It’s a fitting conclusion (and how very “Academy,” too) to one of the most unpredictable Oscar races in recent memory. Argo, the standard procedural helmed by big-name Hollywood power player Ben Affleck, has emerged as the clear frontrunner for the Academy’s top prize after garnering major recognition from the likes of SAG, BAFTA, the HFPA and the DGA, all organizations with Academy crossover membership.
It’s putting a glum damper on my awards season because Argo, a film which pales so miserably in the face of the other nine nominees, is merely succeeding on the misfortunes of its director-star. After the Academy “snubbed” Affleck out of the Best Director category, a sort of bourgeois, first-world rage swept through the voting community and they began lobbing awards at him like he was Peter O’Toole in Venus and everyone thought he was going to die before they had a chance to nominate him for anything ever again.
I can’t remember a time a snub was so actively met with reactionary sympathy. It’s tough for a community to accept that one of its most successful members simply wasn’t liked well enough by the branch of Directors who decide the Academy’s Best Director nominees. So, then, what makes the Academy favor Argo more than, say, Zero Dark Thirty, a film with massive pre-awards season buzz (and five Oscar nominations to its credit this year) but also went without individual Academy recognition for its director, Kathryn Bigelow? Where Argo is a slick by-the-numbers procedural which reinforces stereotypically souped-up “American” ideals, Zero Dark Thirty uses the frame of one of the most momentous manhunts of all time to tell a much larger story about gender politics and the dangers of letting faith linger in the hands of the powers that be, forcing us to confront an uncertain future and false sense of security–an idea Argo works against. Where Zero Dark Thirty ends with its “climax” putting no one at ease and forcing our nation down a path with nowhere to go and no end in sight, Argo literally drapes an American flag behind a picture-perfect nuclear family standing on the porch of their suburban paradise. Argo creates idealized fantasy out of actuality, Zero Dark Thirty uses cinematic fiction to force us into a state of consciousness.
Is Kathryn Bigelow’s star not bright enough to warrant her vastly superior film taking precedence over megastar Ben Affleck’s? The sympathy votes for Argo that have been pouring in over the past month will carry it to Best Picture greatness on Sunday, but with that decision, are we deviating too far away from the medium itself? Industry politics have trumped the Oscar voting process for decades, but we can justify the Weinsteins campaigning for films like Silver Linings Playbook and The Artist because they’re products of quality. Argo‘s only legacy will not be that it was the best film of 2012; it will merely be the film that won because its director was snubbed; the film that is forgotten as soon as the ceremony is over, as it is a tool to award sympathy on behalf of a voter base that sees Affleck as invaluable. That’s all fine and perfectly acceptable, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
It’s not like the Academy’s next best in line is any better, as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a difficult pill to swallow at this year’s Oscars as well. Sure, its depiction of a nation intensely divided might have coincidental implications on contemporary (equally-split) societal mentality, but I find it difficult to accept that people are falling in love with the film as a film and not merely loving the historical events and happenings the film depicts. We can all agree that Abraham Lincoln’s dedication to ending slavery is admirable, but do we need a film to reaffirm our acceptance of the man and funnel such feelings into passive, built-in acceptance of a basic film structured around it? By default, Spielberg’s direction will take the top prize in the Best Director category, as will the film’s lead, Daniel Day-Lewis, for his portrayal of the ill-fated President. Expect some technicals to be thrown Lincoln‘s way as well, categories where its superiority as a production outweigh its strengths as a film.
We’ve all known we’ll have to endure another acceptance speech/irritating assault on what used to be an intense love for Anne Hathaway as she wins Best Supporting Actress, but the Best Actress race is still precarious even to speculate upon, as its seems a new frontrunner emerges every day. After leading the race for months with Jessica Chastain hot on her tail, Jennifer Lawrence now faces a battle with Emmanuelle Riva, whose performance in Amour has seen its female lead ascend from the mere novelty of being the “oldest Best Actress nominee ever” to the ranks of a serious threat to win the category after her BAFTA win last week. Anthony Breznican’s survey of anonymous Academy voters in last week’s Entertainment Weekly also proved surprising as many of the interviewees indicated that they’d be voting for Naomi Watts’ brilliant performance in The Impossible. In fact, if we’re going by Breznican’s research polling, Watts is the frontrunner (and this is from the mouths of actual Academy voters). Seeing as Watts has been passed over countless times before and due to the fact that she hasn’t won a single major precursor award, I’d say she sits solidly in a position to upset both Lawrence and Riva (Chastain’s hunt is, unfortunately, all but dead at this point).
The Writers Guild Awards this past Sunday threw us for a bit of a loop when they announced Mark Boal as the winner for Best Original Screenplay for his Zero Dark Thirty script, whereas the Best Adapted Screenplay award went to Chris Terrio’s script for Argo. If the Weinstein push has any power this year, it will be either in the Adapted Screenplay category or Best Supporting Actor, where Silver Linings Playbook has a shot at upsetting Lincoln or Argo on both accounts. Original Screenplay will go to Amour if the controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty gets in its way of winning, as the media shitstorm stemmed largely from its script’s inclusion of torture scenes, many of which the masses have unfortunately come to misinterpret.
And that’s that. As we close out yet another Academy Awards, I can’t think of words more fitting to describe how I feel about this wildly unpredictable, fiercely enjoyable mess of an awards season; Argo fuck yours–wait, no: Argo, kindly go fuck yourself.
Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
Best Original Screenplay: Zero Dark Thirty
Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo
Best Film Editing: Argo
Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Foreign Language Film: Amour
Best Original Score: Life of Pi
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty
Best Sound Mixing: Les Miserables
Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Best Hair/Makeup: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Best Documentary: Searching For Sugar Man
Best Production Design: Les Miserables
Best Original Song: Adele – “Skyfall” in Skyfall