Something has happened to Academy voters. Is it really true that they’ve all just aged out to the point where they really can’t tolerate any loud noises? The truth is that you can’t really say “The Academy” anymore because there isn’t such a thing. The guilds now decide what wins Best Picture, but more specifically the Producers Guild. In scheduling their awards earlier than the Directors Guild, the PGA has now become the dominating force in the race. Oscars 2012 felt like a staged coup against the branch of the Academy that dared to “snub” Ben Affleck.  We’ll never know what the race would have looked like had Affleck gotten a director nomination. Argo might still have been their consensus pick – after all, it is in keeping with their pattern of late.

And that isn’t particularly a bad thing. It reflects who THEY are, who the industry is and how they want to present themselves to the world. The rest of us are often left in the dust scratching our heads and if we can even remember what won Best Picture in any given year we certainly can’t tell you why. I started this website to figure that out. But 15 years later I am no more closer to a conclusion. It is a combination of publicity and popularity but the very last thing it represents is “best.”

What has made it all even worse is the way the media has evolved over the past ten years. There were no Oscar blogs when I started in 1999. None. Not one. Mine was the first. There were predictions sites but no one was analyzing the race from start to finish. Two things happened at the same time — reality-TV turned everyone into a celebrity and mobilized the public to become involved in contests like American Idol, and all media went online. The rising popularity of both of these has significantly altered the Oscar race. It reached a new level this past year. Imagine the silly hoopla around Lincoln’s screenplay by puffed up congressman Joe Courtney, or the Zero Dark Thirty torture debate resulting in the best reviewed film of the year earning nothing more than one half of a sound editing win.

But that is really just the tip of the iceberg of what we saw in 2012. This year’s Oscar campaigns were run like political campaigns, so much so that Ben Affleck shaved his beard only after his Oscar win. Did he do it on a bet? Like, “if you win you have to shave your beard,” or did he shave it because he wasn’t playing that guy anymore? USA Today:

He grew the beard as some sort of lucky talisman during awards season, even though the academy snubbed him in the directors category. But he had the last word when he claimed the statue as one of the producers of Argo, the story of a little-known CIA caper to rescue a group of Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980.

But the beard was that guy in Argo, you know, the unrewarded Tony Mendez guy who finally got to take credit for the freeing of the Americans in Iran? It was more than a good luck beard, of course. It was the same thing Julia Roberts did when she had already broken up with Benjamin Bratt but they showed up everywhere together so she looked like a winner until she finally won. Everyone in the awards race knows that you don’t mess with a winning streak. The only reason it stood out more this year was because of Affleck’s “Oscar story”

Oscars 2012 was its own reality show. Everyone seemed to be involved in it in a way they never have been. Part of this is that Ben Affleck’s Oscar story was bigger than just the insular world of industry awards. Everyone worldwide knows Ben Affleck. His snub was a notable shockwave. That made his win all the more celebratory.

I took a lot of shit on Twitter for doing what people consider “a complete turnaround” on Argo. This, because I called Argo a “perfect” film in my review of it and said it was a “great fucking movie.” And that was true then, and it’s still mostly true. For what it is, Argo is that. But a great movie in an awards race is only as good as the film it’s standing next to and what happened in 2012 wasn’t what usually happens — usually you see a movie like Argo and you think, yeah, that was good. Not the best but good. Then the Big Oscar Movies open and usually fail so we all look back to Argo and think, yeah, that one really WAS the best.

This year, though, the Big Oscar Movies were beyond good. Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Life of Pi blew Argo away almost completely. How can anyone, like Mike Ryan for instance who would not let this go on Twitter, not feel some irritation that these movies were brushed aside in the name of a reality contest like we saw in 2012? Maybe they just liked Argo better. Who am I to say? I only have my own opinion, box office and reviews. Argo clocked in right behind Lincoln for those — but Argo had one better than Lincoln and Life of Pi at least: it had hardly any negative reviews. The only film with fewer negative reviews than Argo? Zero Dark Thirty.

But critics don’t matter. The public doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters now is how voters feel.  Argo made Hollywood look good. More than good, useful. It also took the piss out of Hollywood, which they also like.  But the movie itself I don’t think it could have gone all the way.  It needed that sense of urgency to pull off a win and Affleck’s snub did that.  The narrative swallowed up the race in every way.  Nothing could beat it.

But my question is this, can a polarizing or divisive film ever win again? Sure, I know it has always been next to impossible for that happen. After all, we’re talking about a consensus of 4,500 PGA members, 14,500 DGA members and 100,000 SAG members. How can a polarizing film win over that many people? And how can you ever make a great film without it being at least a little polarizing?

Here is my list of films I don’t think could win today.  I could add many more to the list but these are the inexplicable winners that were great because they were polarizing — many of them are about history and some of them might be “offensive” today. But I wish the Oscars could free themselves up to be open to films with flaws but their greatness can’t be denied.

1. The Lost Weekend
2. All About Eve
3. The Deer Hunter
4. The Godfather
5. On the Waterfront
6. The French Connection
7. Midnight Cowboy
8. American Beauty
9. The Departed
10. No Country for Old Men

And this, my last and final lament for 2012 — I say this while being happy for Ben Affleck and George Clooney and lest we forget, Grant Heslov. They wanted to win, they campaigned to win and they won. They are politically minded already and theirs was a campaign for the record books.

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  • Alec

    I hope you are wrong on this, but I feel you are probably right. It has become a trend to pick the “safe” film the past 3 years, at the expense of better films that should have won.

    I can’t imagine a world where The Godfather does not win Best Picture. Why do you include that movie in the list? It was before my time, so I don’t know how controversial it was. It was already viewed a classic by the time I saw it.

    Didn’t No Country dominate the guilds? Or was it just critics awards?

