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"Zero Dark Thirty" fails at Oscars amid political fallout

Jessica Chastain, actress in a leading role nominee for the film "Zero Dark Thirty" arrives at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Califor
Jessica Chastain, actress in a leading role nominee for the film "Zero Dark Thirty" arrives at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Califor

By Tim Reid and Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Zero Dark Thirty," about the decade-long U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden, has received more attention in the U.S. Congress than it did at the Oscars on Sunday, amid political fallout over its depiction of torture and alleged intelligence leaks to the movie's makers.

The film, which has sparked outrage among both Democrats and Republicans in Washington over its depiction of torture, and allegations that the Obama administration leaked classified intelligence to help the making of the film, won no major Oscars on Sunday and only one award overall.

Just three months ago, the thriller, which culminates in Osama bin Laden's killing by U.S. Navy Seals, was a strong contender to pick up the biggest prize of Best Picture, as well as the Best Actress and Original Screenplay awards.

By the end of Sunday night, however, it had picked up just one award - a shared Oscar for Sound Editing, which was a tie.

In recent weeks, the movie has seen a fierce backlash over its implied message that torture helped crack the bin Laden case.

Early signs of trouble came in mid-December when leading U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, both Democrats, and John McCain, the Republicans' 2008 presidential candidate, sent a letter to movie studio Sony Pictures, castigating the film.

They called the film "grossly inaccurate and misleading" for suggesting torture helped the U.S. track the al Qaeda leader to a Pakistani compound, where he was killed in 2011.

Three weeks later, the film's director, Kathryn Bigelow, was omitted from the Oscar's Best Director shortlist, chosen by about 5,800 movie industry professionals who make up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Bigelow was one of only four big directors to be snubbed while the film did receive five Oscar nominations.

In January, Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan pointed the finger at Washington, writing: "Chalk up this year's nominations as a victory for the bullying power of the United States Senate and an undeserved loss for Kathryn Bigelow."

Even on Oscar morning, the film woke to unwelcome headlines. The relatives of a flight attendant who died in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks criticized the film for using a recording of her last call before her American Airlines plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Harry Ong, the brother of the flight attendant, Betty Ann Ong, called the film "just outrageous."

Republicans in Washington have been particularly critical of the film, alleging that it was used to help the re-election prospects of U.S. President Barack Obama, and that it revealed national security secrets.

Other victims of the September 11 attacks have voiced support for the film as did departing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Before Sunday's Oscars, Rotten Tomatoes editor-in-chief Matt Atchity said: "Controversial movies suffer with Academy voters. I think 'Zero Dark Thirty' will have a tough time winning Best Picture because I think the Academy is going to go with less controversial choices."

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

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