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It's strange times in Oscarland. "Argo's" wins at the PGA Awards and SAG Awards have jolted a best picture race that seemed squarely in "Lincoln's" corner. Now, are all bets off or is it just a mirage we've seen play games with Academy Awards pundits before?
To be fair, the PGA win wasn't that much of a surprise. Affleck and Clooney are well respected by their producing peers and, on paper, "Argo" wasn't necessarily a slam dunk box office hit (which makes it easy to reward). Still, it was an impressive win as "Lincoln" could have easily taken the prize as well ($167 million at the box office for a period drama is pretty amazing in 2012). The shocker, of course, was the SAG Awards results. With only one other SAG Awards nomination - Alan Arkin in the best supporting actor category - "Argo" beat not only "Lincoln" which included both the best actor and the best supporting actor winners in Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones, but "Silver Linings Playbook" which had three nominees including Jennifer Lawrence who won best actress. Even "Les Miserables," with its long list of well known thespians, would have been less of an upset than "Argo's" winning was. Instead, the actors pretty much told their industry colleagues they just liked "Argo" more. DGA is next and the way the awards season momentum is turning it would actually be an upset if Ben Affleck didn't win Saturday night. Ballots are due on Friday and Spielberg has already won three times and been honored with another seven nominations. It's not like there will be prevailing sentiment that "he's due." So, let's say Affleck wins the DGA as payback for missing out on an Oscar nomination in the directing category, what's really going on when it comes to "Argo's" chances of winning best picture?
There are two comparable Oscar contenders for "Argo." The first is "Driving Miss Daisy." The 1990 best picture winner took the prize over fellow contenders "Born on the Fourth of July" and "Dead Poets Society." "Fourth of July's" Oliver Stone won best director that year, but the Academy clearly loved "Daisy" more. Historically, "Daisy" is the third and last time a film has won best picture without a best director nomination. The other two winners are from Oscar's early years, "Wings" and "Grand Hotel."
The second comparable for "Argo" could be "Apollo 13." Ron Howard's 1995 dramatic thriller earned eight nominations including best picture, editing, adapted screenplay, supporting actor and supporting actress. Howard, though, didn't make the best director cut. This caused something of an uproar at the time and "Apollo 13" went on, however, to win the PGA Award for best picture, SAG Award for best ensemble and Howard earned his first DGA honor. That guild momentum didn't matter to the Academy though. "Braveheart" easily took best picture as well as best director honors. Mel Gibson was the "man" in Hollywood back then and the Academy as a whole embraced the period epic awarding it five Oscars overall.
Now, if Nate Silver was writing this he'd probably tell you to be weary of "Argo's" recent wins and look at the statistics. Only there out of 84 previous best picture statues went to a film without a best director nomination. Competing consultants would argue that "Lincoln" is this year's "Hugo" or "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Films that were respected and admired by the Academy, but not adored. "Argo"? Oh, just a true story about Hollywood saving the day with a crowd-pleasing ending and some of the most memorable lines of any film released in 2012. And members have been talking about it for months. Maybe Affleck's directing snub was just an aberration?
We won't know anytime soon. Academy members have three more weeks to cast their votes and the big show is just under four weeks away. Has "Argo" sealed the deal or is it "Lincoln" all the way? Gut says the former, but it's going to be one tense Oscar telecast until we find out, that's for sure.
Here's the current Contender Countdown for Tuesday, Jan. 29.
Sometimes being loved just matters more. Director's nod or no director's nod.
If Spielberg doesn't win DGA, best picture hopes may be over.
3. Silver Linings Playbook
At this point, Jennifer Lawrence and adapted screenplay are its best bet. Can Weinstein give De Niro enough of a push to upset in supporting actor?
4. Life of Pi
As Tapley noted, Ang Lee has a puncher's shot at best director.
5. Zero Dark Thirty
Entirely possible the most critically acclaimed major release of the year goes home empty handed. Sad, but true.
6. Les Miserables
Anne Hathaway has been the biggest lock all season. Anything more? Gravy.
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Could surprise in best adapted screenplay category. Like "Zero Dark," could also go home empty handed.
8. Django Unchained
Christoph Waltz may be the silent assassin waiting to take down Tommy Lee Jones' supporting actor statue. Or not.
Foreign Language film seems like a given, but Emmanuelle Riva in actress and Michael Haneke in original screenplay are real contenders.