Hooray for Hollywood
More significantly still, predicted by virtually nobody, neither Ben Affleck nor Kathryn Bigelow was nominated for best director. As we soon tired of hearing, no film had won best picture without a directing nod since Driving Miss Daisy, in 1989.
Let’s take another breath. A few wiser heads made some worthwhile observations about those staggering best-director nominations. Though everyone votes on the eventual shortlist, only the director’s branch is consulted on the nominations. The men with the megaphones may not have been keen on seeing an actor like Affleck succeed over the specialists.
It was also worth noting that, to frustrate upstart awards such as the Golden Globes, the academy had moved nominations forwards to early January. Voters no longer had tip sheets from the professional guild awards to consult. They were flying blind.
The irony was that the “secondary awards” gained more significance (and coverage) than ever. Affleck’s film then won virtually every prize available. Argo picked up best film at the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America and Bafta, plus the ensemble prize – the best-film equivalent – at the Screen Actors Guild. If The Great British Bake Off were still running, Affleck would surely have won a prize for his Argo shortbread.
Whatever about wee Steven Spielberg, one has to feel slightly sorry for Behn Zeitlin and Michael Haneke. When the young director of Beasts of the Southern Wild and the aged genius behind Amour received their best-director nominations, most serious film buffs applauded recognition for a young tyro and a venerable master. Now the press was full of stories about the academy’s outrageous “snub” of Affleck. “Hey, Mike, what are we? Chopped liver?” Zeitlin probably hasn’t tweeted Haneke.
It’s hardly worth worrying about the relative quality of the films. If that were a concern we’d have dismissed the Oscars when they gave best picture to The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952 (over High Noon and The Quiet Man).
Let us just celebrate the fact that, for once, we are presented with a range of fascinating possibilities.
Rewriting record books
Most importantly, though Argo is now the strong favourite, we probably won’t have any clear idea what has won best film until the envelope is opened. Of course, if somebody other than Spielberg wins best director, then Affleck’s picture is probably home and dry. But the nearest challengers – Ang Lee and David O Russell – seem too distant.
The winning film is bound to rewrite the record books. The most likely scenario sees only the second film in modern times triumphing without a nod for best director. If anything else takes the prize, Argo will be the first film to lose having taken the Bafta, the Golden Globe and all the big guild awards.
Here’s something else worth watching. It is entirely possible that Lincoln will grab best actor (Daniel Day-Lewis runaway favourite), best cinematography (Janusz Kaminski slight favourite), best supporting actor (Tommy Lee Jones favourite), best adapted screenplay (Tony Kushner favourite) and best director (Spielberg favourite) but lose out in the best-film race. That’s to say the academy could well decide that Lincoln is the best directed, acted, written and photographed film but is still not quite as good as Affleck’s zippy entertainment.
We can, perhaps, attribute Affleck’s omission from the best-director race to that decision to drag forwards the nomination date. Everything else is down to the meaningless weirdness of awards season.