Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Simple Way That "Argo" and "Lincoln" Can Both Get Top Honors

Left to right: Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln and Ben Affleck in Argo
We are a little over 10 days until the big ceremony happens. While many speculate that director Ben Affleck's Argo will win despite a director nomination, director Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is giving a healthy dose of competition. Lincoln also has distinct honor of having 12 nominations, one of which almost seems guaranteed: Daniel Day Lewis for Best Supporting Actor. However, along with a few BAFTA trophies, Argo is looking more and more to be a definitive lock for Best Picture.  Still, it is anyone's game. While it seems like a crass concept, there is a way for both parties to be happy. And yes, in the case of Spielberg, it has happened before.

It is hard to really understand why Ben Affleck is considered the underdog this season. He has already won an Academy Award (Best Original Screenplay for co-writing Good Will Hunting) in 1998. Maybe it is the factor that between his previous win and this year, there hasn't been another justified nomination. In fact, the juicy angle that we can go with Affleck's recent stint of praise is that he has made a comeback the likes of which nobody expected. In a sense, this win is more to encapsulate his triumph over clunkers like Gigli and to celebrate him in a new light: director.

I know that sounds reductive, since he didn't actually land a Best Director statue. However, Affleck is only three films in, and each have gotten an Oscar nomination. This is the first in which his films have gotten more than an acting nomination. In fact, it has gotten seven slots, which is pretty impressive overall. His film has been critically praised and has grossed $124 million to date. He has already won in that regards. True, his direction was tight and intense at times in the film, but what often feels like a missed analysis is greed.

True, everyone wants their film to have the most nominations. As my predictions showed, I was an adamant supporter of The Master and Moonrise Kingdom landing Best Picture slots. However, when that was reduced to three acting (The Master) and a screenplay nod (Moonrise Kingdom), I was contempt. The Academy cannot be blamed for at least trying something ambitious this year. In fact, the Best Director nominations for Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Michael Haneke (Amour) are welcome surprises. True, Zeitlin's skill may not be up to the level of Kathryn Bigelow's masterpiece Zero Dark Thirty, but at least it benefits the little film that could in gaining more recognition.

I am more of a fan of the Academy recognizing an array of talent as opposed to singling out a niche group. In fact, that is what makes this year exciting. The diversity is incredible, even if films like Cloud Atlas and Rust and Bone didn't make the cut. True, Argo byfar exceeds most of the Best Director nominees (notably David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook), but I wouldn't replace Haneke and Zeitlin for anyone. It is just that Bigelow and Affleck missed the cut, and it may be because of the "political true stories where America saves the day as scored by Alexandre Desplat"connection. 

That is a shame, and before you begin thinking that no Best Director nomination means that you will not win Best Picture, let us look over the past few decades. In majority of cases, it is true that Best Director and Best Picture were exclusive. However, it seems like at least once a decade, a film splits the bill with another one. The two most recent examples just happen to feature some of this year's nominees.

The most recent example was the year that director Paul Haggis' Crash won. As maligned as that film is, it was only a bait and switch from the previous category winner. It was the year in which director Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain was expected to get the top prize. In fact, Lee became the first of Asian orientation to win a Best Director trophy. This happened again in the 90's when Steven Spielberg won Best Director for Saving Private Ryan, but lost to director John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (oddly enough, starring Ben Affleck in a minor role). These are just some of the Academy's many times that disprove the correlation of the top two categories. 

Left to right: Affleck and Bryan Cranston in Argo
However, for Argo's shining proof is director Bruce Beresford's Driving Miss Daisy. It won Best Picture, but director Oliver Stone, fresh on the heels of Platoon a few years ago, won Best Director for Born on the Fourth of July. However, that isn't the biggest shocker. Beresford wasn't even nominated in the Best Director category. That doesn't diminish the overall win for Driving Miss Daisy, but just proves that sometimes the Best Picture can go to films that have had it a little hard in the other categories.

