Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won acting awards Sunday at the 86th Academy Awards for Dallas Buyers Club, the story of Ron Woodruff, a man stricken with AIDS in the 1980s who battles the laws against experimental drugs that fight the disease. The film depicts the bureaucracy and federal regulations as villains during the early days of AIDS. McConaughey's Woodruff encounters Border Patrol, DEA and FDA antagonists in the film, showing the government agents as inflexible and unimaginative in the face of the devastating new disease.
Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity depicts a NASA spacewalk gone horribly awry. Nominated for 10 awards, the film garnered seven Oscars, including a win for Best Director. Gravity showed the International Space Station, as well as Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as federal employees of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The film's depiction of the vast emptiness of space and its groundbreaking special effects won it several technical awards, as well as the directing award for the Mexican director.
David O. Russell's reimagining of the Abscam scandal involving the FBI and several New Jersey politicians, American Hustle was shut out of wins, despite its 10 nominations. The most fed-heavy of the nominated films, American Hustle featured a federal operation at its heart embodied by Bradley Cooper's FBI agent Richie DeMasio. The interplay between his character and Louis CK's FBI bureaucrat middle manager made for some of the fim's most memorable scenes.
Agencies like NASA and the Drug Enforcement Administration have been depicted in recent prestige film history. In 2000, Traffic earned four Oscars for its two-nation depiction of the illicit drug war along the Mexico/United States border, including Best Director for Stephen Soderbergh. In 1996, Ron Howard's NASA-focused Apollo 13 was honored with nine Oscar nominations, winning two technical awards. With NASA funding decreasing by the year and public-private partnerships on the rise, the topic of funding the American space agency could be buoyed by Gravity's success.
In 2013, Argo, a tale of a CIA agent extracting embassy staff from Iran during the revolution, won Best Picture. In his speech, director Ben Affleck thanked CIA extraction specialist Tony Mendez, the subject of the film. Upon winning a Golden Globe last year, Affleck thanked foreign service employees during his speech, saying "And those serving overseas, I want to thank them very much.”