  • Bryce Forestieri

    I don’t know what I’ll make of THE MONUMENTS MEN. The story has potential, but If Clooney tries to appeal to AMPAS’ taste with every decision it will probably be as enjoyable, empty and forgettable as ARGO. I mean THE IDES OF MARCH was one of those times I wanted my money back, and I really like GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK. So that’s one hit and one abysmal miss from Clooney director so far. Is it really the sight unseen frontrunner? God I hope not.

  • BenG

    Hey Sasha. Why couldn’t The Departed win? It wasn’t so long ago and it also kind of had an Oscar story behind it – the fact that Scorcese hadn’t won a Best Director Oscar! Or was it always the front runner? I can’t remember

  • The French Connection seems strange for that list. I feel like that film could win EASILY today. It doesn’t seem like something that’s polarizing at all, but maybe I’m just unaware of what the general public feels about it.

  • Q Mark

    Ok, come on, Departed and No Country were just within the last six years. Their “Oscar stories” were Scorsese and Coens finally getting recognized, which is an easy story to replicate if you have an acclaimed, under-recognized filmmaker making a great movie. For all we know, maybe 2013 will be the year of everyone jumps on Terry Malick’s bandwagon and one of his upcoming projects will take Best Picture. It should be noted that last year, Lincoln and ZDT didn’t have the “overdue” storyline since Spielberg and Bigelow were past winners, in Bigelow’s case very recently.

    Interesting collection of films on your list, and it should be noted that Godfather almost DIDN’T even win in its own time, as Cabaret cleaned up in virtually every other category in 1972.

    A great movie is always a great movie. It will stand out all the more if it’s in a weaker year, not that Departed, On The Waterfront or Lost Weekend’s wins are detracted from their lesser competition.

  • David Lindsey

    BenG, THE DEPARTED won, yet there was a strong feeling that LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE might ARGO its way to a BP win that year. Using Sasha’s thesis, LMS would’ve won if those Oscars were held this year. And yet even THE DEPARTED, the best of that year’s nominated films, was not my favorite that year, that being UNITED 93 and PAN’S LABYRINTH, two films that most likely would never have a shot at best pic.

  • SFMIke

    Agree with Squasher88: “French Connection” was in fact the middlebrow consensus pick that year, over the too-arty/sexy “Clockwork Orange” and “Last Picture Show” and too-old-fashioned “Fiddler” and “Nicholas & Alexandra” . A similar thing happened the year before with “Patton” over “M*A*S*H”/”Five Easy Pieces” vs “Love Story”/”Airport”. And let’s not forget “In the Heat of the Night” winning against those too-trendy whippersnappers “Bonnie & Clyde” and “The Graduate”

    As to “The Godfather”, people forget that it came thisclose to losing to “Cabaret” due to the then-fashionable “It’s made too much money” backlash.

  • I understand the premise, but I think its a bit like saying The Beatles wouldn’t get a record deal today. The issue is that if The Beatles made music today it wouldn’t be the same music they made then. Likewise, if The Godfather started production this year it would be mounted in a very different way, and therefore wouldn’t be the same movie. So, while I agree that The Godfather wouldn’t win as is now and The Beatles may not be signed as is today, the fact is that there aren’t movies or music like that right now so they’re already at a disadvantage in today’s media world. The standards are too low now for something that good to exist.

  • An interesting spin on this theory would be to theorize on a film’s chances if they had Twitter and the blogosphere at the time it was released.

  • CMG

    Bryce, my thoughts exactly about Clooney and him trying to play Oscar bingo with AMPAS. Ides of March was already from a just okay play but the decisions and artistic license from the source material was just so wrong-headed. It was as if Good Night, Good Luck’s lack of Oscar love really made him get the wrong idea. The movie was his Reds, and instead of continuing on maverick movie-making like Beatty did, he decided to play the Academy’s game.

    Schulberg and Kazan would be like Boal and Bigelow today with OTW, except some of the criticism would have been earned on some level since a lot of that brilliant movie still has an undercurrent of personal commentary of sheer nerve regarding their role Red Scare.

    I will throw in The Silence of the Lambs. It was anti-Oscar always in terms of content but no way a movie with a Feb. release would survive today’s Oscar season. It would be like The Grey, another early year release, last year; on a lot of end-year, Top Ten lists but I doubt it would have won/been nominated for Oscars let alone have swept so impressively as it did.

    I think TFC is included because Popeye Doyle as your protagonist today would be criticized from the get-go, even as people, especially in the AA community, celebrated the realistic depiction of having truth. And therein lies the idea it would not go over well today. It would have contained too much truth.

    Meh, Lost Weekend had nothing on its source material. If a modern Lost Weekend did follow the book it was based on, yeah, nobody would touch it with a ten-foot pole.

  • To run the most accurate simulation to see how The Departed might do today, we also need to expand the hypothetical 2006 BP field to 9 or 10 like it is today

    probable nominees under today’s system?

    Children of Men
    The Departed
    Little Miss Sunshine
    Letters from Iwo Jima
    Pan’s Labyrinth
    The Queen
    United 93

    See what happens? The Academy suddenly project the illusion that they understand the meaning of film as art. There are now 8 different ways for the more sophisticated Academy members to swear their allegiance. Every one of the intellectual voters who now inclines to United 93 or Children of Men is one less vote chipped away from The Departed’s first round ballot tally.

    The presence of Dreamgirls suddenly makes Little Miss Sunshine look a whole lot smarter than it did when it was standing next to 4 brainier giants. The presence of Once means now there’s a movie even littler than Little Miss Sunshine. So voters don’t have qualms about going for a small sappy movie when there’s a movie even smaller and a movie even sappier in the mix.

    Meanwhile, 7 towering achievements vie for attention from the cinema sophisticates in the Academy ( a faction I like to pretend represent 50% of the membership but it may be much less).

    Ballots would thus be all over the map. In each round The Departed will of course build its total from redistributed ballots of more serious voters. But nobody is going to hate Miss Sunshine. It’s going to be high on everybody’s list. Sunshine would get two huge boosts when Dreamgirls and Once are eliminated.

