A Political Year at the Movies

Just don't expect the newly installed President Barack Obama to catch any flak from actors speechifying on Oscar night. They prefer to ignore the fact that he's against same sex marriage.

More than a few critics of Frost/Nixon, and the film's director, Ron Howard, are using the story to bash President Bush anew. Howard made his views clear during a recent press gathering -- which drew the ire of Fox News' Chris Wallace.

The film could also jump-start a new movement to galvanize the left -- waiting for the new ex-president to "confess" his crimes to Oprah, Barbara, or some other high profile interviewer. An Oscar win would certainly help jump-start such a movement.

Director Steven Soderbergh's Che, the four-plus hour biopic of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, drew some withering reviews from both the left and the right. Star Benicio Del Toro is still a favorite to pick up a Best Actor nomination for playing the title character. Hollywood loves Guevara almost as much as naïve college students do.

The film got a hearty salute in Cuba recently, and that should be catnip to Oscar voters with a soft spot for the Castro regime.

Politics routinely factors into the minds of Oscar voters. When Melissa Etheridge's "I Need to Wake Up" from An Inconvenient Truth got a Best Song nomination, was there any doubt she'd walk away a winner?

And speaking of Truth, the glorified Power Point presentation got its Oscar two years ago solely based on politics. That same year, the devastating documentary Deliver Us From Evil was among Truth's competition, and there likely hasn't been a more engrossing doc put out since.

But it didn't stand a chance with Oscar voters. They had a message to send, art be darned.

Oscar politics is nothing new. Tom Hanks won his first Oscar playing a dying gay man with AIDS in Philadelphia, even though co-star Denzel Washington acted rings around him, and the film itself was hardly a memorable one.

And let's not forget Moore's body of documentary work, which has all but redefined what the genre actually stands for -- polemics, not adherence to the unvarnished truth. Yet he's become a perennial Oscar favorite.

Politics might even interrupt a justly deserved honorary Oscar slated for aging funnyman Jerry Lewis. The news broke this week that the 82-year-old legend would receive an Oscar for his decades of humanitarian work.

But influential industry blogger Nikki Finke says protests are starting regarding Lewis' selection because he's used the "F" word for homosexuals in the past few years.

Finke's parting shot on her blog will likely echo the thoughts of many in Hollywood:

Despite Lewis' laudatory 42 years of raising money for MDA [Muscular Dystrophy Association], his publicly demonstrated debasement of gays doesn't make him a humanitarian in my eyes.

That movement, combined with lingering headlines surrounding Proposition 8, makes Sean Penn the surest bet to walk home with an Oscar Feb. 22, 2009.