'Washington is Hollywood for ugly people,' so the saying goes. By that standard, the nation's capital should look a bit prettier come Sunday's Oscars. This is a bumper year for Washington, with a trio of movies that have the capital at their core: "Argo", "Zero Dark Thirty", and "Lincoln." And of course it wouldn't be Washington if there weren't a bit of controversy around these films.
Each has been criticized for its accuracy. In "Argo," there is a climactic chase scene that never happened; "Zero Dark Thirty" portrays torture as a useful tool in the hunt for bin Laden, contradicting the Senate; and in "Lincoln," the Connecticut delegation votes against abolishing slavery, which was not the case.
But the controversy around "Zero Dark Thirty" is the most serious, it has the most policy implications. The movie seems to take a side on the raging debate over torture techniques that were outlawed by President Obama. Despite what the filmmakers say, it is clear that the narrative of the film is that torture worked, and helped get bin Laden.
One thing that all three films got right is their portrayals of the Washington middle man. In all three movies, it was the people in the middle, the bureaucrats, and the middle managers who were getting things done. "Argo" was not about President Jimmy Carter authorizing an operation, "Lincoln" wasn't even just about President Abraham Lincoln giving soaring speeches, and certainly, 'Zero Dark Thirty" wasn't about high-powered people with big titles attached to their names. These were movies about the grunt men -- and that really is the way Washington works.
For more of this special Oscar episode, including the one thing "Lincoln" got right that the other Washington films did not, check out this week's Top Line.