The lack of discussion around The Post winning best picture is a real sign of how much The Academy has changed over recent years. On paper (no pun intended) The Post is an Oscars dream, a shoo-in. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in one movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, centred around the journalistic uncovering of a governmental scandal spanning four US presidents. And even though it’s set in the 1970s, it still covers issues that are extremely relevant today – freedom of the press and women in the work place. So why is it only nominated for two awards? (Best picture and best actress for Streep). Movie critic Dave Schilling believes that last year’s ceremony which saw Moonlight take home the best picture statuette marked a departure from the traditional “Oscar bait” of the past, opening the way for new, previously marginalised genres. You don’t need the big names anymore, the big budgets and the big, provocative storylines to get the nod anymore. Noted.
Of the nine nominated films that I’ve watched over this two-week condensed period, The Post was comparatively enjoyable to watch. No arty farty melodrama, no overblown action sequences, no cryptic undertones – just wonderful actors playing out a simple story. My tired brain welcomed it blissfully! The story begins with Daniel Ellsberg, a disgruntled American military analyst who has become jaded with the depths of his government’s efforts to cover up the truth about the futility of the war efforts in Vietnam. He takes action by copying top-secret documents that would become known as the Pentagon Papers. At first the New York Times publishes explosive expose stories based on the leaked documents but are then hit with a court injunction. Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee is eager to take up the cause, but it isn’t as simple as all that.
The Washington Post is owned by Katherine Graham, left to her by her late husband, and owned by her father before that. In a state of financial difficulty, she has taken the company public and cannot risk any “catastrophic incidents”, say, like being held in contempt of court. Determined to remain competitive, Bradlee has managed to track down Ellsberg and get a copy of the Pentagon Papers but the decision of whether or not to publish, and whether or not to risk the entire future of the paper rests with Graham alone. She wants to protect her family’s legacy and fight for her own place in the paper’s future, but she also wants to fight for the freedom of the press and the belief that America’s democratic ideals are being held upright.
As one might expect, there are a few history vs Hollywood inaccuracies in this one. The main one being that once the New York Times broke the story and were punished, The Post were well aware of the legal repercussions they were facing should they continue to publish. Thus, it was the Times and not the Post that took the risk. Current journalists at The New York Times feel Spielberg gives the Washington Post too much credit for breaking the story. Lastly, and you don’t get to type this often, Nixon is unfairly cast as the villain of this piece. His administration was not even mentioned in the Pentagon Papers and so anything he did was to protect previous presidents’ reputations and to set a precedence for protecting future state secrets. All this aside, the public still had a right to know what was in those papers though. He never banned Washington Post reporters from the White House as the movie depicts. However, adding the completely unrelated Watergate event to the end of the movie really consolidates that Nixon was a bad, bad man anyway!
The Post is very watchable and ten years ago may have been an Oscar contender. But the bar has just risen since then, as evident by how few categories it is nominated in. Even Meryl Streep’s nomination seems a token gesture. With this being her 21st nomination and only three wins, I’m actually starting to get embarrassed for her. She is a phenomenal actress, but they really don’t have to nominate her just for appearing in a film. This year we rather could have had Jessica Chastain for Molly’s Game. It’s not like she’s going to win. Frances McDormand has had her name etched on that baby since festival season opened. But anyway, it gave me a nice way to wind down this evening and it will provide something to vote for, for those in the Academy with more traditional taste.