    I think the final rounds come down to 3 films left standing — The Departed lifted aloft by Academy cinemaphiles, Miss Sunshine favored by Academy middlebrows, and Iwo Jima with broad support from Academy traditionalists. Which way the traditionalists tilt the scales when Iwo Jima is eliminated would determine whether bullets and blood could still beat honey boo-boo.

  • AnthonyP

    Django was not “safe” with slavery. Lincoln was as safe as could be. It made it seem as if slavery during Lincoln’s time was simply discussion after discussion. The only troubling scene was of dead soldiers. And that was done “safely” according to today’s standards.

  • Have to say, The French Connection is Argo, the way I see it.

    Except of course The French Connection is a better movie and has attained classic status beyond Argo’s reach.

    But I mean in terms of appealing to the same Academy voter personality and taste.

    Affleck used movies like The French Connection and The Anderson Tapes and The Parallax View as his style and pacing template.

  • CB

    Django was not “safe” with slavery. Lincoln was as safe as could be. It made it seem as if slavery during Lincoln’s time was simply discussion after discussion. The only troubling scene was of dead soldiers. And that was done “safely” according to today’s standards.

    Excellent point, and expanding on it, Lincoln was also safe in the way they treated Lincoln, who was a complete unnuanced saint – even DDL claimed to have felt the most loving warmth as he let the character ‘inhabit’ him.

  • Rob Y

    I would add The Silence of the Lambs to the list. It’s one of the few winners in the past 30 years that has lived up to its legacy, yet it had so much going against it: February release, popular title, extremely dark, and the “unhappy ending”. It didn’t have a behind the scenes sob-story to sell to the Academy. It’s strength was in its acting, writing, and directing—things that aren’t high on the list of strengths for a film today.

    To an extent, I would also include Hamlet, The Apartment, Annie Hall, and Unforgiven. Each one has their own behind the scenes selling point, but I think they would have a struggle.

    I was taken back by your inclusion of All About Eve and The Godfather. Yet, the more I think about it, The Godfather almost pulled a Lincoln if it weren’t for BP. Cabaret had the momentum like Argo, (although Cabaret is far superior). The more I think about The Godfather, the more I think that had it been released today, I don’t think it would even win the writing. Brando for sure, but that’s like DDL.

    And All About Eve. Hmmm. That film would have only won two if it were released today: Supporting Actor and Writing, and I’m not too sure about the writing. Sanders delivered a scene stealing De Witt very similar to Waltz stealing his scenes in Django. But it would be a hard sell to market a film about women and their marginalized men directed by a man, about the theater (yet no one is ever filmed acting on stage), without a climax, again with the villain triumphing, and—worse yet—with a biting slam to Hollywood. There was no sob story, save Bette Davis looking for Oscar #2. Strangely, if the same line up was held this year, I think Sunset Blvd would have swept (which would be fine by me as those two are amongst my favorites of all time). Swanson never won, neither had Holden—both great stories to market. And one final thing about All About Eve. I think Anne Baxter would have been delegated to Supporting; that would have been decided by Harvey.

    For No Country and the Departed, I do not think they would have had a chance to win with a preferential ballot. None.

    Again, great analysis Sasha.

  • Strangely enough, Cabaret released in 2012 means Christoph Waltz still wins an Oscar playing the MC.

  • CMG

    We cannot ignore the Scorsese factor re: The Departed. Had he not had a level of snubbery going on for close to four decades, would his remake of Hong Kong crime movie trilogy have gotten taken seriously. It was only had one nomination in the acting category and one in the technical categories. Even 4 oscars for a BP winner is not very strong but it had just 5 nominations. Had Scorsese got rewarded earlier, I don’t think it would have beat LMS. Also, Hugo seemed like the perfect storm had Scorsese somehow not won for The Departed. By that point the narrative would have likely beat The Artist.

    Meh, Django was as much about slavery as IB was on the Holocaust. Both are just well-done, overlong, alternative history revenge tales.

  • AnthonyP

    Alternative or not, Django at least made you think about how slaves were treated, knowing it was much worse than anything Tarantino could show us on film.

    Lincoln should have given us more than a roundtable discussion.

  • Rob Y

    Ryan, brilliant observation.

  • Lincoln should have given us more than a roundtable discussion.

    um, Django has a lot more roundtable discussions than Lincoln. In my memory, the only time anybody ever stops talking at a table in Django is when they stand up and explode in a fountain of red goop.

  • Kane

    @Ryan, The French Connection has a couple memorable moments. However, let’s not discount Argo. I have a feeling some images/moments will be iconic down the line and here’s my list:


    1. The shot of the 6 Americans quickly walking away down the street (somehow it was a perfect moment of cinematography, pacing and actor placements, along with music).
    2. Of course “Argo fuck yourself.”
    3. The editing trifecta of the Iranian woman speaking to the press, the script reading and the firing squad. That shot of the hostage, hand bound on his knees and his hands pointing upwards still haunts me.
    4. The shot of Affleck arriving in the Iranian airport and the painting of Ayatollah above him.

  • Aaron B

    I don’t think I agree with this list. Certainly a very polarizing film will never win, for obvious reasons. But I don’t think you can say that “safe” and non-polarizing are synonymous.

    I can’t speak for the older films on this list, but even though they may not seem safe or like your typical Oscar movie, “No Country For Old Men” and especially “The Departed” were enjoyed by pretty much everyone I know. Sure, my parents and others had complaints about the ending of NCFOM, but they still liked it.

  • Patrick

    Ryan, with the evaluation of the 2006 voting in the expanded field, I think you’ve left out one important factor that in The Departed’s favor – the Martin Scorsese factor. It benefited and still would benefit from the fact that he and his films like Raging Bull and Goodfellas had never won. That’s as much of a balance tipper now as it was before.

    Now, granted, that has more to do with sentiment than merit, but still it would have been tough to beat.

