November 06, 2012 8:00am PT by Scott Feinberg
Aaron Sorkin Hosts 'Promised Land' Sneak Peek as Many Oscar Hopefuls Court Politics
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin hosted a special advance screening of Gus Van Sant's Promised Land on Saturday night at the SoHo House in Los Angeles. Among the celebs who turned out to see the Matt Damon anti-fracking drama were Demi Moore, Justin Theroux and Jennifer Aniston, who reportedly cornered co-producer/co-writer John Krasinski after the film ended to gush about it. Focus Features has not yet screened Promised Land for journalists but presumably will soon since it will be released in theaters Dec. 28.
As Americans head to the polls, it's interesting to note just how many of this year's contenders involve politics -- and how many of those films are not being widely screened until after the election, ostensibly to avoid being labeled as sympathetic to one candidate or party, which could turn off a large segment of moviegoers.
In addition to Promised Land, there is Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, out Nov. 9. The film examines how a persuasive leader was able to gather enough votes to get controversial legislation through a divided Congress. It is about Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his fight to pass the 13th Amendment, but one could be forgiven for noticing parallels with another tall, lanky and oratorically gifted but aloof lawyer-turned-president from Illinois who spent a lot of post-election political capital pushing through controversial legislation for the other major political party -- namely Barack Obama and his fight over "Obamacare." It's not a coincidence that Disney/DreamWorks picked a U.S. release date that is the first Friday after the presidential election -- though they did offer a sneak preview of the film at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 8.
There's also Kathryn Bigelow's tightly guarded Zero Dark Thirty, out Dec. 19. Little is known about the film -- people didn't even realize that James Gandolfini was in it until its trailer was released -- except for the fact that it has to do with the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, arguably the crown jewel of Obama's presidency. Pre-emptively seeking to quell any notion that the film was a celebration of Obama, who dispatched Navy SEALs on the risky mission, screenwriter Mark Boal initially told journalists that Obama wasn't even mentioned in the film. More recent reports indicate that Obama does, in fact, appear in news footage, but it doesn't really matter because his re-election fate will already have been decided by the time Sony finally screens the film for the press.
Sorkin is a politically active Democrat who created and was showrunner of The West Wing. His hosting of the Promised Land screening indicates the film's backers likely will play up the message of the film in its awards campaign. It focuses on an economically hard-hit town that is visited by two representatives of a natural gas company (Damon and Oscar winner Frances McDormand) who hope to persuade its residents to sell them the drilling rights to their property. When a pair of locals (Oscar nominee Hal Holbrook and Krasinski) raise objections, it sparks a community-wide debate.
After the election, it's likely that the campaigns of some of the other politically themed contenders, including Ben Affleck's Argo, also will focus on the message as well as the medium. But it remains to be seen whether films with political plots and/or messages will be embraced by the Academy when its members fill out their nomination ballots. Hollywood is, of course, notoriously liberal, and these films -- unlike, say, the right-wing doc 2016: Obama's America -- presumably will play as well with that sort of a crowd as any.
Then again, after a long and divisive election season, it's possible that voters will simply want to focus on anything but politics.