so, the film had major legislative impact, and its popularity lead to the creation of the U.S. Assassination Records Review Board.