Argo

I feel like I need to put this exchange here on the main page because frankly I’m sick of having to discuss this repeatedly. First, a reader named Andrew wrote:

I’m 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.

Your comments were moderated and deleted because of their nasty, relentless tone – you don’t “post” here, you comment here. There is a difference.  We were pretty up front about our Lincoln loving – and there was never “Argo hating.” Not once. Oh, maybe on Twitter when it kept winning everything – we are allowed to show our irritation.

We knew Lincoln was a tough sell, as was Life of Pi. That’s why we invested heavily in those movies – and in Beasts of the Southern Wild and Middle of Nowhere and many of the other seeming “lost causes.” Lincoln bothered people more because there was a uniform hate of it that started over at the New York Times where they made not one but two “why Lincoln is such a bad movie” videos. It didn’t stop there. It was savaged for all of the wrong reasons. If it was so bad why were the reviews so great? Why was it number 5 on the top ten lists of all of the critics and why did it eventually make $180 million? You see the dynamic we’re up against? You don’t think I saw this outcome from a mile away? I did but there wasn’t much to do but write about a movie I (we) felt deserved much better than it was getting.  Probably the worst thing that happened to Lincoln, though, was when President Clinton intro’d the film at the Globes and the following morning the story was expertly spun into the David and Goliath narrative that would take permanent hold.

I think we will eventually be on the right side of movie history but you never really know about these things.

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Courtney

After listening to the Dick Gordon podcast of one of the houseguests in Iran (they weren’t hostages) only then did I realize the role that Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor played in both keeping the Americans safe and in enlisting the CIA to get them home. I get that Argo tells the story from the point of view of Tony Mendez and I get that Mendez never got any credit for that mission because it was classified but the movie makes it out like Mendez was the hero and not Taylor.

So you can see why Ken Taylor, after seeing the film in Toronto (I’m guessing this is maybe the reason Argo didn’t win the audience award) is miffed. I’d have been miffed too if I’d spent many months sheltering and sometimes driving the guests to a different location when Iranians were coming to call. I’d also be pissed if, the way the guy tells it to Dick Gordon, it wasn’t that big of deal, this fake movie business, and all they really did was go to the airport and get a plane. Sure, they were scared — but they were told to look at Mendez’ face and see if he smiled or frowned. He smiled, they got on the plane and flew away.

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It’s gotten to a point where every award won counts as “the Oscars.” Oscar turned his back on the consensus rules which said Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow should have been nominees – and when that happened, the industry and consensus forced things back to where they think they belong. Thus, Oscar will be forced to adhere to the status quo it strayed from to begin with. Funny, isn’t it?  But if any film WITH a director nomination wins, the rules will have been (mostly) adhered to.

Looking at this pic, though, I’m starting to think people are seeing Ben Affleck as the star of his own Oscar movie and they want it have a happy ending.

Thanks to Michelle McCue for the pic.

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One of the first Oscars of the night will be for Supporting Actor. At that point, we may have an idea as to where the night is headed. De Niro could signal a POSSIBLE Silver Linings leaning. Tommy Lee Jones may show they like Lincoln better than people thought (or not), Christoph Waltz shows an Academy in conflict, Philip Seymour Hoffman might signal a split up group of winners.  But if it’s Alan Arkin, I think you can expect Argo to win what it can as voters throw awards at it.

After all, you haven’t seen a film win this many awards heading into the race since Slumdog Millionaire.  In both cases, the film won the Critics Choice, the Globe, the PGA, the DGA, the SAG, the WGA and the BAFTA. That’s a hell of a haul for a movie without a director nom and there’s a very good chance what’s driving it may be more than the usual assumptions: Affleck’s snub and it being about Hollywood.

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This made me laugh until I cried and I needed that today.  Video by Brian Reiss:

Courtesy of Buzzfeed, for more.