  • CMG

    Argo after its first 20 minutes just felt like a lesser movie. Even the line-reading/hostage juxtaposition felt like a shoe-horned in production note to remind viewers that the situation was serious as a heart attack and have the Hollywood side of the story not be so cutesy.

    And re: All About Eve. The movie lionizes ‘theater folk’ and is very cynical about actresses at a certain age being sidelined by the new up and comers. It only pales to the cynicism of Sunset Boulevard that is directly related to people of film. Also Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson each made too many enemies at the Academy, hence why Judy Holliday (who still gave a great performance) got the Best Actress award that year. Since both are so central to their movie, they probably would have dragged down the movie just because of how people in high places really felt about them.

    Django Unchained is as much about slavery as IB is about the anti-Nazi resistance (and let’s imagine if Tarantino applied his images and content to the Holocaust like he did to slavery for a moment and think if that would have ever gotten made). That is all I will say about it.

  • keifer

    Feedback on “list of films I don’t think could win today.”

    1. The Lost Weekend – I’ve never seen it.

    2. All About Eve – Disagree on this one, Sasha – brilliantly written, directed and acted; it still stands up today upon repeating viewings.

    3. The Deer Hunter – I hated this movie. So I agree that it shouldn’t have won the Oscar. I much prefered a movie that wasn’t even nominated that year, Terrence Mallick’s “Days of Heaven”, an absolutely beautiful film which started (and still maintains) the adoration of the Mallick as master-film director-God.

    4. The Godfather – Disagree on this one, Sasha – although “Cabaret” was certainly in the mix that year and would have been a surprise winner after winning 8 other Oscars.

    5. On the Waterfront – I’ve never seen it.

    6. The French Connection – I agree. My preference would have been “The Last Picture Show” (a brilliant American tragedy) or “Fiddler on the Roof” (a briliant musical). AMPAS played it safe that year and went for an action flick.

    7. Midnight Cowboy – I agree. It just doesn’t stand up very well. I think “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (an anti-Western) or “Anne of the Thousand Days” (an underrated costume drama with terrific performances) should have won the Best Picture Oscar.

    8. American Beauty – Not sure on this one. I really loved this movie, and it didnt’ really seem to have much competition this year.

    9. The Departed – I’ve never seen it.

    10. No Country for Old Men – Surprisingly, I’ve never seen it. It’s on my “MUST WATCH SOMETIME” list.

    I enjoyed your analysis of the 2012 Oscar season, Sasha. You are right on the money about this year and, in particular, the “Argo” phenomenon that led to its Oscar victory. The best part about this year’s Oscar? At least they didn’t reward a movie that was awful, like in the past (“Oliver”, “My Fair Lady”, and for best Actress Glenda Jackson in “A Touch of Class” over ELlen Burstyn in “The Exorcist”. For shame! Argo is a safe choice, and ultimately, a good one. I think period pieces hold up, and this movie was certainly a period piece.

  • keifer


    “Children of Men” was my favorite movie that year. Glad to see you listed it. What a terrific film. Alfonso Cuoron (sp?) should have at least obtained a Best Director nomination for this film.

  • James

    Yea I don’t know about French Connection regarding if it would be polarizing today. . Argo was a thriller too, but it had so many other factors that the Academy likes. The French Connection is a classic, but it’s a genre picture and more and more I feel like the Academy feels that if a movie get your heart racing, it’s probably unsophisticated. Still surprises me that Silence of the Lambs won. A thriller released in feb.

    Even though The Social Network would be my choice to win, how cool would it have been if Black Swan won? It would be the first horror flick since Lambs to win if you wanna call it that. Can’t make history though, can we Academy?

  • Bryce Forestieri

    Did ONCE have enough buzz to make us think it might have made it should there have been 10 nominees? Like in 10th place right? I liked it a lot. Other stuff I thought deserved better in 2006:

    VOLVER (deserved at least screenplay nod)
    INLAND EMPIRE (featuring Laura Dern giving what truly is the best performance by an Actress of that year)
    V FOR VENDETTA (If anything in the technical categories, the elements are top-notch)
    CASINO ROYALE (Still the best Daniel Craig Bond)

    Also THE BLACK DAHLIA is kinda of a guilty pleasure for me. I can understand if you hate it tho. To be honest tho the 2006 movie I’ve seen more times since then is THE COVENANT lol

  • Andrew

    Lincoln lost. Time to move on. Argo won because it was the film voters in AMPAS liked most. They almost never choose the best film of the bunch, save ones like American Beauty and Silence of the Lambs.

    Please, move on.

  • Andrew

    The answer to your question, what would have happened had Affleck gotten a BD nomination is that he would have won the Oscar. Plenty of directors have been snubbed before and their films didn’t win a sympathy best picture.

    I know you copped flak over your turnaround. Even if u think those three were better than Argo, you thought Argo was perfect at the time. Surely that makes it more worthy than most of the Academy’s past choices.

    The loud bangs thing is silly, given the hurt locker, and the beard thing is ridiculous.

    Why is it so hard to accept that AMPAS didn’t pick your favorite, most of us go through this every year. It is unfair to relentlessly bag the film you called perfect because it beat your preferred film.

  • “Please, move on,” says the guy who hasn’t commented on any of the other 30 articles posted over the past 5 days

  • Adam Lewis

    I think All About Eve would win today still ( with updated tweaking, of course). The script is so mind-blowingly good that it would be amazing to see anyone write such a masterpiece today. THe art of screenwriting today cannot appear with those gems of the past!

  • rufussondheim

    Maybe we should look at the converse, movies that won that should not have won that wouldn’t win today. YOu could probably find as many examples if you thought about it.

  • CMG

    Honestly Cabaret is a brilliant movie and its ending is a bittersweet piece of work that crystallizes the whole unromantic tone. It would have to have a remarkable silver lining, upbeat ending to really overtake The Godfather. The romantic love triangle would have to drop the queer elements, the abortion story is dropped, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” would have to be dropped since the ominous Nazi piece is far too dark for a Liza Minnelli musical, and Michael and Sally would have to skip town and climb the mountains of Switzerland and get out of Germany as they intend of staying together for the rest of their lives. It is so brilliant that I almost forgive the Fosse over Coppola win- though not Grey over Pacino.

