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How true are Hollywood's 'true stories'?
January 13th, 2014
05:52 PM ET

How true are Hollywood's 'true stories'?

(CNN) - In Hollywood, awards are all about belief. On Sunday night, more than half of the film category statues were given to movies based, at least loosely, on a true story.

Films like "Dallas Buyers Club," "The Wolf of Wall Street," and "American Hustle" won big, piling praise as high as the stack of facts left on their cutting room floors.

When it comes to films based on a true story, Hollywood doesn't let the details get in the way of a Golden Globe. After all, the Abscam scandal's minutiae doesn't sell tickets quite like actress Jennifer Law's quirks.

"When you see "based on a true story" you should say, maybe one-tenth of what I'm going to see, maybe 50 percent is going to be true," said Los Angeles Times reporter John Horn. "The key test ... is whether or not your fabrications, your embellishments are going to become the story of the movie, as opposed to the movie itself."

"Dallas Buyers Club" portrays the story of real life Texas AIDS patient Ron Woodruff, who, by the way, did not ride in rodeos. But that's the smallest of the film's departures. Actor Jared Leto won a Golden Globe for his role as Woodruff's transgender sidekick Rayon - who never actually existed.

A made-up co-star and a bit of rodeo riding are minor details in Tinseltown when the heart of a movie's message remains intact.

"There is a very specific difference when it comes to Hollywood. You know, the facts are the very specific incidents that occur, and the truth is whether or not those incidents added up to a larger narrative or a larger story," said Horn.

The cast of "Captain Phillips" was marooned at their table last night, winning no awards, perhaps a result of being hijacked by controversy earlier this year.

"The story we tell is of Captain Phillips in command of a ship that's attacked by Somali pirates. Captain Phillips who ensures that his crew is safe by himself getting in the lifeboat," said Paul Greengrass, the movie's director.

Despite Greengrass' best efforts, Tom Hanks' heroic portrayal of Phillips did not float with everyone, especially not the seamen who lived through the true events.

"He was advised to change course by competent deck officers, and he overruled him," said John Cronan, engineer with Maersk Alabama.

"If you take great creative liberties and those liberties become the narrative, that's what everyone's talking about, as opposed to the film, then you're really in trouble," said

"The Wolf of Wall Street" stuck closely to the details of Jordan Belfort's debaucherous past. It was the movie's moral tone that made headlines, instead.

But as Belfort might say, it's all in how you sell it.

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