‘Trumbo’ at Oscars: Will Hollywood pat itself on back again as it did with ‘The Artist,’ ‘Argo’ & ‘Birdman’?

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It used to be rare for Hollywood to reward itself at the Oscars. However, in recent years there has been a surge in the number of Oscar-winning movies that chronicle the making of movies and this year “Trumbo” could well join those ranks. This acclaimed film by Jay Roach (“Game Change”) tells the true story of Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who was blacklisted in the 1950s for being a member of the Communist Party.

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Three of the last four Best Picture champs were all about Hollywood: “The Artist” (2011), in which a silent film star fights to stay relevant, “Argo” (2012), which detailed the real-life scheme to rescue hostages from Iran by using a fake movie as a cover story, and “Birdman” (2014), a raw look at awashed up movie-star hoping for a Broadway comeback.

But those were all heroic stories about artists fighting for their art or using their art to fight for others, while “Trumbo” is the opposite. It shows us Hollywood at its lowest moment ever, a time when fearmongering led to the virtual exile of left-leaning artists. Beloved legends like John Wayne (played by David James Elliott) lead the charge against the imagined Communist threat.

While “Trumbo” isn’t a particularly flattering portrait of Hollywood during the Cold War, viewers are invited to identify with Trumbo in his fight for freedom of political speech. Thus Hollywood can still pat itself on the back for celebrating a persecuted artist and repudiating an old, ugly chapter in its history. There’s even a scene in which the vindicated Trumbo accepts the Laurel Award from the Writers Guild.

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That is reminiscent of a scene from “Hugo,” another recent Oscar-winning celebration of Hollywood, in which rediscovered film pioneer Georges Melies is invited to join the motion picture academy. Coincidentally, Michael Stuhlbarg was in that scene too, playing a film historian, while in this film he shows up as actor Edward G. Robinson.

It doesn’t hurt that “Trumbo’s” star, Cranston, is on a hot streak following his beloved Emmy-winning performance on TV’s “Breaking Bad.” Voters may be eager to award him for anything he does. In 2014, less than a year after “Breaking Bad” ended its run, he won a Tony for playing President Lyndon Johnson in “All the Way” on Broadway. Now he is on the verge of completing the acting triple crown.

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Photo Credit: Bleecker Street

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