    “Affleck used movies like The French Connection and The Anderson Tapes and The Parallax View as his style and pacing template.”

    Which makes its gung-ho, flag-waving ending all the more perplexing.

  • Which makes its gung-ho, flag-waving ending all the more perplexing.

    Interesting that when Tony Gilroy made his homage to the 1970s he took Michael Clayton even darker than the 70s usually dared to go. (and Gilroy made a movie that’s getting better with age)

    Then Affleck goes the same route, but he gives his homage more winks and nudges and encapsulates it with that gelatin ending for easy swallowing.

    And the common denominator in both tributes to seventies adult suspense is George Clooney.

  • keifer

    I agree. “Michael Clayton” is one of those movies that just gets better upon repeat viewings.

    Definitely agree with the comment above about the script for “All About Eve”.

    Bette Davis said once that it was the most intelligent script she ever had submitted and agreed to do the film after reading up to PAGE 5. I believe her.

    Joseph Mankewicz, if her were alive, would still win that Oscar (with a little updating I’ll admit), but honestly, you could use 99% of the satiric language in that movie and set it in 2013 and still have a winner on your hands.

  • hcu

    Once is a 2007 film for the Oscars.

  • steve50

    The Deer Hunter won because it was the right film at the time. A catharsis was needed for that Vietnam mess. We don’t look for catharses today because we’ve been trained to hide from them, to deny the need for them and to attack them when they appear; otherwise, Zero Dark Thirty would have won the Oscar.

    It’s hard to make a case on these particular films because these things are fluid. The most recent winner would probably not win “today”, I would bet, despite Ben’s playoffs superstition beard.

  • danemychal

    On the Waterfront is flat-out great. And it would have won virtually any year.

  • Andrew

    Im not sure what my not posting on other threads has to with anything, but I will make one point- I have been posting here for years, and have never had my posts deleted or moderated until this year. And it has been about one thing: my pointing out of the skewed Lincoln-loving and Argo-hating, from a site whose editor called Argo perfect.

    My point has been that we can’t cry when our fave doesnt win, AMPAS does that all the time. And we shouldn’t hate on a film like Argo which is a fairly decent pick, better than other recent winners like TKS and The Artist.

  • arjecc

    The sadder thought, I think, is that How Green Was My Valley would still beat Citizen Kane and Hitchcock and Vertigo and Kubrick’s 2001 would remain Best Picture Oscar-less. Since Hooper and King’s Speech won, I can’t take the Oscar’s seriously; I mean, how can I consider credible an awards body that thought J-Law’s performance was superior to Chastain’s and Riva’s?

    This year, I’ll read these sites to just continue to be exposed to great cinema and this site, in particular, for the great writing. Whether I agree or not with the editors’ choices, I appreciate the lack of just predicting the taste of a very predictable, unrefined voting group; kudos for the change of format, as well, and for continuing to shamelessly call out the Academy’s mistakes.

  • Terometer

    “Lincoln should have given us more than a roundtable discussion.”

    Totally disagreed. It’s more of a dull lecture than discussion. A lecture with some incorrect historical facts.

  • Andrew

    Tero, like you, Lincoln did not get me too excited. It was well written and day lewis and field were brilliant. And i cant for the life of me see how or why they got the connecticut fact wrong. But I found it tedious at times, and perhaps too much a history lesson rather than riveting drama

    For me ZDT was the best film last year. IMO opinion much better than hurt locker. I think it was hurt locker’s win that harmed ZDT as much as any torture controversy

  • Bob Burns

    Hollywood outsmarts Iran.

    Watch A Separation and Argo together. You’d never want to bomb the people in the former and the Iranians in the latter are the irrational screaming people we have to beat.

    Hollywood prepares us for war, again.

  • CMG

    “I think it was hurt locker’s win that harmed ZDT as much as any torture controversy”

    In what way? You think a few people having buyer’s remorse that it won (when it was by far the best reviewed film of that year) harmed it more than the threat of a US Senate investigation and condemnation by people who claim to know the ‘real story’ on the UBL report?

  • PJ

    I totally agree on 2 points and disagree on 1 point.

    I agree that:

    A) Argo, though a very good film is nowhere near as good as the great Life of Pi, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, They’re better, more innovative movies than Argo, plain and simple.

    B) I also agree that this Awards season became a reality show type drama. “Poor Ben and his snubbed film.”

    However, I disagree with Sasha’s broader point, that this year somehow shows this is ALL politics and that prior winners, some of which mentioned, could not win now. The Academy did not change over night. I don’t think this Academy is all that different than the one that gave No Country For Old Men BP. Or gave it to The Hurt Locker over Avatar. They have shown a willingness of support critically acclaimed film. The hitch? The critics have to be almost unanimous to give a film enough momentum to push it past a lesser film, everyone in Hollywood loves.

    I don’t think you can underestimate the impact the critics played in this race. If they never started the torture debate, if they hadn’t been so divided on Zero Dark Thirty as a result, this race would have likely ended up very differently. At the very least, if the Critics Choice Awards had celebrated ZDT over Argo, the race would have likely ended up very differently. The critics, torn with political angst, divided enough to allow Hollywood to feel good about celebrating a weaker film. After all, as long as the critics are divided, might as well vote for the movie you like the best.

    I think this version of the Academy wants people to respect it’s taste, it cares what critics think. However, when the critics are divided, they’ll always choose what they like the most.

    The possible exception being The King’s Speech, they flat out opposed the critics that year. But I think that is the exception that proves the modern rule.

