Here's the beginning of my review of the Best Picture nominee from The American Conservative:
One of the oddities of the movie business is how films for grown-ups, such as “Frost/Nixon,” are now held hostage by that rather adolescent competition, the Academy Awards.
If “Frost/Nixon,” Ron Howard’s adroit rendering of Peter Morgan’s intelligent stage play about English TV personality David Frost’s 1977 interviews with deposed President Richard Nixon, had come out in April or August, it would have served as a refreshing break from the dreary fare of those off-months. Released at the end of the year to impress Oscar voters, however—along with seemingly the all the other non-superhero movies of 2008—“Frost/Nixon” has gotten lost in the box office crush, even after snagging Oscar nominations in five major categories (Best Picture, Directing, Acting, Editing, and Adapted Screenplay). Having spent the summer listening to my sons debate Iron Man versus Batman, the Oscar race leaves me perturbed that I’m now wondering whether Frank Langella’s Nixon could beat up Mickey Rourke’s Wrestler.
Unsurprisingly, Morgan’s persistent metaphor of the interviews as a boxing match between an untested lightweight and a battered ex-heavyweight champ doesn’t quite stand up to the scrutiny that a Best Picture winner should withstand.
Nonetheless, the glass is more than half-full. Ron Howard (“Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind”) is a famous director because he was a child star, but he’s less an auteur with a distinctive style than a versatile craftsman in the tradition of all those highly effective but now easily confused golden age directors such as William Wyler and William Wellman.
One additional point worth mentioning is that Peter Morgan's somewhat contrived drama relies upon the contemporary audience's presumption that talk show hosts are lowbrows who are completely ignorant about anything other than celebrity culture. But that wasn't the assumption a generation ago. Big time talk show hosts back then were supposed to be middlebrows with a lively range of interests. (The pure entertainment industry talk show hosts like Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas were a tier below the top guys in prestige.)
Steve Allen, the first Tonight Show host, was a wit, a musician, and a rather earnest intellectual who wrote a shelf-full of books. Jack Paar's Tonight Shows were more like the Charlie Rose Show than today's Tonight. Carson's early 1970s competitors, Frost and Dick Cavett, were metropolitan raconteurs tied into the world of ideas in London and New York, respectively. They weren't deep thinkers, but they knew the deep thinkers. Carson was perhaps closer to the pure show biz model triumphant today, especially after his move from NYC to LA, but he had his outside interests, such as astronomy and population control, thus making the scientists Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich into huge celebrities.
It often wasn't hard to figure out where these guys fell on a sophisticated ideological scale. Steve Allen, for example, was clearly an anti-Communist liberal of the Arthur Schlesinger Jr. school, opposed to both Republicans and the 1960s New Left.