Ben Affleck continued to dominate the award season by claiming the prestigious Directors Guild Award on Saturday night. This being one of the final major awards before the Oscars, it’s supposed to help narrow down who the top winners will be. If this were a normal year we could say that Ben Affleck is a lock for Best Director and Argo would most certainly be a lock for Best Picture. However, this isn’t a normal year, as we all know that Affleck wasn’t nominated for Best Director.
Since the birth of the Directors Guild Awards in 1948, only seven times did the award go to a director that didn’t go on to win the Oscar -- 1968 Anthony Harvey for The Lion in Winter, 1972 Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather, 1985 Steven Spielberg for The Color Purple, 1995 Ron Howard for Apollo 13, 2000 Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2002 Rob Marshall for Chicago (and 2012 Ben Affleck for Argo). And like Affleck, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard also weren’t nominated for the Academy Award. 1985 Sydney Pollack won for Out of Africa, and 1995 Mel Gibson won for Braveheart.
The Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Critics Choice Awards, Producers Guild and now Directors Guild all favor Argo. Does this mean that the ultimate prize, Best Picture of the Year will go to Argo? It may, but I’m going to say that it won’t. It’s true that not every Best Director / Picture winner match up, and that is more than true for this year (probably), but all the support that Argo is receiving post-Oscar nominations / Pre-Oscar ceremony, is just, in my opinion, Affleck’s sympathy award.
Why do I seem to care so much about everything that’s surrounding Argo? Because this entire thing is fascinating, and for the first time in my 19 years watching the Academy Awards, the Best Director category will finally be entirely interesting. Don’t get me wrong, Argo was nicely made film, and Affleck has shown great strength as a director, but the film about six American fugitives trapped in Iran should have been more about the six American fugitives trapped in Iran. There wasn’t an emotional core to the film, there wasn’t that connection between the characters and the audience. Or at least there wasn’t enough time spent with the Americans to allow me to care. This was no-doubt a conscious storytelling decision made my Affleck and co., but I feel like it was an incorrect method.
Back to the burning question. How much steam does Argo have? We’re all under the impression that this is the film to beat, but without that director nomination, what else could the film win to warrant the Best Picture award? It’s also nominated for Score, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Film Editing, Supporting Actor Alan Arkin, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s unlikely that it will win any of these awards. The strongest chance it has in these categories would be screenplay. At the moment, for Best Adapted Screenplay, it’s down to Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln and Argo.
All three films are timely in their own ways, but that alone doesn’t make a great adaptation or story. As I stated in my previous Oscar blog, I was most impressed with Silver Linings Playbook. Not only is America in desperate need to have a serious talk about mental illness, and this film has started a positive dialog, it was an all around wonderfully written story, which could have been phony if adapted by any other filmmaker, but David O. Russell worked his magic. When the Writers Guild Awards are announced on February 17th, we’ll be able to close in on the Oscar winner.
Back to Argo. Film Editing is another strong possibility for Affleck’s film, but historically, as other film pundits will say, a film that wins editing also wins Best Picture. This hasn’t been true in the last 15 years, as only 8 films that won Best Editing went onto winning Best Picture. This category is one of the many contradictions that the Academy Awards has to offer. A great example for this came in 1972 with Cabaret winning 8 Oscars, including Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Acting (Actress and Supporting Actor), but lost Best Picture to The Godfather -- however, The Godfather did win Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor.
Another example, and the example I will always bring up, is in 2000 when Traffic won Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing and Best Director Steven Soderbergh, but lost the Best Picture statue to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. While filmmaking is entirely a collaborative effort, it’s still amazing when the major variables that make a film a complete film do not equal something being the best.
Can Argo win nothing else but Best Picture? It’s possible, very rare, and by rare I mean it’s only ever happened once in Oscar history. In 1935 The Mutiny on the Bounty was nominated for 8 Oscars, but only scored one: Best Picture of the Year. There is also the chance that Argo could win all seven Oscars and send shockwaves across America. You never know, in forty years the media could be talking about that spectacular time when a film titled Argo won all seven Oscars, but wasn’t even nominated for best director. Of course, in 2053 there may be 15 movies nominated for Best Picture and ten directors nominated for Best Director.