Off the Carpet: The long, strange trip of 'Argo'
As the year drew to a close, it started to become apparent that Affleck's movie was the most generally agreeable choice. It was a consensus pick. It was something everyone could agree on. And in a voting procedure that features the preferential ballot, that was going to be of the utmost importance. But when the Oscar nominations were revealed on the morning of January 10, all hope, but for a moment, seemed to be lost. "Argo" received seven nominations, but the film's director was skipped over by that branch for more artful choices like Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin.
The Academy's schedule change had yielded a bit of chaos for the guilds, which voted much earlier than normal and missed this and that (like lead actress Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour" or supporting actor Christoph Waltz in "Django Unchained"). But this perceived "snub" wasn't really owed to that. Theories were aplenty. Perhaps many directors felt that Affleck was sure to be nominated, so they wanted their vote to be felt elsewhere. Perhaps there was a bit of putting the actor-turned-filmmaker in his place. No one can be sure, but the film took a hit as other contenders like "Les Misérables," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln" and even "Silver Linings Playbook" all received more nominations. Indeed, "Lincoln"'s field-leading 12 made it, for all of a day, the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture. For the first time this season, Spielberg's handsome effort had a tangible feeling of being "the one."
That night, things would start to change. At the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, "Argo" would win Best Picture and Best Director. "I'd like to thank the Academy," Affleck said in cheeky retort to the morning's shocking turn of events. It was a happy moment for the team, one that felt like it would be a nice consolation. But the idea nevertheless began to formulate: Could "Argo" become only the fourth film in the Academy's history to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination?
Over that upcoming weekend, "Argo" would keep its newfound second wind blowing. It would win Best Picture - Drama and Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards, while "Les Misérables" would reign victorious in the comedy/musical category (seemingly taking out "Silver Linings Playbook," though it was by no means finished). More regional critics awards would be added to the tally in January and suddenly, "Argo" was the most critically awarded film of the year, not "Zero Dark Thirty" (though Bigelow's film was on life support in the season by this time, Chastain's wins at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards and the Golden Globes notwithstanding).
Now it was time for the industry to speak up, and since "they" had notched "Argo" in fifth place for overall Oscar nominations, and since voting for the Globes and Critics' Choice awards happened outside the frame of Affleck's "snub," surely they would anoint the "true" industry favorite. Well, in so many words, they would do just that.
"Argo" won the Producers Guild prize, surprising to some. As February rolled around, it would win the Directors Guild prize, surprising to many. And for good measure, it would win the Screen Actors Guild ensemble prize, surprising to most. The weekend final ballots were mailed out to the Academy (a full month after the nominations were announced, which could ultimately yield any number of unexpected nuance, we should add), the film went across the pond to pick up BAFTA Awards for Best Film and Best Director.
The juggernaut was in full force so much that by the time it blew into the Writers Guild Awards last night and came away with a win over "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook" for Best Adapted Screenplay, no one ought to have been shocked by the outcome.
The trajectory and tone of the season has been an epic arc for a film that first hit in the mountains of Colorado. Some might be bored or disappointed by its dominance on the circuit as of late, but that complaint could just as easily be placed on the amount of foreplay that has been manufactured in the run-up to the Academy Awards. There are many, many awards shows, and a lot of them poll large voting bodies. A film like "Argo" is going to succeed consistently in that environment. Each time the film has seemed on the outs, it has picked itself back up and shown that, indeed, it can still "surprise."
So in this final pre-Oscar Off the Carpet column of the season, I submit that "Argo" hasn't been a foregone conclusion. It hasn't been a gargantuan awards player from the outset. The writing hasn't been on the wall since Telluride. It had to beat a lot of odds along the way, and frankly, that's been fun to watch. Whether it wins the Oscar on Sunday (which obviously seems likely) or loses it (anything apparently can and will happen this season and indeed, "Argo"'s old Toronto foil, "Silver Linings Playbook," has made a valiant phase two effort), the film will make history: No film has been this dominant on the guild circuit and lost the prize, while, again, only three other films have won Best Picture without a corresponding Best Director nomination.
If you look at the season in that light, maybe it's not so boring after all. Even with win after win for the film as of late, maybe this has actually been the most exciting awards season in a long, long time.
I know it has been for me.
(Final predictions will take on a few forms this week. Greg will speak up in a final "Contender Countdown" tomorrow, while Guy and Gerard will have their say via "The Long Shot" and "Tech Support" on Wednesday and Thursday. A big piece featuring final calls from me, Greg and Guy will go up some time Thursday, while my picks will be reiterated on the podcast with Anne Thompson on Friday. So stay tuned throughout the week. We have a lot of coverage for you.)