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Oscars 2013: Hollywood gets political

Story highlights

  • First lady Michelle Obama helped announce the best picture Oscar
  • She was just one example of where politics met Hollywood this awards season
  • Political themes were prevalent in films like "Argo," "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty"

One of the most surprising moments of this year's Oscars came at the very end, when first lady Michelle Obama showed up on video to help announce the best picture winner.

If you're anything like us, you immediately wondered what the significance could be, especially since she was announcing the award from the White House.

But when you think about it, having Obama help draw the Oscars ceremony to a close was a fitting way to end this politically saturated awards season.

The real-life drama of D.C. politics can be absorbing enough on its own, but mix in Hollywood machinations and you could create a must-see movie. Political themes have been popular at the Academy Awards in the past, but this year's list of best picture contenders was rife with them.

There was "Zero Dark Thirty," which was nominated in a number of big categories on Sunday and ended up in a tie for the best sound editing Oscar.

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Regardless of its lack of statues, Kathryn Bigelow's project remains one of the most talked-about movies of 2012 thanks to its plot centered on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The script, written by Mark Boal, lit the match for fiery debates on torture.

    Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," a recounting of how the 16th president brought the Civil War to an end and passed the 13th amendment, was a giant in the walk-up to the Oscars. Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln won him the best actor Oscar, and Day-Lewis was sure to thank the man who inspired his role. (His beard in the film, by the way, was real.)

    And of course there was "Argo," the year's best picture winner, which followed a secret CIA operation to rescue six American diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980.

    The film was not only a critical success, but it was thought-provoking, too. Since its release last fall, its historical accuracy has been called into question and its depiction of Jimmy Carter's term has been picked apart. (The Los Angeles Times' ran a cartoon of a shocked Lincoln memorial after the Oscars ceremony. "Argo?!" the cartoon read. "You mean I lost to the Carter administration?!") That's not to mention "Argo's" international reach, as it sparked criticism from Iranian authorities.

    We know Hollywood's version of politics well -- which celebrity said what, when, and to whom -- but it seems this awards season shifted our focus somewhat to grander themes.

    These "best picture contenders," wrote CNN contributor John Avlon, "have managed to pay off at the box office even as they brought politics and history to the big screen -- proof that we'll take smart over stupid as long as we're entertained while educated."