Will ‘Unbroken’ and ‘American Sniper’ be helped or hurt by politics at Oscars?

Unbroken” and “American Sniper” are ideal Oscar vehicles: heroic true stories about important periods in history, a quality shared by the last two Best Picture winners, “Argo” and “12 Years a Slave.” But despite their subjects and pedigrees – “Sniper” is directed by Oscar-darling Clint Eastwood, and “Unbroken” comes from Oscar-winning actress and Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award winner Angelina Jolie – they have underperformed on the awards scene thus far, including snubs at SAG and the Golden Globes. Could politics be a contributing factor?

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Both films tell stories about the American military at a time when the country is still engaged in prolonged military conflicts in the Middle East. Considering also the continued controversy over drone strikes and the recent report detailing CIA torture, now might be a tricky time to sell movies about American warfare.

This might be a bigger problem for “American Sniper” than for “Unbroken.” The latter is about Louis Zamperini‘s struggle to survive World War II, and no one questions the validity of that war.

But “Sniper” follows the experiences of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who served four tours in the Iraq War. It’s not an overtly political film – it’s more a character study than a political commentary – but several films about the war on terror have struggled for awards recognition, with only “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” making strong impacts, and the latter was hurt by backlash over torture and only won one Oscar: for Sound Editing.

What’s more, “Sniper” director Eastwood put his right-wing politics on display at the 2012 Republican National Convention, when he improvised a routine with an empty chair meant to represent President Barack Obama. So regardless of the film’s political content – or lack thereof – left-leaning Hollywood may interpret it as an extension of Eastwood’s conservative views.

Will ambivalence about foreign policy affect these war-torn awards hopefuls? We asked our forum posters about whether politics are affecting these awards contenders. Read some of their comments below, then click here to join the discussion in our message boards. Use our drag-and-drop menu at the bottom of this post to predict Best Picture, and click here to predict all Oscar races.

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Espeon: It wouldn’t be an Oscar race without some group being pissed off about something, I think Hollywood should portray this subject matter both in a positive light and a negative light.

AviChristiaans: The fact that almost every year a war/military influenced film gets released probably doesn’t help either … My view is, critics and other awards bodies might have their reasons for sporadically not honoring these types of films (consensus being a major culprit), but the academy … have never really shunned or snubbed films of a war/military nature, especially when Americans are portrayed as heroic and inspiring.

ETPhoneHome: I agree that it could be playing into the reception of “American Sniper,” but the thing that is really hurting “Unbroken” is the muted (and slightly negative) critical response. I think everyone is just kind of disappointed with the end product given the potential.

CAROL-CHANNING: I think they’re getting poor awards reception because they’re both films that are nothing new, stylistically.  We’ve seen them before.  I knew they would be non-factors and had no chance of being frontrunners since the beginning.

NateDoggg: I think it’s a great question that has surfaced throughout Oscars’ history and most recently in the Iraq War era, as most war films during that time (“Jarhead,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Stop-Loss,” “Rendition,” etc.) haven’t done much at all box office wise and not much Oscar wise, with the very notable exception of The Hurt Locker. Oscar often gets accused of dodging politics, whether it’s more feel-good musicals winning over more polarizing dramatic fare or whether the winning films were edgy enough in their depiction of political issues.

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