So, why are things okay for Affleck then? Yes, many would easily perceive that he was snubbed, but if Argo wins, it joins a small pantheon of films that missed out on Best Director. In that regards, it is already in the history books. I also firmly believe that the Academy was wanting to recognize a mix of established voices and some newcomers this year, and they succeeded for the most part (Best Supporting Actor notwithstanding). In fact, Affleck will probably be nominated again somewhere down the line. For those that saw Gone Baby Gone and The Town, this isn't a fluke. Unless Affleck jumps over the cliff again, he will be back. 

Also, a factor that is entirely overlooked is that Affleck would win no matter what. Provided that Argo, which according to statistics website Gold Derby is set to win at odds of 27:10, Affleck will be recognized. For those that are unaware, the recipient of the Best Picture win goes to the producers. Affleck is listed as one of the producers, which in theory would have him listed as one of the possible recipients for the award. At very most, this launches the Academy to recognize Affleck in the future.

Left to right: Day Lewis and Joseph Gordon Levitt in Lincoln
How does this tie into Lincoln and more specifically Steven Spielberg also winning? I must admit that the unfairness of the Best Director category is that neither Zeitlin nor Haneke stand a chance of winning. They are even more of an underdog than Affleck would have been. They are just not popular enough to pull an upset. However, between Spielberg, Russell, and Lee (Life of Pi), it almost seems like a guarantee that Spielberg will get that Best Director slot without much of a struggle. After all, he did it with Saving Private Ryan

My issues with Lincoln aren't so much with the direction as it is the idea that if it won Best Picture, it would diminish the quality of this year's nominees. They feature a vast array of talents, and Lincoln, while competently made, wasn't spectacularly representative of this year's selection. It featured Spielberg doing what Spielberg does best. While that can be seen as taking away a nomination, Spielberg is no chump. He shoots with consistency. The Academy is aware of that. I am not saying that Lincoln's direction is on par with Saving Private Ryan, but with Lee standing little chance of a win (sadly), Spielberg seems like the only confident winner. Gold Derby has him listed in the lead with odds of 7:4.

Is this an upset? No. While I am still trying to persuade everyone to recognize Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) as a brilliant performance over Day Lewis' average skill set and pretty much a win just because of who he is, the director field feels earned. There will always be a few upsets in every year's ceremony, but even the few that make no sense actually feel like off-the-wall options this time. There is a sense of effort. Lincoln may suffer from too much bias (I also am opposed to John Williams' Best Original Score shout out), but you have to consider that you have to look at the small triumphs.

True, they don't include a Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Smashed) nomination, but they do include the nominations where they matter. If I had to hold Moonrise Kingdom to one set of standards, it would be the writing. If I had to hold The Master to something, it would be the acting. These categories were met, so I don't feel like it is a total cop out. It is true that most often, studio films will overpower the nominations, so take pride in the few slots where the less traditional films get recognized. It may not be fair overall, but at least the Academy showed a change of pace. They still aren't ready to tackle controversial subject matter as a Best Picture (i.e. - nothing for Zero Dark Thirty), but at least they may recognize one of the most universally applauded movies of the year.

Also, in a quick closing statement: the reason that Argo will win is because of the Oscar's unfortunate bias. While I adore and feel that The Artist deserved every trophy it got, the film was also representative of the Academy being in love with Hollywood. This feels reminiscent in Argo, which goes as far as to actually show an Oscar statue in the film. While Affleck as the underdog (a title I don't entirely agree with) is a big push, I think the bigger one is that it hits on being a Hollywood story that helps the world. If Crash proved anything about the Academy, they like films that show strong international relations. Argo does that so much better. It is also one of the more competent films and I feel will have the best legs in the long run (though not nearly as much as Life of Pi or Zero Dark Thirty, but their niche subject matter is probably playing against them). However, for the smaller films, they have already won. When people look up these lists in 20 years to see what was definitive of 2012 cinema, Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, and even Les Miserables will be there, etched into history.

Who do you think will win Best Picture? Will Argo win despite that Best Director nomination? Is Joaquin Phoenix capable of an upset? Maybe Ang Lee will get that statue he deserves? 

No comments:

Post a Comment