Jan 14, 2013

The Case for Argo

The Golden Globes came and went and Ben Affleck's Argo landed another double win for Best Director/Best Picture after doing the exact same at the BFCA. The two groups, as you may well be aware, have no overlap with the Academy in membership but we all know that every little and not so little award can have a bearing on how the big show turns out at the end and I have a feeling in a few weeks' time we might still be considering the Globes as a vital moment in this season.

In recent years, the Globe winner hasn't lined up with the Oscar champ as often as one might think. Most awards pundits will assume that this year will turn out to be another one where the two can't agree on a winner, seeing as both Argo and Les Misérables have missed out on best director nominations at the Oscars. But the industry good will that has been accumulating for Ben Affleck and his film since its TIFF premiere seems to be growing every day. Of course, not every week will be as packed with announcements as this one was, so there will be a lot of calm before the storm. Lincoln (warmly endorsed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton during last night's ceremony) and Life of Pi (boosted by its surprising haul of 11 Oscar nominations) will surely be capitalizing on that silent period. The former will also surely benefit from at least one SAG award in the process.

It's important to consider that no film has won the top prize at the Oscars without a nomination for its director since Driving Miss Daisy way back in 1989. But records are meant to be broken and this season is such a strange one. If any film ever wanted to jump in and steal the show unexpectedly, this would be the year to do it. And Argo seems to have all the ingredients of a surprise winner.

Its 7 nominations are trumped by four other best picture nominees, three of which have accompanying best director nods. Smart money is, and will be, on Lincoln or Life of Pi to take the cake. But when you stop to consider the films that went into the second phase of the season in Argo's shoes, you realize what a precious and strange position this film is in and what a great underdog narrative is waiting to take shape.

Alan Arkin, potential SAG winner

Moneyball was not the critical favorite that Argo has been throughout the season. War Horse went into the Academy Awards knowing it would come out empty-handed. Inception had the disadvantage of being a genre piece that didn't connect with many voters. Atonement won the Golden Globe for best picture and had seven Oscar nominations, but it hadn't even won a handful of critics awards. Little Miss Sunshine was a contender in a year that was as volatile as this one and it was critically lauded (though not to the extent that Argo is) but it had two blind spots: it did not have the aura of importance that Argo does, and it happened to be in the race when Scorsese was finally primed for his first win.

Argo is a successful studio film. It's brilliantly crafted. There's no argument there. It might have missed out on Costume and Production design nominations but when the entire voting body puts pen to paper to pick their favorites, they'll see the effort that's gone into the work. It's also entertaining to watch, as evidenced by its box office success. There are quite a few industry powerhouses involved in the film and that's not to be taken lightly. And most importantly, it balances a story about the industry itself with a patriotic story that appears substantial. It's a true political story without being quite true, but it is neither as controversial as Zero Dark Thirty nor as talky as Lincoln. Spielberg's film is surely in the driver's seat, but Argo will wrestle for it till the very end.

Six weeks between the nominations and the ceremony is a long time. Tides will turn and anything can happen but the only thing going against Argo until then is... actually, nothing. And that's the key here. Theoretically, Argo can still win the DGA (likely), PGA (very likely) and the SAG ensemble award or even an individual SAG for Alan Arkin in best supporting actor. If anything, voters might stick a neck out for it in reaction to the underwhelming Oscar response. And if Argo's suiting up for the Oscars with those awards in its pocket, who's to say it can't be winner? Records are meant to be broken, remember?

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