  • BD

    I think you’re off on some of these films Sasha, particularly with The Departed and No Country for Old Men and even more so when you consider that those films just won a few years ago. They had a huge thing going in their favor and it was the overdue factor of their directors which would have destroyed anything that Affleck (and his snub) or Clooney could have done for Argo. And Spielberg and Lincoln. And Scorsese/Coens would’ve won over Lee, Spielberg and a possible nod from Affleck very, very easily if they were overdue today as they were in their respective years, specially since they haven’t slowed down since and have been nominated for 3 more best picture Oscars between them. So if you put their winning pics after their recent nominees, even more so.

    The Godfather would’ve been an even bigger phenomenom today thanks to about a million more things that can make a movie an easier phenomenom in 2012 that were not available forty years ago, it would’ve won easily as well over Argo, Kings Speech or The Artist. It’s still an amazing movie, it still appeals to young people and older people, it would’ve been very difficult to beat by any of the recent winners.

    I’ll give you Midnight Cowboy, I still don’t now how it managed to win in the first place (it was deserved, but it’s weird). And The French Connection is a tricky case, I give you that one too.

  • The Dude

    The first movie that came to my mind when I read the title was The Godfather; I mean, it’s a movie that is:

    -Deliberately cold.
    -The leading characters, let’s face it, are all murderous assholes.
    -It doesn’t have a happy ending; heck, it’s the opposite of that.
    -It was at the time the most watched film of all time, so there’s no chance of positioning it as the underdog.

    And it barely won Best Picture anyway. So it wouldn’t have a chance against a Weinstein-helmed crowd-pleaser.

    The first 3 also apply to The Social Network, except for the murderous part.

  • Valerie

    I have to ask because I guess I’m stupid. What the heck is so awful about The Kings Speech. It was a wonderful film. Terrific performances, a story very few were aware of about King George, and a crowd pleaser. Is there some rule that popular uplifting films aren’t supposed to or can’t win.I feel like unless a film is cutting edge or dark or edgy or topical, people just dismiss it. It’s the same group of people that dismiss a wonderful film like Driving miss Daisy, which was centered around the friendship between a black male and an elderly Jewish woman and how they became friends despite of it because the big epic should have won then. I mean I liked the Social Network but was it simpy better because Fincher made it? Or because it was about a pop culture icon in Facebook.

    I still say that the most deserving win was Life of Pi this yeAr but I don’t read about anyone talking about how unfair it was that Argo beat that film. Is it because it was also a universal crowd pleaser?

    I don’t think that list of films would not have won. Over 85 years of Oscars, the best film frequently has not won. What was the excuse when Oliver won,or How Green was my Valley. And great films transcend generations. Thats why All About Eve, The Godfather, The Lost Weekend, are still looked at and viewed as great films and they would still be , Oscar or not. Spielberg has made a slew of non Oscar winners, ET, Raiders, Jaws, that continue to resonate years later and those films were not Oscar winners.

  • Andy

    Sasha, sorry, but I really don’t understand your problem. I read your blog since 2001/2002, remembering the headline, wenn Buz Luhrman was “snubbed” as best director. You writing skills are excellent and I like both your expertise as an Oscar-Watcher and your guts concerning some of your choices, which film will/should win the oscar. Even more, you inspired me to write aritcles about the oscars in german/Germany.

    I also remember the time, when you were happy about the results – I mean really happy: The Departed, No Country for Old Men, The Hurt Locker. In four years, your preferred choice did win the oscar for Best Picture three times!

    But then something happened – something really “bad”: The King’s Speech won over The Social Network. And suddenly, the joy of your writing and of this “job” vanished, as if it never ever existed. No, it didn’t vanish: It exploded into hate und despair. Suddenly, you concentrated on writing essays about how “wrong” it was awarding Tom Hooper above David Fincher – over and over again.

    Last year and this year, you again weren’t happy about the results. “The Artist” over “Hugo”? “Argo” instead of “Lincoln”? From blog-entry to blog-entry, your message was more bitter and more sour. Before the ceremony, you wrote stuff like that you hope the Academy comes to their “senses” and will make the “right” choice. As there ist ONE right choice…

    It’s your blog and you can write whatever you want. But did you ever thought about the responsibility for your fans? And that there are fans, who have another opionen, f.e. liking “Argo” more than “Lincoln”, “The Artist” more than “Hugo” or (*gasp*) “The King’s Speech” more than “The Social Network”?

    You have your own opinion, I’m o.k. with that. But your defending it in a way, that a different opinion or even a different taste seems to be “wrong”. And that’s simply insulting.

    I like a lot of movies you like and we like a lot of movies the Academy likes. But our “tastes” differs sometimes in the way, which ones we prefer. That’s all. And that kind of difference shouldn’t be worth the hate and the bitterness, or should it?

  • Sasha Stone

    It’s your blog and you can write whatever you want. But did you ever thought about the responsibility for your fans? And that there are fans, who have another opionen, f.e. liking “Argo” more than “Lincoln”, “The Artist” more than “Hugo” or (*gasp*) “The King’s Speech” more than “The Social Network”?

    You are free to like whatever you want. This site started as Oscarwatch and it has always drawn a healthy readership of people who like to talk about the Oscars. I have struggled for years to make it about my own voice, and Ryan’s, and not just a forum for readers to talk about the Oscars. I love that part of it, of course, but I simply would not be doing it if I didn’t get something else out of it and what I get out of it is trying to shake the tree a little, to point out the flaws, to upend the process. Good god, I would shoot myself if all I did was celebrate the Oscars every year. For fuck’s sake. I’m about to turn 48. A good portion of my life has been devoted to this nonsense. I don’t wish to pass the time providing a place for people to talk about how great it was that Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress. How would that, in any way, distinguish my site from the others? I think most Oscar coverage is bland — yes. And believe me, I took a lot of shit for that declaration. How in god’s name could anyone justify spending time on this without it meaning something? It has to. If I do it because of the money that makes me a whore, right? And if I’m going to be a whore shouldn’t I at least get a good fuck out of it at the end of the night?

    You readers would make quitting hard. That’s the truth of it. But I will quit eventually. It’s your choice to read but it isn’t your choice to tell me what to do. Sorry.