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“If you are losing a tug of war with a tiger, give him the rope before he gets to your arm. You can always buy a new rope.” – Max Gunther

A quick timeline:
January 10th
– Oscar nominations, Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow left off
January 10th – Ben Affleck wins Best Picture and Director at the BFCA
January 13th – Ben Affleck wins Best Picture and Best Director at the Globes

January 24 – PGA ballot deadline
January 25 – SAG, DGA deadline

You build momentum one win at a time, but particularly so if it is an unexpected win. What Ben Affleck’s double wins did on the heels of his presumed “snub” threw fire on gasoline and set into motion a narrative that would turn what was once a wide open Oscar race into one of those years where one movie wins everything — like Slumdog Millionaire. In fact, that was the last time a movie won as many awards as Argo is winning. The drama continues every step of the way because everyone knows that the one award Argo can’t win is Best Director. It was a blessing in disguise.

That it is up against evil Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln makes it all the more juicy. I just saw a headline yesterday that read “will Argo steal Lincoln’s Best Picture Oscar?” Even when it was clear Argo was going to win that narrative kept chugging away and will continue up to Oscar night. People love that kind of thing.  It makes us all think justice is being done. The good guys are winning against the bad guys.  It’s the nature of humans, and the nature of the Oscar race.

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Our Oscar wonk Marshall Flores made an exhaustive chart detailing Best Picture winners from the beginning. It’s rare to have only 3 Oscars with a Best Picture win — recent winners include Crash (Picture, Screenplay, Editing) and Rocky.  Before that, The Godfather, Midnight Cowboy and Casablanca were also 3 Oscar winners.

One thing to note – the preferential ballot stopped be used the year Going My Way  won.  You’ll see how much more common it was for films to win more than 3 Oscars and for films to win with their directors.

If Argo is going to win, it’s very doubtful it will win 2, although I suppose it’s possible in a competitive year it might walk away with just Picture and Editing.  But it’s probably more likely, if all goes as the pundits are predicting, Picture, Screenplay, Editing.  It might also win Sound Editing as a gimme.  Argo has many hurdles to overcome, Oscar history wise.  Says Flores:

For me, the big thing is that as much as people dismiss the idea that a best picture winner “needs” to win another major award like director, acting, or screenplay and make a strawman argument of voters don’t vote based on seeing those nominations, the voting history speaks for itself. Argo really is bucking a lot of significant trends in its bid for Best Picture. Perhaps it is the perfect storm that can defy history. But even the most bizzare and unpredictable of Oscar years past ended up being totally predictable and in line with the thrust of the past.

The big chart after the cut.

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All the films up for Best Picture are formidable challengers in their own right. But only one of these has a secret weapon: a charming, handsome actor-director most people have known for years. The public knows his suave celebrity disposition, the industry knows his reputation as one of the nicest guys in town. Good luck going up against that.

Likeable movie, likable star with an added narrative of having been “snubbed” — it’s easy to see how this wildfire started and why it keeps burning. The one factor that can’t be underestimated, though, is the presence of an actor in the race with a really successful movie. Actors-turned-directors can do serious damage when they’re in the mix because they bring with them a whole career that everyone has seen develop onscreen for years — we grew up together! We feel intimately involved with an actor’s ups and downs, his good times and bad relationships, his successes and failures feel personal. Ben Affleck’s story is a good one because there was a time when he was considered a self-absorbed joke. But he’s come back and reinvented himself as respectable filmmaker, affectionate husband and father, his whole beautiful family photographed daily. He’s made three films but finally hit the jackpot with Argo.

It’s a scrappy success story but an irresistible one. Voters like to think their vote is doing someone some good. Either they’re rewarding impoverished Indian children and the nice plucky director who made that movie, or they’re making Oscar history with Bigelow, or they’re finally rewarding Scorsese or the Coens after years of neglect. If there isn’t an emotional imperative they won’t throw their weight behind something. Somehow, the imperative this year has been to reward Affleck — if not to make amends, at least to show he’s not taken for granted.

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From JustJared.

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Before I begin, let me explain. It’s true that we’ve reached the moment in every Oscar year where the pundits and the bloggers have thrown up their hands and decided, the Oscar race is over.  Argo will win Best Picture and for the win to make sense it has to take Screenplay, Editing and perhaps one other award — score? Supporting Actor? Sound? Something in me prevents me from being to give my prediction completely over to Argo yet and that’s a certain nagging feeling that comes from looking at Oscar history.

