When Best Picture locks up each year -- which usually happens sooner than February 2nd so we should count our blessings that this year had more drama! -- the best thing that one can do is find a way to make peace with it. I've followed the Oscars long enough to know that when your absolute favorite in a category wins you should feel rapturous but treat it like its as rare as Brigadoon since you might never see it's like again. The trick to staying sane (not that I've actually mastered this, mind you) is to enjoy the annual awards festivities without caring about the winners so much as the journey to crown them. In its better moments the awards season circus provides plenty of entertainment, delectable star-gazing, and even the occasional conversational or critical insight into what makes particularly movies great or what makes people love particular movies despite their unfortunate lack of greatness.
I've learned to enjoy it when anything in my top ten each year wins something since, in most years, actual favorites are not crowned. It's harder though to enoy your non-favorites winning when they're solidly in the middle of the pack or when a particular forthcoming win defeats something clearly masterful.
...Ben Affleck won the Directors Guild Awards last night for helming that retro true story thriller. The DGA prize generally coincides with Oscar's eventual choice but of course, Affleck was not nominated in that category, only for producing Argo (he wins his second Oscar if its wins Best Picture). I've said since its premiere months ago that it was definitely a possibility to win the industry's most coveted prize. It's been at or near the top of the pack the whole time. Oscar discourse on the internet can be very silly with its bipolar moods and binary thinking ("LOCKED!" "IT'S OVER!") but even through that brief period when many pundits (though not all) had said 'stick a fork in it, it's done' when the buzz for at least three other films rose above it only to fall again, I never waivered that it was still in the "fighting for the win" conversation for reasons discussed previously. Even when Affleck was the surprise odd man out on Oscar nomination morning in the Director's Branch I didn't think it was over for the film. I LIVED THROUGH DRIVING MISS DAISY, PEOPLE. (I should get that on a t-shirt.)
[Editor's Note: For the youngest Oscar fanatics who've somehow missed this oft told statistic, Driving Miss Daisy (1989) is the most recent Best Picture winner that was not nominated for Best Director. People are always fond of saying "this can't happen because ____ " but it's never true. Rules generally have exceptions and if they don't, they eventually will find one. People sometimes like to say in retrospect that Brokeback Mountain was doomed the second it was snubbed in Editing but you can win without that key category, too, though the last film to do that was Ordinary People (1980)]
Now, Argo would not make an embarrassing Best Picture winner so the comparison with Driving Miss Daisy should end there (though in truth Driving Miss Daisy's win isn't quite as bad as it seems in retrospect once you put it in the context of 89's dumb missed-the-boat-entirely roster) but since i'd rank Argo as solidly middle of the pack in its roster...
- Bonafide Greats: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Masterful Moments: Les Misérables, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty
... all five on my top ten list
- Hit & Miss / Solid Entertainments: Argo, Django Unchained
- Intriguing Elements But Not For Me: Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook
... I'm having trouble staving off the woulda coulda shoulda blues about the dwindling prospects of the other films. And I have trouble doing that each year because I'm more of a 'spread the wealth' type of soul but spreading the wealth is anathema to awards voters as we see each year; they love their bandwagons.
The problem is less, as I see it, that Argo will almost certainly win Best Picture on February 24th. The only thing that could stop it post SAG, DGA, and PGA prizes is a collective "have we taken this 'Poor Ben Affleck' meme too far as an industry... why are we feeling sorry for Ben F'ing Affleck?!?" once voting begins. It seems strange to realize it but voting still hasn't begun! No, the problem is, as I see it, which other prizes will Argo win because Best Pictures always win other Oscars, too. In almost every category in which its featured I think it would be a real shame if it won the trophy -- not because it's not a good movie (it is) but because its not the best or even the second best in any of those categories... so it'll be tought to make peace with.
My favorite imaginary outcome on Oscar night would be to see ARGO only take home the Best Picture trophy. That hasn't happened since the 1930s when there were far fewer categories. Statistics are even against it winning only two trophies. The last Best Picture winner to do that was 60 years ago (The Greatest Show on Earth) In fact, only one Best Picture winner in the modern era (i.e. 80s and onwards) has taken home less than 4 statues and that was Crash (2005) which won three. So which of its nominations can Argo win?
EDITING. I know a lot of people think Argo is masterfully tense but I found some of its final act to be verging on cheap trick pumping up the suspense --will they answer the phone? Will they make it off the runway? -- like a train heading towards a damsel in distress tied to the tracks and no matter how fast the train is barrelling forward, each time we see it, it hasn't yet run her over. I think Zero Dark Thirty has a far more impressive rhythmic propulsiveness in its climax... but Oscar isn't as over the moon for that film as they might've been. Likelihood of Winning: Very Likely.
SUPPORTING ACTOR: This less than electric field guarantees a second win for someone, but who? Given that Alan Arkin has the least challening role among the nominees and that they owe him nothing (this'd be a slam dunk if he hadn't won for Little Miss Sunshine) it would require an absolute rallying 'give Argo everything!' movement just as some might be starting to question whether Argo should be winning each prize its up for. Still in a field this casually 'oh yeah, them' anything might happen. Likelihood of Winning: Unlikely unless things go poorly for Lincoln on Oscar night.
SOUND MIXING & SOUND EDITING: If Oscar wants to award Skyfall or Zero Dark Thirty somewhere, this is where they'll do it. Likelihood of Winning: It's a tossup but the other nominees are showier than Argo so I'm guessing these prizes slip away. At the very least it'll lose one of them.
ORIGINAL SCORE: Here's an interesting contest. Life of Pi has some forward momentum for Mychael Danna (enjoying his first two nominations) but Argo's Alexandre Desplat still hasn't won after four nominations and a million great scores. Likelihood of Winning: This score will never be in Desplat's greatest hits but I think he might win the Oscar for it anyway. 50/50.
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: here's the category I will be biting my nails through. "Argo Fuck Yourself" which is repeated endlessly in the movie is a catchphrase verging on "show me the money" proportions now and as silly as it sounds it could tip this category in Argo's favor. Likelihood of Winning: If Argo Mania doesn't subside soon, Chris Terrio may well edge out the genius Tony Kushner for Lincoln. It's not that Terrio's screenplay isn't strong. It's just that we're talking Tony Kushner and his work on Lincoln. It'll be the arguably biggest travesty of the Argo vs. Lincoln wars but I actually think (at this writing) that it's going to happen.
My Guess: Three Oscars for Argo (Picture, Editing, and either Score or Adapted Screenplay) but I'm guessing Life of Pi and Lincoln fight for "most Oscar wins" of the evening despite losing Best Picture.
Have you made peace with Argo's ascendance or are you cheering it on? How many Oscars do you think it'll win?