  • Good god, I would shoot myself if all I did was celebrate the Oscars every year.

    plz dont forget to shoot me first

  • Capshawed

    I took the time a few months ago and watched Oliver and thought it very well done musically and dramatically. Probably too many people’s are put off by the weak performance by Mark Lester in the lead. but after all the actor playing Fagin was nominated for an Oscar, and Shani Wallis could really sing..(Les MIZ take note) Great fluid camerawork by Carol Reed and Oona White deserved her special Oscar for choreography. But when she put her dance steps onto Ann-Margret in A Lot of Living to Do in Birdie, carnal bliss

  • Andrew

    I went digging just now to see what it was about your comments that triggered a delete. (honestly, I couldn’t remember, but they’re still here in ‘pending’ purgatory).

    Had nothing to do with Argo. Have you not noticed that hundreds of people post supportive comments about Argo every week but their comments skate free?

    Might be because all those thousands of pro-Argo comments don’t toss in personal insults attacking what Sasha and I write.

    Look, Andrew. It seems to me that your insults are intended to take jabs at me and Sasha. So you should be happy. The jabs stung enough to get you deleted. You got the job done. You kicked me and I felt it.

    Now if your goal is to make a public spectacle of your clever insults, then I’m sorry, but that’s where we draw the line.

    Email me with any personal insults you need to get off your chest and you’ll discover that your insult-free comments slide right through with no problem.

  • KT

    I posted this list a few weeks ago. Going through some past Oscar years, here are some strong (and a few not so strong) Best Picture winners I think *could* have conceivably lost with today’s preferential ballot:

    1969 – Midnight Cowboy (Absolutely: not a typical Best Picture winner BY ANY MEANS; people I know thought Butch Cassidy had it in the bag, especially after the challenging/innovative/New Hollywood films Bonnie and Clyde + The Graduate lost the year before)

    1971 – The French Connection

    1972 – The Godfather (Yes absolutely: to Cabaret, which took Best Director)

    1974 – The Godfather Part II (Not likely: I think this one could have won under both systems—their way to reward Francis Ford Coppola for Godfather, as well as Conservation this year with Best Director. But I’m curious if anyone thinks it could have lost to Chinatown?….I don’t think so since Chinatown pretty much missed everything except Screenplay)

    1978 – The Deer Hunter (Absolutely: big controversy + polarizing…probably would have gone to Coming Home)

    1991 – The Silence of the Lambs (Absolutely!!! I’m surprised you didn’t include this one in your list, Sasha: Polarizing + violent + significant controversy—WATCH Jodie Foster’s press conference after she won Best Actress as it’s brought to her attention that the film won Best Picture on the monitor. She TOTALLY cannot believe it, as it’s the most untypical Oscar film. I love this story, when a filmmaker doesn’t have to go out of his way to get Oscars attention, but rather Oscar finds him or her (Bigelow). Jodie Foster’s Oscar press conference, especially look for 2:20:

    1995 – Braveheart (Possibly: Not a strong winner. I’m remembering the faces of the audience, particularly Meryl Streep’s and Oprah’s when it won (look how Oprah starts clapping when the camera gets on her). It possibly could have lost, especially if it was polarizing. But that Best Picture lineup was particularly awful, in my opinion, and Braveheart’s the only one that sent screeners. Watch the reactions when it wins:

    2006 – The Departed (Not a strong winner at all, but certainly could have lost under current system, as some people above have played out)

    2007 – No Country for Old Men

    2009 – The Hurt Locker (Though this WAS a preferential ballot, without Avatar and the battle of the exes narrative, sadly this would lose….NOT a typical Best Picture winner by any means, but ENCOURAGING that that “typical” view has been expanded by such a winner. And I absolutely LOVE that Bigelow didn’t make an Oscar movie and wasn’t begging for the recognition.)

    So I guess I disagree with Sasha on a few. No way were All About Eve or On the Waterfront losing…All About Eve was the Academy’s way to award Mankiewicz who didn’t have a Best Picture like Wilder, it also had 14 nominations. Also On the Waterfront won 8, it was the big favorite that year and its one of my top 10 Best Picture winners. Not so sure also on American Beauty…was it a polarizing film AND raise controversy back in 1999? I’m interested if anyone has any feelings of how the current system could have impacted former races. ***Could any films have won a preferential ballot that we might consider BETTER than the winners??? I’m sure there are some others I missed that could join the films I listed. It’s funny how no one mentions the 1980s winners possibly losing, a decade I know many people generally agree saw many uninspired winners.

  • Sammy

    After the Argo pick by AMPAS, it is hard to believe this is the same group who awarded No Country for Old Men, an art-house movie the best picture Oscar. I have always supported the idea of awarding the artistic achievement of that particular year. No politics, no IT girls, no Harvey, no Clooney??

  • CMG

    Braveheart would be some bone-headed pick the Academy would still make. Historically inaccurate to the nth degree, so macho, so homophobic, and something so old-fashioned the Academy would love it. Only way it would lose today is that if preferential ballot remained attached to the hip of the Guilds, that Apollo 13 was winning left and right.

    And again on All About Eve, yes it is brilliantly written, acted, and directed (really one of the great Best Picture winners), but it is placing a mirror in front of the entertainment industry. It’s The Player, it’s Network, it’s Boogie Nights, etc. It and Sunset Boulevard would earn a lot of kudos and even some nominations and wins but in today’s Academy it would make AMPAS members uncomfortable.

    Capshawed- I really love Oliver! and wish that the movie was a template for Les Miz and other period musicals. It is very well-done and even the weaker singers like Oliver Reed (listen to him on Tommy) are still fondly remembered for their acting. It gets a bum wrap. I think even Pauline Kael liked it.

    “The Deer Hunter won because it was the right film at the time. A catharsis was needed for that Vietnam mess. We don’t look for catharses today because we’ve been trained to hide from them, to deny the need for them and to attack them when they appear; otherwise, Zero Dark Thirty would have won the Oscar.”