Argo’s a great choice to win.  If it does split and make history, no harm done.  It’s not an embarrassment.  Freaky Oscar years do happen and it’s only when we look at them in retrospect that we use them to compare with today.  For instance, this NY Times piece about Driving Miss Daisy makes it seem obvious the film is a favorite to win and doesn’t make a big deal about the lack for a director nod but that’s because the movie was a bit of a phenom — led the nominations, made a lot of money, was about to win Jessica Tandy her first Oscar in decades and was a hit play on Broadway for years.

The thing about Driving Miss Daisy was that it was produced, famously, by Richard and Lili Zanuck — they were famous enough, like Ben Affleck and George Clooney are famous enough, to override the lack of a director nomination which could prove to be the key to this whole thing.  They also had a great story about a movie no one wanted to make, low budget, huge hit. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’d be Kathleen Kennedy and Steven Spielberg for Lincoln — a movie nobody wanted to make, a famous producing pair and Kennedy, the most nominated producer in history not yet winning an Oscar.

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Argo picked up another critics’ award with the UK Regional Film Critics.   Sam Mendes won Best Director for Skyfall and Ben Whishaw was named rising star.

A public vote gave Robert Pattinson the best British performance for the final Twilight film, while Sightseers was named screenplay of the year.

Their previous winners:

2011-The Artist
2010-The Social Network
2009-Up
2008-Slumdog Millionaire
2007-Atonement
2006-Pan’s Labyrinth

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winners

 

“Fame you’ll be famous, as famous as can be, with everyone watching you win on TV, Except when they don’t because sometimes they won’t.”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

The stealthy Oscar campaign behind this year’s stunning victory lap by Ben Affleck and his Argo-movie-that-could are the same folks, not too surprisingly, who were behind Crash’s victory against Brokeback. This is a stealthy crew who don’t want you to know what they see coming a mile away.

When the race first began, it felt wide open.  Many of us believed that whatever won the Producers Guild would change the dynamics of the race. Why, because that would be ten films with a preferential ballot. Moreover, with a wide open race no one really knew what the consensus vote would be. We knew critics liked Zero Dark Thirty, and when it faltered, Argo — but the Academy, not so much.  Toronto likes Silver Linings and the Academy agreed. Critics didn’t award Lincoln, but the Academy did, with 12 nominations.

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Since I spend so much of my time making a case for Lincoln’s much easier paths to victory than Argo’s, let’s talk a little about how Argo became the film to beat all of a sudden. First, let’s look at the structure of the race so far, then I want to take you back to 1985, and then through Driving Miss Daisy, and out back through the changing landscape of the industry.

First, here is a timeline of events.

— Argo is announced as a surprise player in Telluride. Ben Affleck has directed two films before, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Awards Daily loved both and have been loyal and devoted Affleck followers for years. We were excited to see Argo. It already had positive buzz heading into the race.  A few of us saw it in Telluride and called it the Best Picture frontrunner to beat. Affleck received a standing ovation.

— Silver Linings Playbook wins the Toronto International Film Festival’s audience award, beating Argo.  It then beat Argo at the Hampton’s International Film Festival. But I and Kris Tapley and a few others were holding on to Argo.

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We as Oscar pundits invest so much of our time into the Oscar race, nearly a whole year, that the narrative we have planned out tends to want prominence in our minds even when the stats are against it. In the 14 years I’ve been covering this race it always comes to this point in the year where we start to drag out the freak years, the one-offs, the anomalies in hopes of finding evidence that our desired narrative still has a chance to flourish.

The funny part of it is, this is one of the years the exceptions might actually come true. There are so many odd things that have happened for the very first time ever in Academy and guild history that we actually might see some strange things transpire come Oscar night. Or we won’t.  There is either one frontrunner to rule them all (none has emerged so far) or it will be split up all over the place. I don’t think there can be a wrong prediction right now.

But first let’s look at the anomalies from the past and then we’ll look at what has changed this year and whether any of it will make a difference.

What are the biggest freak incidents in recent years?

