02/24/2013 05:25 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2013

Oscar's Dilemma

We all know what the Academy Awards come to symbolize each year. But tonight should be different with agonizing doubt about it. That's why I believe for the first time in Oscar history, it should not be surprised if the best film of 2012 is handed both to Steven Spielberg's Lincoln AND Ben Affleck's Argo. Granted that has never happened before, but neither in my memory has there been a year in which two such outstanding films have been put before the judges of the Academy.

If the Academy's voters weigh the impact of their decision, in my opinion they would have to consider the measure each film will have had on public opinion. Has Spielberg, the giant of film makers in the past two decades, decided to strike a responsive chord in an election year when the recognition of presidential leadership was paramount in the public's mind? Undoubtedly, no sophisticated judges can ignore Daniel Day Lewis' magnificent portrayal after watching Spielberg's artistic depiction of Lincoln leading his battered army of Union troops across the Civil War battlefield. Moreover, at a time when the nation was calling for decisive leadership, Spielberg has lifted the determined but agonizing aspects of Lincoln's decision from Doris Kearns Goodwin's magnificent history book, Team of Rivals and hammered home the impact it had on the 16th President's decision. For a vast viewing audience that may be somewhat rusty on its grasp of Lincoln's legacy and what it meant to the life of the nation.

All of this is not to diminish the powerful impact of Ben Affleck's Argo, which clearly should remain above the ashes, that is to say all the other Oscar-nominated films that were promoted, praised and compared above the competition of all the other contenders. But where Lincoln aroused American awareness about a turning point in American history, Affleck's film is merely a gripping adventure story that fails to explain to viewers the tragic impact of the American collaboration with the British in overthrowing the popular government of Iran's leader, Mohammad Mossadegh.

Affleck legitimately depicts the angry crowds outside the American Embassy in Teheran in 1953 which I remember clearly in my years as a foreign correspondent. But he does not dwell on the substance of that anger which has been singularly responsible for perpetuating the religious rule of Ayatolla Khomeni and the mullahs who succeeded him. In imposing their values, enhancing their hatred of the United States and of Israel. Affleck stands out as a heroic figure throughout the film and perhaps is even Lincolnesque in leading his diminished herd of trapped Embassy employees to freedom. But Argo does not cause Americans today to understand why the United States is still embroiled in a Near East mess from which there has so far not been an escape.