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How Kathryn Bigelow’s non-political movie has gotten politicized.

How Kathryn Bigelow’s non-political movie has gotten politicized. (photo)

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“The Hurt Locker”‘s biggest achievement has been to get people to talk honestly about how we depict war on screen in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time, with everyone’s cards and biases on the table.

That effect is helped by the vicious feedback loop of Oscar season, where the need to generate daily content about the same material leads to all kinds of weird, non-critical voices being unleashed — which may be the only good thing about awards season.

In the case of “The Hurt Locker,” every laudatory review reminded us that the movie was “apolitical,” presumably in the hope of sucking in those who didn’t want another “Lions for Lambs”-type harangue. And it worked. So why did Kathryn Bigelow feel the need to let it drop last week that this apolitical film does, in fact, take a stand against the war and can hopefully “bring closure to this conflict”?

A few days later, she told The Wrap‘s Steve Pond she feels war is “hell, and a real tragedy, and completely dehumanizing… We made a real effort to portray the brutality and the futility of this conflict.” You’d think she could’ve dropped this little nugget a while ago — but then again, that wouldn’t have helped the film commercially, while it might very well curry favor with the Hollywood establishment, who like lectures.

Melena Ryzik — the new Carpetbagger at The New York Times and by far the least hysterically inclined of the Oscar bloggers — believes that this Newsweek essay from combat veteran Paul Rieckhoff complaining of rampant accuracy could derail Oscar chances. Rieckhoff doesn’t just find the film inaccurate, he thinks it shows a lack of “respect for the American military.” This isn’t a new complaint, dating back at least to last July, sprinkled largely over veterans’ sites and the inevitable right-wing grumbling. But no one really cared til it was awards season; the discussion about How We Portray War Now was deferred. Now that it’s February, suddenly everyone’s listening.

02242010_hurt.jpgFor others, if the film isn’t explicitly criticizing the soldiers, then it’s a failure, end of story. And so Salon readers were treated to a splenetic essay by Cineaste associate editor Martha P. Nochimson, who notes that “Our field of vision is so completely limited to [Will’s] expertise in defusing bombs and dealing with invisible enemies that our capacity to think about the larger context of the American presence in Iraq is replaced by nuance-free instincts more characteristic of the tea party movement.” Again please? A lack of visual depth means you’re endorsing Ron Paul?

Nochimson also puzzlingly calls Bigelow the “Transvestite of Directors” because she traffics in “filmmaking soaked in a reduced notion of masculinity” — a criticism that, at the very least, traffics in a reduced notion of femininity. (She goes on to suggest we admire Nora Ephron instead. Nothing reductive about that.)

Some of the most dazzling insights on film I’ve heard have come from unexpected angles or sources. But there’s something toxic about the combination of politics and Oscars that seems to bring out the worst in people. The veterans’ complaint are their own and just — but to bring them into awards season is the worst kind of parity. (As for Nochimson, I guess she must be an “Avatar” fan. There’s nothing less restricted in field of vision than 3D.) There are real moral issues at stake here, but they’re unresolvable in any kind of objective fashion. To suggest the film is better or worse because it’s “anti-war” or “apolitical” or whatever cheapens both the off-screen issues and lend the awards chase an undue importance.

[Photos: “The Hurt Locker,” Summit Entertainment, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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