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The 'Argo' factor in this year's Oscar fest

The
Gold Standard

With two recent wins, Ben Affleck's period thriller could beat 'Lincoln' for best film. Or maybe not. Then there's the director and screenplay prizes.

January 17, 2013|By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times
  • Director Ben Affleck with screenwriter Chris Terrio on the set of the movie "Argo."
Director Ben Affleck with screenwriter Chris Terrio on the set of the movie… (Claire Folger / Warner Bros. )

In the week since Oscar nominations were announced, we've sat through two award shows — the Critics' Choice Awards, thrown by a group of junketeers who, according to Anne Hathaway at least, can't even spell the names of their winners right, and the Golden Globes, hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., a wacky bunch of journalists whose news conferences require actors to pose for pictures with each and every member.

Both these groups gave "Argo" awards for best motion picture drama over "Lincoln." And since both the HFPA and the Broadcast Film Critics proudly tout their ability to predict the ways of the film academy — indeed, aping the Oscars seems to define their existence — all the love for Ben Affleck's period hostage thriller has to mean something, right? Right?

And, though, regular readers of the Gold Standard are probably waiting for us to mockingly respond with a hearty and resounding "No!," we can't quite do that because this is the year of the Bizarro Oscar Race, where up is down, down is up and movies that don't have the normal academy variables (say, a director nomination) can and, in fact, may well win the best picture prize.

FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2013

So when we run into media mogul Rupert Murdoch backstage at the Globes and he tells us that "Lincoln" director Steven Spielberg is "so desperate to win tonight that he called in all his IOUs and flew Bill Clinton across the country," and the movie still loses to "Argo," we pay attention. You'd think the Golden Globe voters, who were likely in the know about his visit and are no strangers to well-placed enticements, would at least have acknowledged Clinton's effort while circling him for an autograph. But, no, they still went with that movie directed by the movie star.

Of course, Spielberg called Clinton to pay back a little of his vast campaign contributions to wife Hillary not just to make a splash at the Globes but to send a message to Oscar voters: My movie is "brilliant" (Clinton's words, not mine) and worthy of high honor. Call it the opening salvo, the first of many appeals that will be made to academy members' hearts and minds (and stomachs? ... a little "Beasts of the Southern Wild" gumbo would taste good right about now) in the coming weeks.

Here, at this very early juncture, are snapshots of the races for picture, director and original and adapted screenplay:

PICTURE

The nominees:

"Amour"

"Argo"

"Beasts of the Southern Wild"

"Django Unchained"

"Les Misérables"

"Life of Pi"

"Lincoln"

"Silver Linings Playbook"

"Zero Dark Thirty"

And the winner is: "Argo." After Affleck's crowd-pleaser wowed Telluride audiences and won another ovation at Toronto, we saw the race splitting, with "Lincoln" winning best picture and Affleck taking directing honors. The academy's directors branch squashed that notion before it could happen (and had Affleck been nominated, we think the actors branch would have carried Affleck all the way to victory), and now we suspect that the reverse will happen. (Bizarro Oscar!) "Argo," Spielberg and not "Lincoln," Affleck.

Unless: Normal Oscar rules apply and "Lincoln," the movie with the most nominations, the film possessing key nods for director, writing, three of the four acting categories and editing, ends up carrying the vote.

OSCARS 2013: Complete nominee list | Reactions | Trivia | Ballot | Snubs & surprises

DIRECTOR

The nominees:

Michael Haneke, "Amour"

Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"

Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"

David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"

And the winner is: Spielberg. He and Lee are the two Directors Guild carry-overs. The DGA and the academy have differed on winners only six times over the years. And the former president of these United States believes Spielberg's movie is "brilliant." Who are you to argue, voter?

Unless: The academy pulls yet another last-minute rule change and allows write-in candidates. Hop on the Affleck bandwagon!

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The nominees:

Chris Terrio, "Argo"

Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

David Magee, "Life of Pi"

Tony Kushner, "Lincoln"

David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"

And the winner is: "Lincoln." With the exception of Daniel Day-Lewis' disappearing act as Lincoln, Kushner's smart, superbly structured screenplay has been the movie's most celebrated element. Many critics have noted that Spielberg fashioned his direction to emphasize Kushner's words and ideas and gab.

Unless: Academy members decide it's high time to give Russell his first Oscar for a movie that seamlessly blends humor and heartache.

Golden Globes 2013List | Red Carpet | Winners | Ballot | Show moments | Quote

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The nominees:

Michael Haneke, "Amour"

Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained"

John Gatins, "Flight"

Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, "Moonrise Kingdom"

Mark Boal, "Zero Dark Thirty"

And the winner is: "Amour." The issues over "Zero Dark Thirty's" depiction of torture will eliminate it from the consideration of many voters. The five nominations "Amour" received indicate broad support within the academy, and this would be a fine spot to honor the film. If Haneke wins and "Amour," as expected, takes foreign film, it'd be the first time that has happened since Claude Lelouch won for "A Man and a Woman" in 1966.

Unless: Tarantino's outrageously executed lesson in American history connects with voters who appreciate the auteur's audacity.

NEXT WEEK: We look at animated feature, foreign-language film and documentary feature.

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

MORE OSCAR COVERAGE

Play-at-Home Oscar Ballot 2013

INTERACTIVE: Oscar Watch 2013

TIMELINE: Academy Awards through the years

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