    Truth. I read in my local newspaper that he felt Zero Dark Thirty was an all too soon history that makes him uncomfortable (the writer continued to sputter that he thought the movie was pro-torture while misrepresenting how the name of the courier was revealed and then feeling ‘robbed’ of not being able to see a clear corpse of UBL in the movie- talk about mixed messages to a movie). I kept thinking, this writer must have hated The Best Years of Our Lives, Casablanca, The Battle of Algiers, All the President’s Men, Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter, United 93, and even The Hurt Locker. A lot of those movies are brilliant while still dealing with an ongoing and, although more open than a CIA report, unclear historical context. Just because a movie like Platoon or Born on the 4th of July had distance from the Vietnam War than Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter did not somehow mean there was more truth in their movies, that they were somehow better movies for it, or viewers should be more comfortable with a movie with that kind of distance.

  • Bob Burns

    the answer is January Oscars. Move into the guild’s space. The guilds can’t go earlier. The GG’s and the NBR can go early because they are so small, as are the critics groups, but the guilds can’t.

  • Nick

    This year’s Oscars were NOT a coup against the Director’s Branch of the Academy. I also don’t think the Guilds necessarily run the industry now either… Look at the win breakdown at the Oscars this year. It is indicative of a very competitive (and great) film year. There were lots of different opinions on lots of movies this year (exemplified by the Best Director line-up at the Oscars – what a diverse group of films!). Argo only came away with 3 Oscars – certainly not the haul of 8 Oscars that Slumdog got, or the 11 LOTR walked away with. Argo had the 5th most nominations because that’s what it should have had – were the costumes good? Sure. Did they deserve a nomination? No way. Was the art direction solid? Yep. Did it deserve a nomination? Not in that field. I don’t fault the branches of the Academy for picking what they thought was best for nominations. If Argo was that much of a slam-dunk, it would have also won a sound award and/or score. (Don’t think Arkin was ever going to happen).

    I know Sasha strongly believes that the Director leads the charge in the Best Picture race, and looking back at it, Affleck did lead the charge, Director nomination or not. And in 30 years, people are going to look back on this year and they’ll be surprised that Affleck wasn’t in the running for Best Director. But that’s what happens when 300-odd people pick the nominees for any given category and 6,000-plus vote on the nominees.

    In a year with so many strong, yet divisive films, the one that was most agreeable was Argo, and it ended up winning everything. Here’s to next year’s awards race being as up-and-down as this one was!

  • Pierre de Plume

    I took a lot of shit on Twitter for doing what people consider “a complete turnaround” on Argo. This, because I called Argo a “perfect” film in my review of it

    Any criticism you get, Sasha, for your alleged complete turnaround seems silly to me. I mean, when I saw Argo the first time I, too, thought it was great — just not great in the masterpiece sense. And not once did I ever consider it to be at the level of becoming a best-picture winner.

  • CMG

    I mean I thought The Dark Knight Rises was ‘perfect’ when I first saw it in the AMC Theater at Lincoln Square on a rainy Friday and then 15 minutes later I saw Moonrise Kingdom and felt like I was reborn afterward*. Again, the viewer changes, the movie does not. All of the flaws with Argo were always there, it is whether or not there is realization to the viewer and whether or not those flaws quell their enjoyment or even matter. Everybody has a right to change their mind and bring some nuance compared to what they first saw. They also have a right to like other things more after seeing a movie labeled ‘perfect’. I could have easily have stopped watching movies after I saw Holy Motors for that very reason, as it remained my #1 for 2012, (despite my hyper-partisanship to both The Master and Zero Dark Thirty during awards season) but I want to see other releases, American and foreign, because I love being challenged and engaged by film as a art. Calling a fall release ‘perfect’ just sets the standards of other movies after and according to Sasha, other movies broke through those standards set by Argo with flying colors. I see nothing controversial about it, except that Argo seemed far more picked apart by Sasha than any movie on her Top Ten list to the point I was surprised it was on her top ten list.

    *-A double-feature of The Dark Knight Rises and Moonrise Kingdom on a rainy day was probably one of the greatest decisions I have ever made in my life. Except I went home and passed out with a massive headache recovering from spending 5 hours in a large cineplex.

  • Zach

    All About Eve might still win because it’s about Hollywood. Plus its biggest competition was Sunset Blvd. If you have a year where every (top) contender is a downer, it’s easier for a brilliant but admittedly dark film to win.

    The Deer Hunter is not much different from The Hurt Locker, so I think it would still win. Despite being very dark, it was ultimately a story of redemption, as well as very politically relevant. Yes, The Hurt Locker had the woman director angle, though.

    The Godfather films are so popular, like Argo, I don’t see how they would lose. Again, Godfather’s biggest competition was Cabaret, and despite being a musical, it was also a downer, so I think the race would come down the same today.

    And On the Waterfront is too strong to think it would lose today. If it were facing the same films it actually faced in 1954, again there would be no race, no competition.

    But you know what, would American Beauty win today? Today The Cider House Rules might have beaten it.

    And amazingly, all of the classic “how could they do that?” Oscar races would probably STILL come out the same today: Rocky would still beat Network, All the President’s Men, and Taxi Driver. Ordinary People would still beat Raging Bull. How Green Was My Valley would still beat Citizen Kane. Oliver! would still beat the likes of The Lion in Winter (an actors’ film), Romeo and Juliet (been there, done that/no big names attached), and 2001 (even if nominated, too divisive and not well liked by the actors’ branch). Annie Hall would still beat Star Wars and Close Encounters, Chariots of Fire (or Reds, frankly) would still beat Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Gandhi would still trump E.T. Out of Africa would still be considered “literate” enough to trump the sentimental The Color Purple. Fargo wouldn’t beat The English Patient and Miramax. Saving Private Ryan vs. Shakespeare in Love could go either way because both films were strong Academy contenders then and now.

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