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Arrrr Go … Celebrate

02/23/2013

If Argo doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Picture tomorrow, a lot of prognosticators will have egg on their faces. The thing is, Hollywood loves movies about movies, so why wasn’t it always considered a front-runner? That and Lincoln seemed to me to be the two films running nose-to-nose for Best Picture—that is, until the actual nominees were announced and director Ben Affleck got the snub. That omission just amped up the film’s already obvious appeal to the voting base.

Not only is Argo a movie about movie-making, it features Hollywood as the hero in an international rescue caper. What Academy voter isn’t going to want to give the industry a collective pat on the back for that? OK, maybe a few, but the film has Oscar-darling in its alchemical mix. And don’t think this means I didn’t enjoy the film; I did. Excellent atmosphere and art direction, ample suspense offset with humor, tight editing, a solid soundtrack (score one for the Zeppelin catch). What’s not to like? Excellent job on all counts. And Affleck has proven a gracious winner on the pre-Oscar circuit, so there’s no current reason to think it won’t win.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the Academy loves its actor-directors. Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, and Kevin Costner, who, like Affleck, had to work against some low points spent in front of a camera and managed to beat none other than Martin Scorsese and Goodfellas (Goodfellas!) with a win for Dances with Wolves. Poor Steven Spielberg. It’s not quite Shakespeare in Love all over again, since this is hardly going to be a surprise if it happens. But you have to wonder if Lincoln‘s odds would at least have been even without the Affleck snub.

And can anyone explain that omission, by the way. It simply does not make sense.

Which brings us to Best Director and a double-whammy to Spielberg if Ang Lee takes the prize for the dazzling spectale that is Life of Pi. Assuming that Argo is on the train to victory, there’s no other possible outcome than a picture/director split this year. It is certainly possible that Academy voters will want to give Spielberg something, and since Affleck isn’t in contention, they can split their vote across the two films that way. But logically, if Argo has enough votes to win the top prize, that’s a majority of people already not inclined toward Lincoln. Life of Pi offers such an array of directorial accomplishments that, when severed from the Best Picture choice, Lee stands out from his fellow nominees. But Pi is probably going to win for Cinematography, and should certainly score for Special Effects (say it with me, “Richard Parker”). Maybe that will be enough, though I wonder about Original Score as well.

If Lee does earn the director’s prize, this would be an Oscar-oddity repeat, since he’s basically been in that seat before, winning for direction while his 2005 film Brokeback Mountain lost the Best Picture statue to Crash. Both he and Spielberg were up for contention that year, and here they are at it again.

Of course all of this up-with-Argo and Lincoln-loss chat ignores one fact of Oscar-history and habit: The Academy is slow to change, and 12 nominations are an indicator of widespread support for Lincoln. That alone would tell you that Spielberg is in for the win. (And NO one is contesting Daniel Day-Lewis; that victory was predictable when trailers started surfacing last summer.)

So we will see what happens tomorrow. I think the acting awards are going to roll as predicted, though the Best Actress prize is, more often than the others, awarded to performances in lesser-seen, foreign, or indie films. I won’t be surprised if Emanuelle Riva wins, but odds favor Jennifer Lawrence; the Academy loves a bit of crazy in its ladies. I blew that category last season when I let my instinct that it was Meryl’s year get overpowered by polls favoring Viola Davis. I should have stuck with my gut.

Tomorrow night, I will be at the Roxie Theater’s “Up the Oscars” event, which should be a hoot. We went to the Castro a few years ago for the Academy Awards and had a fantastic time, so I expect this to be equally fun.

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