It didn't completely fail. Sure, it didn't win best picture or best actress, but it did manage an even more impressive tie for the real beauty prize, the one Oscar every studio is most excited about, Best Sound Editing. It tied with the new Bond film, which really is amazing. If you can make a real intelligence film sound exactly as good as a fake one, you deserve at least half an Oscar.
There are rumors that it didn't do as well as previously expected because of the political backlash from its portrayal of torture. That's nonsense. Zero didn't glamorize torture, it glamorized hard work and dedication to a cause. The real problem with the film is its unrealistic portrayal of institutional competence.
At its heart, Zero Dark Thirty is an uplifting film about how even an insanely hot woman can succeed if she works hard enough. That's a message that I expected The Academy to support.