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The State of the Race: You Can’t Stop What’s Coming


“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” ― Mark Twain

Once again it appears that the Weinstein Co. could very well be headed for the big prize, their third consecutive Best Picture win with their scrappy little movie that could.

The recent trend away from more challenging fare towards more sentimental, feelgood films really started with Fox Searchlight’s Slumdog Millionaire. Its Oscar backstory was that it had almost gone straight to video but was suddenly discovered on the festival circuit — so when it started winning stuff, the shock of that added to the miraculous way the film itself turned out. There have been many feelgood movies that never won Best Picture leading up to 2008 — in fact, you could comb through Oscar history and find that voters used to think that happily-ever-after wasn’t a substantial enough ingredient to award a film Best Picture. But that changed with Slumdog. Though The Hurt Locker won the following year, the Slumdog model would return with a vengeance with The King’s Speech — an unlikely, British-born underdog that offered up a happy ending. It wasn’t a bad film but it was one many people “just loved.” Sure, it was about history, Britain in the 1930s, but it was really about a triumph of the male ego.

After all, having a stutter, while embarrassing, is no reason to shrink from the only important duty a crown requires, to rally the country in time of strife — in fact, one could argue that giving that important speech WITH the stutter would have gone a long way towards helping people with stutters, and and shown a strength of personal resolve to solider bravely forth in the face of feeble insecurities. But seeing Colin Firth weep, and then snap out of it with a great, moving performance, finally give his speech to convince the country to go to war to fight the Nazis? Wow. Pat him on the back for a job well done. But what was really at stake for the King? Embarrassment.

The Artist was a similar kind of thing — foreign production made on a shoestring, a brilliantly made film about a man’s withering ego — what was at stake? Embarrassment, loss of a career, but mostly embarrassment. But that movie had much more going for it — it was a magic trick that left people with the glow of happiness because the character found success at last. With the charming Jean DuJardin and little Uggie making the rounds, voters loved the movie and loved seeing them win. The Artist, though, unlike The King’s Speech was really winning everything dutifully down the line. The King’s Speech was what can happen when a lot of people get together to vote, like in the thousands.

Finally we get to Silver Linings Playbook, another film about a man whose down on his luck after he catches his wife cheating on him. After throwing around a few punches here and there, enough to add “recently incarcerated for jealous rage” to his profile, he puts on a trash bag to lose weight and begrudgingly allows the world’s most beautiful woman to lure him into her loving arms. He finally agrees to go on meds (though sometimes just sucks the flavor off a pill and spits it out), is coached by his football-loving therapist (yes, everything rounds down to football in this movie). They flail towards a dance contest and the film, from the mid-point on, is as predictable as any romantic comedy you’ve ever seen. What saves it is David O. Russell’s smart-alecky dialogue and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. But more importantly — male ego is spared and you leave the theater with that familiar sticky afterglow of love. It goes down easy, gives back more than it takes and might be the only kind of film that can win in 2012. Even though we don’t yet know the outcome of this race, the emotional pull of Silver Linings has been a threat since it first won in Toronto. It even beat Argo.

After Toronto, so many great movies hit theaters — Lincoln, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained. It seemed impossible that a relatively weak but lovable film could actually win against those majestic films. Doubts seemed to be confirmed when David O. Russell failed to get a Globe nod for director (only Driving Miss Daisy has ever won Best Picture in the musical/comedy category without a nomination for director), and more importantly, a DGA nomination. The DGA is 14,000 voters — that many people decided there were five better movies this year. Again, you must invoke the Driving Miss Daisy rule, as it must also be invoked for Argo.

But everything turned around with the Oscar nominations. Four acting nominations for Silver Linings Playbook plus a director nomination for David O. Russell. Though the directors nominated Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke, they also picked Russell over Bigelow and Affleck. Suddenly, Silver Linings emerged as Lincoln and Life of Pi’s biggest challenger.

Mind you, if either Silver Linings or Argo wins Best Picture they will have to make Academy history to do so. A rule will have to be broken. Where the heart is concerned, a rule is meaningless. But I do still wonder about those 14,000 DGA voters. That’s a lot of people to say your movie isn’t good enough to win Best picture.

From this point, the Oscar race can go a couple of different ways — it can split up all over the place, with a different movie winning every guild or one movie will rule them all.

The one award Silver Linings Playbook can’t win, though, is the DGA. If it gets momentum this weekend from the PGA and SAG, its momentum will then be stopped cold at the DGA. It goes head to head with Argo, Lincoln and Life of Pi in the adapted screenplay awards upcoming, both the Scripter and the WGA. If Lincoln wins both of those, Tony Kushner’s chances for winning the Oscar increase dramatically. To win Best Picture against Lincoln, Life of Pi and Argo, Silver Linings really needs to win Adapted Screenplay; after all, Crash won the WGA and the Oscar for screenplay.

If we are headed for a split like Saving Private Ryan vs. Shakespeare in Love, Spielberg might win the DGA. Who else could win there? Ben Affleck, if the Argo momentum is a real thing.

Argo could win the PGA, SAG and DGA but it still can’t win the Best Director Oscar. Life of Pi could win the PGA and the DGA but it can’t win the SAG.

Lincoln can win the PGA, the SAG, the DGA and the Oscar. But it doesn’t mainline the feelgood love drug.

I still think the numbers back Lincoln. And I think that means Lincoln will win the PGA, not Silver Linings Playbook. The passionate vote for Silver Linings might be overtaken by the passionate vote for Argo and the group overall will prefer Lincoln, I figure. I also think Stephen Spielberg will win the DGA. I do think Silver Linings will take SAG ensemble.

My prediction of the guilds upcoming:

SAG–Silver Linings Playbook-3, Lincoln-1
WGA–Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty (because the only other two nominees also nominated for Oscar are Moonrise Kingdom and Flight — Boal has to win it, right?) and Tony Kushner for Lincoln
Eddie–Argo, Silver Linings

I will be watching to see what changes are made to this list. If Lincoln loses the Scripter or the WGA it probably can’t win Best Picture. Lincoln is driven by three major forces — acting, writing and directing. It really has to win all three areas to win Best Picture. I think it can and I think it will.

But it is the turning point in the Oscar race in the coming days. As much as I complain about them I have to tip my hat to the Weinstein Co. for being the smartest players in the game – they cracked the Oscar code and the formula works.

If Silver Linings manages to beat Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour and Les Miserables it’s probably not going to go down very easily, and will likely be looked upon as a Rocky-like win. A lot of people liked Rocky and a lot of people love Silver Linings.

Argo builds up much cred for Ben Affleck who will have an easier time being nominated, and winning, if he gets another chance. The Oscar race has changed Benh Zeitlin’s career. In such a rich year of original, vivid films we saw Michael Haneke’s Amour named one of the best pictures of the year. That’s really something.

What happened this year was that American storytellers came roaring back. In the past it looked like we had lost the ability to be daring – that the need to top the box office had overtaken the need to tell a good story. They told great stories and were rewarded at the box office. If Lincoln, Silver Linings, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild or Argo wins this year they will win one for the home team. At the same time, the Oscars are infused with international filmmakers too. Though the ending of it all might feel anticlimactic, we must never forget the road we’ve traveled so far, and what an array of talent we’re lucky enough to judge like a horse race, something none of these films deserve.

We remind ourselves to remember that films are works of art – they are put in a contest to be voted on like roses at a pageant show. Losing the consensus vote ultimately means nothing. It doesn’t change how good a movie is; great works of great art make them look good that they had the wisdom of mind to choose rightly.