Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Oscar Narrative: So Who Wins Best Director?

From now on, the articles and predictions usually labelled "State of the Oscar Race", are now going to be titled: "The Oscar Narrative". Because in so many ways, the Oscar season flows and moves and tells a story as much as a good book, or more importantly, a good screenplay. And the narrative took a familiar, yet still mysterious turn last night at the DGA Awards.

As expected by most in the Oscar world, Ben Affleck won the DGA Award. Considering the vast membership, it is not surprising they went with a more consensus choice. So the only other major guild award left is the WGA, and even if Lincoln manages to win that (which is deserves), going into the BAFTA's and ultimately the Oscars, Argo is clearly the frontrunner for Best Picture. Although, despite all the noise against this belief, I still maintain that the Director snub doesn't mean nothing. I think it could signal a little bit of weakness, which is why I won't be jaw-dropped if Lincoln, hell even Life of Pi or Silver Linings Playbook get their name called instead.

So instead of spinning our wheels in the Best Picture mud, there is still one major category that remains shrouded in mystery. This will be especially true if Affleck wins the BAFTA as well. That means that of all the major precursors, none of them have gone to one of the Oscar nominated directors. And we will probably all be guessing right up until the presenters says, "and the Oscar goes to..." In my opinion, this could easily go four ways. Beasts of the Southern Wild was great, but Benh Zeitlin's surprise nomination is definitely his reward. So that leaves four, and while two are clearly out front, the case can be made for all of them.

For example, while most people have discounted David O. Russell, I send up a warning shot. Harvey is pushing hard for his film, and while the SAG loss means its Best Picture chances have diminished, that is not going to stop the Weinstein machine from pushing to get any prize it can. Russell may not be the most popular director, but the personal narrative of his son having a mental illness has put a human face on the prickly and sometimes hard to work with director (according to past co-stars). That storyline along with the fact that the industry really likes the film could all add up to a surprise win for Russell. It's not the most plausible storyline of this Oscar narrative, but it should not be written off.

Another plausible scenerio involves Michael Haneke. I know that there is a huge constituency of the Academy that has not even seen Amour. I know there is a huge constituency that just cannot wrap their heads around the morbid storyline, which only gets more depressing as the film presses on. But if people's director votes are going all over the place this year due to the Affleck snub, then maybe the passionate fans of Amour in the director's, actor's, and writer's branches that helped it earn five nominations including Best Picture, can help push it to a surprise Best Director win (or maybe more plausibly, a Best Original Screenplay Win).

But Haneke's and Russell's wins are a lot less likely than the battle that is really brewing between two previous Oscar winners, and living masters of the art of film. Yes, the battle will mostly likely come down to Ang Lee vs. Steven Spielberg. The arguments for each of them is incredibly easy. Both created films that are critical and commerical hits. Furthermore, if you want to talk about support from the Academy, these two films lead the nominations with a stunning 12 and 11 respectively.  But which one actually wins? If you look at precursor support, Lee actually is in the lead as Spielberg missed out on the BAFTA, but there is an argument that the Brits liked Life of Pi a lot more than Lincoln. Or it could be similar to the Affleck snub here in the US, a group of elitist directors who want to make their own path and not fall in line with the rest of their industry peers.

I don't think that either of those arguments are really cogent. I think that Spielberg's snub is significant, and if you were to ask me my pcik today, it would be Ang Lee. Lincoln is the better film (in my opinion), but it has Kushner's amazing screenplay, and a fantastic cast to help it out. Life of Pi is almost entirely about Ang Lee's direction. It is a visual masterpiece that managed to get all of these nominations without any support from the acting branch. A feat which can be put squarely on Lee and his technical team's shoulders. A lot can happen between now and Oscar Sunday. And while Affleck's DGA win may have wrapped up the Best Picture race (according to most people), in terms of Best Director, honestly, anything can happen.

This week we have the Visual Effects Society, where I expected Life of Pi will emerge as the Oscar favorite, as well as Black Reel Awards. As of Friday, the Oscar voting race will be on, and next weekend the BAFTA and ASC will be the first in the post-ballot timeframe to give their opinions. Until then, enjoy the Super Bowl, and take a few minutes to relax and ponder the Oscar narrative, which only continues to mystify and excite.

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