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The new Gurus of Gold just went up. Lincoln still tops, with Spielberg for director. Just behind Spielberg, though, is Ben Affleck, followed by Tom Hooper, David O. Russell and Kathryn Bigelow. Only Affleck and Russell haven’t won before. Les Miserables is at the number 2 spot. This is the opposite of Gold Derby currently, which has Les Miz to sweep.

The question keeps coming up as to whether it’s too soon to give Tom Hooper or Kathryn Bigelow a second win.  Does the Academy reward directors with a second Oscar so soon after their first one?

This year, the potential repeat winners in director + picture would be Tom Hooper, Kathryn Bigelow, and Robert Zemeckis.  For Ang Lee it would be statue #2, and his first Best Picture win if Life of Pi were to win.  Steven Spielberg would be winning statue #3, but only his second win with Best Picture.   John Ford won 4 directing Oscars but only one of those efforts, How Green Was My Valley, won Best Picture. Frank Capra won three directing Oscars, but only two of those films won Best Picture. Only William Wyler has won three Oscars along with three Best Picture wins. If Spielberg wins a third directing Oscar, he will be only the third director in Academy history to win three.

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So the multitude goes, like the flower and the weed
That wither away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that hath often been told.

–A poem President Lincoln loved enough he once said about it, “I would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is”

Most of the time, Oscar voters and audiences do not put the year’s best films in the context of our time. We throw around words like “zeitgeist” and “timely” and “relevant” but what we really mean is that we can find something in them that applies to the world around us. It can sometimes be the world defined by a filmmaker — taking place in another time, in another country. Or it can be a world defined by history.

More people know about the daily comings and goings of Lindsay Lohan than they do the ongoing war in Afghanistan, brought about by an eager beaver neocon presidential administration using the war on terror as their battle cry. Soldiers and civilians continue to die as we wait out one more long year before troops will be pulled. This, the last wave of the Bush administration legacy. That legacy, it seems, has birthed the films most likely to compete for this year’s Best Picture Oscar.

Lincoln is about the Civil War but it’s also about the ongoing conflict between the two Americas, about a savage, brutal and senseless war over slavery and how opposing side defended “white power” by murdering one of our greatest presidents. When President Bush left and President Obama ran for office, the McCain campaign had the choice to use Obama’s race against him or not. McCain nixed it. He warned that heading in that direction would be dangerous for the Republican party. That’s how they tell it in Game Change, anyway. But four years later, a slow economy gave rise to fear and hatred of the kind not seen since the Civil War. Though planned by Spielberg and Tony Kushner a decade earlier, Lincoln found himself once again in the middle of a fight between North and South, red states and blue states. His words echo like screams in a rock canyon right up to now. It isn’t just Spielberg’s popularity bringing people to the multiplex, and it isn’t just the good reviews, but it’s the lanky leader himself, our true north, showing us the way.

Spielberg rightly wanted to release the film after the election so that it wouldn’t become a lightning rod for either side. The Republicans in Lincoln’s time stood for freedom. Today, they stand for anything but. Aaron Sorkin said of 2012 that it was the most divided the country has been since the Civil War. It remains divided.

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I’m not going to talk about whether Argo will or won’t. I’m only going to talk about how good it is and what a successful film it’s been this year.

We’re used to Oscar years where most of the movies aren’t all that. Occasionally there will be an overwhelming array of greatness, as there was, to my mind, in 2010 with The Social Network, Black Swan and Inception, to name just three. But no one probably counted so many great films crowding into the race as they have this year. Beast of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom were two early favorites that might have had a better edge if this year hadn’t delivered so many good eggs. It’s easy, then, to have forgotten about Ben Affleck’s Argo. Many now believe that Kathryn Bigelow’s just delivered the Argo killer in Zero Dark Thirty, which is a much more serious look at a more recent, still white hot time in our history. Both films are so crushingly good it’s beyond comprehension that they would join a year that also delivered Lincoln, Amour, The Dark Knight Rises, and Life of Pi – even the so-so movies are better than they usually are, like Cloud Atlas. Many also believe that Les Miserables and Silver Linings Playbook are exceptional works by vital directors. Still, there is still a case to be made for Argo.

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