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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Predicting the Best Picture Race: Argo vs. Lincoln

It seems that the two legitimate contenders to win Best Picture at the 85th Oscars are Lincoln and Argo. Of course anything can happen but the common perception is that these two are the two to beat.


Despite the fact that I personally think Argo is hands down the best film out of the current nine nominated films, Argo has been on a tear this award season. Argo won the Golden Globe for Best Film (Drama) and Best Director for Ben Affleck. Argo also won the PGA (Producers Guild Award) for Best Film, won Best Ensemble Film Cast at the SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) Awards, and Argo and Affleck won (respectively) for Best Motion Picture and Best Director at the Critics Choice Awards. It seems that everybody loves Argo and everybody is awarding it the best picture of 2012. All of this award hype means that Argo is the front runner for Oscar time. The past five Best Picture Oscar winners (since 2007)- The Artist, The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, and No Country For Old Men- were all the favorite going into the Oscar ceremonies and all left the Oscar ceremonies victorious. This is great news for Argo.


Ben Affleck was not nominated for Best Director. This is a fact that can NOT be overlooked. For starters, it is extremely difficult to say a movie is the best of the year yet its director- who controls every single aspect of the movie and is the single person to credit/blame for the quality of the film- it not one of the best five directors of the year. The fact that the Academy snubbed Affleck is a huge blow to the success of Argo as a Best Picture contender.

I actually went back to the entire history of the Oscars and there were only three instances were a film won Best Picture yet its director did not get nominated for Best Director. The first instance was the very first Academy Awards where Wings won Best Picture yet it's director- William A. Wellman- did not receive a nomination. The second instance was at the 5th Academy Awards where the same thing happened to Grand Hotel and it's director Edmund Goulding. However, in both of those instances, the Academy Awards nominated 8 films for Best Picture yet only nominated 3 men for Best Director. While the Academy now nominates 10 movies yet only 5 directors, the make up of the early days of the Oscars really look nothing like its incarnation today.

Really, Argo's best chance for hope is to look at the 1990's Acadamy Awards where Driving Miss Daisy won for Best Picture yet its director- Bruce Beresford- did not earn a nomination. Even still, that win was 23 years ago. If Argo wins Best Picture this year then it will be an instance where it would only happen 4 times in 85 chances. Those are pretty incredible odds to overcome.

When I went and individually searched through all of the past 84 winners, the vast majority of the time I saw that the film that won Best Picture also had its director win Best Director as well. While I do not have the exact percentage in front of me because it was more occurrences than I cared to count, trust me, it happens most of the time. But as I mentioned earlier, even if the film won Best Picture and did not have its director win Best Director, at least that director was NOMINATED.

Sure, in today's Oscar field where 10 films are nominated but only five directors are nominated, maybe this Picture/Director nomination correlation is meaningless. However, I am confident that Argo would have been nominated for Best Picture if there were only five nominations. The fact that movies like Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, (and probably) Django Unchained, and Les Miserables also earned nominations is really meaningless to Argo. Affleck truly was one of the top five directors in 2012 so his lack of a nomination is a huge blow to Argo itself.


With Ben Affleck out of the race, it seems obvious that Steven Spielberg will win the Oscar for Best Director. As I mentioned in my case against Argo, there is a very good chance the person who wins Best Director will also have his/her movie win Best Picture.

Out of the past ten years, the film that won Best Picture also had its director win Best Director 8 times- The Artist (2011), The King's Speech (2010), The Hurt Locker (2009), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), No Country For Old Men (2007),  The Departed (2006), Million Dollar Baby (2004), and LOTR: The Return of the King (2003). The only two instances where it didn't happen was in 2005 when Crash defeated Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (in what many people consider the worst upset ever in Oscar history) and in 2002 when Chicago won Best Picture but Roman Polanski for The Pianist Best Director. If Spielberg does win Best Director (while I realize he is the front runner, he is of course no guarantee to win it and I am operating under the assumption that Spielberg does win for Best Director at the 85th Academy Awards), that means the odds that Lincoln wins Best Picture are very good.

Even if Spielberg does not win Best Director, the odds for Lincoln are still very good. Once the Oscar nominations were announced, Lincoln was favored to sweep the Academy Awards. Lincoln earned the most nominations in 2013 with 11 nominations which can be a very good sign for a film. While Argo has since overtaken Lincoln as the favorite since the winners of the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and PGA Awards have been released after the Academy Awards nominations, the fact that Lincoln is the clear cut #2 film to beat is great news for Lincoln. If Argo does not win Best Picture (and history tells us Argo will not win it) then Lincoln becomes THE film to beat.


For starters, I actually looked up how the film with the most nominations fared at the Oscars and recent history tells us not well. For example, last year, Martin Scorsese's Hugo garnered the most nominations (11) including Best Picture and Best Director but it was Michel Hazanavicius and The Artist that walked away with the top prizes.

In the past ten years, the film that garnered the most nominations only won Best Picture 3 out of the past 10 times and only once out of the past 8 years.

OK, I'm sorry, I'm skewing the numbers a little bit because at the 2010 Oscars and the 2008 Oscars, two films tied for the most nominations and in each of those years one of the tied films (The Hurt Locker and No Country For Old Men, respectively) went on to win Best Picture.

However, my point remains the same- just because you earned the most Oscar nominations bears absolutely no weight on whether your picture will win Best Picture.

In fact, it was the media and those who have absolutely no political or voting weight among the Academy that were declaring Lincoln the front runner. Even though we were told Lincoln was the front runner, Lincoln as a film hasn't won a major award since.

Both Argo and Lincoln have won many critics' choice awards in individual cities, but it is Argo that is winning all of these top prizes. Even at the Screen Actor Guild Awards where Lincoln had a nominee in the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress category vs. Argo's lone Best Supporting Actor nomination AND even though Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones each took home wins where Alan Arkin in Argo did not, it was still Argo that took home the top prize. Winning at the SAG's, PGA's, Critics Choice Awards, AND the Golden Globes means that Argo is the true front runner for a reason and is a strong indication that Argo, and not Lincoln, will take home the golden statuette on February 24th.



If Ben Affleck was nominated for Best Director then I would say Argo was going to win Best Picture and it would not be close. The fact that Affleck was not nominated means that I am actually going against the grain and the odds are not in my favor. It is still a huge risk in my mind to predict Argo will win Best Picture and I still think the conventional norm and wisdom should be that Lincoln will win it.

However, I need to go with my heart and I adored Argo. I think it's just a great film and one that tops the list as one of the best films of 2012. This is compared to Lincoln which I strongly disliked. I know I am in the extremely small minority on this one but I hated Lincoln. After I saw the film, I wrote that there is a scene halfway through Lincoln where the 16th President and his wife are watching a play and I had hoped John Wilkes Booth had assassinated Lincoln right then and there so I could stop watching this dull picture. That is how much I disliked Lincoln. The only other film, besides Lincoln, nominated for Best Picture that I will get legitimately upset if it won would be Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Therefore, if I had to choose between two films that are in a close race, I will choose quality every single time. It worked for me once before when I predicted that both Bradley Cooper and Joaquin Phoenix would earn an Oscar nomination and I think it will hold true here that Argo will defeat Lincoln.


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