Over the next couple of weeks, as the big night approaches, the question that will be on most people's minds is this: Can Argo overcome the key director snub to still win Best Picture? This has been the question since the nominations were announced on January 10th, but after this weekend, the plausibility of that happening has increased ten-fold. Winning the PGA was predicted. Argo is the story of how Hollywood producers helped the CIA save American lives. But Argo beating out the more acting-friendly choices of Les Miserables, Lincoln, and particularly Silver Linings Playbook for SAG Ensemble is a show of real strength on its part. But the overwhelming narrative of Argo's successes is always stopped short by one key factor: That prickly Best Director snub. When most people try to find a year where a director snub led to Best Picture, they go directly to Driving Miss Daisy in 1989. No nod for Bruce Beresford, and it still won the PGA, and eventually the Oscar. But I am starting to wonder if 1995's Oscar race is not more apt. Apollo 13 and Argo's similarities are striking. Both were popular frontrunners going into nominations. Both of its directors were popular actors turned directors, both snubbed by the Academy. Apollo 13 won the PGA, won the SAG, and even won the DGA despite Howard's Academy miss. Then at Oscar night, the big historical epic Braveheart swooped in a beat it out, Apollo 13 only taking home two awards at night's end. Now I know that Braveheart is no Lincoln, and with the date change for nominations, 2012 is no 1995. But the similarities are striking. We will have to see what happens at the DGA, although with its momentum, I think Affleck is probably the frontrunner. The WGA and BAFTA will also play a role. For the record, Apollo 13 did not win the WGA, and was not as heavily favored by BAFTA (only technical nods), as Argo, another notch up for the film. But if I were the Argo team, I would still be cautious. Maybe it was a fluke of the date change, or the pretentious director's branch snubbing the populist film. Or maybe, just maybe, despite the guild support, the snub represents a strong, silent undercurrent of lack of support that will cause some surprises come Oscar night.
In terms of the acting awards, the SAG voters only confirmed the frontrunners for the Oscars. At this point, I think that Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway are pretty much locks. The last stop to Oscar is BAFTA, and both come from popular films, and will probably repeat there as well. But I hestitate to make the same claims about Tommy Lee Jones and Jennifer Lawrence. In terms of Supporting Actor, I still think that Hoffman (BFCA Winner), Waltz (Golden Globe Winner), and to a lesser extent Robert DeNiro, are possibilities. Once again, I think BAFTA will be an important indicator. Jones confirmed his front-runner status last night. But with all of those previous winners in the category, I think that there could still easily be a surprise. In terms of Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence had a big win last night, and it should not be discounted by any means. But, I expected (as did most people) Silver Linings Playbook to do a lot better. The fact that it lost Ensemble, despite clearly being an actor's favorite, is striking. It doesn't mean that Lawrence can't win, or won't win, it just means that the film may not be as powerful as once thought. And Chastain's likeability, Riva's legendary status, Watt's emotional turn, and Wallis' precosciousness, are all factors that should not be discounted. Once again, BAFTA will end up playing an important role. Of the two big Best Actress surprises in recent years, Marion Cotillard over Julie Christie, and Meryl Streep over Viola Davis, the BAFTA ended up being a better indicator than SAG. And this year, it is well-known that while they liked components of SLP, it was clearly not their favorite movie. If Lawrence can win there, then the Oscar is in the bag. But if Chastain or Riva's name gets called, tehn this race is far from over.
Of the big races, that leaves now the one that has the most mystery surrounding it: Best Director. If Ang Lee or Steven Spielberg wins the DGA, then I think we have a frontrunner. But if things go the way I think they will, then Affleck will win, leaving this category in flux. As the season goes on, I am leaning more and more towards Ang Lee. Spielberg is great, but Lincoln benefitted from the best script of the year, and a powerhouse team of actors. Life of Pi, which has a stunning 11 nominations, can almost all be attributed to the vision and talent of Ang Lee. There may also be some good will left over after the Brokeback Mountain snub. But really Lee is as good of a guess as Spielberg, or any of the others. And there is a good chance, that we head into Oscar night with not even the slightest idea who is out in front.
This was a whirlwind weekend, and we still have the DGA this weekend, and BAFTA the next. But at this moment it seems like it is Argo all the way. But beware the Oscar gods, because if this year has proven anything, is that we have no idea what is coming next.