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2014 Oscars: 7 Legal Issues Depicted in 'Best Picture' Nominees

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on February 27, 2014 8:00 AM

The 86th Annual Academy Awards are almost here. As people scramble to bet on the "Best Picture" winner, it's clear who the real winner is: the law.

Legal issues play a central role in a surprising number of this year's "Best Picture" Oscar nominees.

Here are seven of the "Best Picture" contenders and the real-life legal issues they portray on screen:

  1. "12 Years a Slave." In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. A prominent white New York attorney recorded Northup's memoir in an attempt to bring Northup's kidnappers to trial. Published in 1853, the memoir inspired the movie.
  2. "Dallas Buyers Club." In 1985, Ron Woodroof discovers he has AIDS and sets up the Dallas Buyers Club to help AIDS patients get affordable access to antiviral drugs -- while playing a game of cat-and-mouse with FDA regulations. The FDA's regulation of HIV drugs is always a hot legal topic.
  3. "The Wolf of Wall Street." Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, the tale spans Belfort's rise to a wealthy stockbroker to his criminal demise. It encompasses a spate of legal issues: securities fraud, a slew of other white collar crimes, sexual harassment, drug use, and prostitution -- the list goes on, really.
  4. "American Hustle." Two con artists reluctantly assist an FBI agent in an elaborate sting operation on corrupt politicians and organized crime. It's loosely based on the FBI's Abscam sting operation in the late 70s and early 80s.
  5. "Nebraska." A tale of a septuagenarian traveling cross-country with the mistaken belief that he won a million-dollar sweepstakes. Gullible victims have squandered massive savings in ill-begotten quests for sweepstake winnings, convinced a huge prize awaited them. Such incidents have been reported in 32 states, prompting an investigation into sweepstakes groups like Publishers Clearing House and changes to their marketing practices.
  6. "Philomena." The true heart-wrenching story of journalist Martin Sixsmith, who helps Philomena Lee in her 50-year-long search for her son whom she was forced to give up for adoption decades earlier. Adoption issues are a legal reality.
  7. "Captain Phillips." The true story of Capt. Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the U.S.-flagged MV Maersk Alabama. Like the movie, Phillips was initially proclaimed a hero. The untold story: The crew has since sued the real-life Phillips for causing the crisis and endangering their lives.

Legal issues make for great storytelling. If you have a brilliant idea for a screenplay with a saucy legal plotline, you'll want to copyright your script and consult an entertainment lawyer before you tell us all about it on Facebook.

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