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from The Great Debate:

In Oscar movies, there is no gridlock

Everyone in America knows that we live in times of gridlock. We despair of anything really getting done, as we bump from one budgetary crisis to another. Nothing seems to work, and our expectations have plummeted. But there is a place where, against the odds, people seem to accomplish exactly what they desire – a place where no obstacle is insuperable. That place is Hollywood.

Not Hollywood as a physical location but the Hollywood of the imagination. If you look at this year’s Oscar contenders for Best Picture, you will find that – as disparate as their subjects are – many of them share a thematic bond. These films are about efficacy. They are about the ability of people, and even institutions, to get things done – whether it is smuggling diplomats out of revolutionary Iran, or killing Osama bin Laden, or wreaking vengeance on a powerful plantation owner and slaveholder in the antebellum South, or toppling the French monarchy, or at least setting the process in motion.

Americans have become accustomed to inertia. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, pro-gun folks and anti-gun folks, pro-choice and anti-choice, pro-immigration and anti-immigration – everyone seems to be engaged in a standoff.

American movies have generally functioned as an antidote to our own sense of helplessness. They are, after all, predicated on vicariousness. As the critic Michael Woods explained, our movies typically take our problems and then paper them over, making them disappear.

from The Great Debate:

Oscars: Setting the national narrative

As the Oscars approach, two of the most ambitious and remarkable Best Picture nominees — Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty — are reeling from criticisms that they are historically inaccurate. Though both are fiction, audiences, critics, commentators, scholars and even politicians are troubled that the movies don’t meet the standards of documentary or reported journalism.

The role of great works of drama, however, is to compress a larger national narrative into a clear dramatic arc. The facts are transformed, and a single event or character becomes the vehicle by which a larger truth is revealed.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

The Oscars: Reflections of America

When the Oscar presenters rip open the envelope for best picture at the Academy Awards next month they will be offering a rare glimpse into the soul of America.

Movies have held a special place in American cultural life since they first flickered on sheets stretched across theater stages. And the pictures and people chosen to receive the Oscars have come to represent an artistic aristocracy to revere and admire.Among the movies Academy members are considering are three that offer distinctly different views of how Americans see themselves and their place in the world.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Barack Obama and the lessons of Lincoln

You have got to admire Steven Spielberg. He has taken the well-worn story of Abraham Lincoln’s final days and turned it into a pointed piece of contemporary political commentary. When he first met Doris Kearns Goodwin back in 1999, well before she had completed her masterly account of the Lincoln White House, Team of Rivals, it seems Spielberg decided to film an episode in Lincoln’s life that would ring true at the time of release many years later. He chose to concentrate his “Lincoln” movie on a pivotal time in the presidency: the final five months when Lincoln had just been re-elected, when the Civil War was all-but won, and when the fractious House was undecided about whether to fall in with Lincoln’s stated aim of abolishing slavery.

There is an obvious comparison to today’s politics, with President Barack Obama newly re-elected and facing a similarly hazardous short period to dragoon a recalcitrant and largely hostile House to do his bidding over taxes, entitlements and spending. Where Lincoln was working against the clock to ensure the Civil War would continue long enough to prevent Southern pro-slavers from returning to the Union Congress to wreck his plan to outlaw slavery, so Obama is teetering at the edge of a similarly perilous precipice. And just as Lincoln was surrounded in government by his old rivals, so Obama has as loyal lieutenants his former challengers for the Democratic candidacy, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

from Oddly Enough Blog:

Abe! How’s life at your Gettysburg address?

Blog Guy, is it just me, or am I seeing lots of photos of Abraham Lincoln in the news these days?

Yes, I've noticed it, too. Most recently with presidential candidate Michele Bachmann greeting a Lincoln lookalike at a Republican dinner in Iowa a couple of days ago.

from Environment Forum:

Will Obama like his lichen?

A scientist at the University of California, Riverside has named a newly discovered lichen after President Obama, a gesture he clearly intends as an honor.

Kerry Knudsen, lichen curator at UCR's Herbarium, says he discovered the hardy orange organism on Santa Rosa Island,  off the California coast, and "named it Caloplaca obamae to show my appreciation for the president's support of science and science education."

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