When the Academy Awards were announced, I presented my immediate picks for the awards and noted that I would come back to the choices just before the ceremony if I changed my mind on anything. Well, here we are, just before the awards, and I have a couple emendations.
Best Actor: I boldly made my prediction that Hugh Jackman was going to get the Oscar this year and was roundly ridiculed, mostly along the lines of “dude, tell me where you get your drugs.” Fair enough. It does seem that neither Jackman or Les Miserables (outside of Anne Hathaway’s apparently almost inevitable Best Supporting Actress win) has gained any traction in the major categories, so I bow to the obvious and now slide Daniel Day-Lewis into the prediction slot. I hope you’re all happy. I would still love to see Jackman win this, mostly because I think he’d give one of the most charming acceptance speeches in history, because he’s just that guy.
Best Supporting Actor: I still have no idea who will win this category, I don’t think anyone else does either, and to be honest it’s totally without suspense because everyone nominated in the category has at least one Oscar already. So who cares? I don’t. I guessed De Niro before but now I just don’t know. They might as well award it by spinning a bottle.
Best Picture: I was pretty sure this was going to come down to Lincoln, and on paper, this still seems like a safe bet — but things have changed since the Oscars nominations were announced mid-January, and as a result we might be in for a semi-historic upset. What’s changed is the general feeling that Ben Affleck got shortchanged out of a director nomination for Argo, and then Argo and/or Affleck going on to win Golden Globes, the “Best Ensemble” SAG award (its equivalent of “Best Pictures” and the DGA Feature Film award). I noted in January that I thought Argo’s moment had passed, but I was clearly wrong about that, and I think it has a better than decent shot at becoming the first film since Driving Miss Daisy to win Best Picture without an accompanying Best Director nomination.
Here’s Argo’s secret ace in the hole: The actor’s branch of the Academy, which is the largest branch of the Academy. Affleck is still primarily known as an actor, and when well-known actors are nominated for the director they often find themselves winning the Oscar (See: Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood), even when up against superior talents (Redford and Costner were up against Martin Scorsese and Raging Bull and Goodfellas, respectively). This doesn’t always work — Tim Robbins and George Clooney have been nominated in the category but didn’t win, and it took Ron Howard a couple of tries — but it’s a factor to figure in to any calculation.
And you say, okay, but Affleck isn’t nominated for director, so where are you going with this? Well, Affleck isn’t nominated for director, but Argo is nominated for Best Picture — and the awards in that category go to the winning film’s producers, which in this case are Grant Heslov, George Clooney… and Ben Affleck. If enough actors feel Affleck was snubbed by the director’s branch of the Academy (which voted on the director nominations), they might vote for Argo best picture to give Affleck an Oscar anyway. The fact that both Heslov and Clooney got their start and are best known as actors (Heslov did comedy relief in films like True Lies and The Scorpion King) doesn’t hurt matters, either.
Admittedly, it’s a little strange to think of a Best Picture Oscar as a compensatory gift for a snub in the Director category (the screenplay Oscars are usually considered the make-do for directors: See Orson Wells, Quentin Tarantino and Jane Campion), but hey, this year, it could happen. And inasmuch as Lincoln is likely to walk away with director and actor wins, plus a smattering of undercard Oscars, Spielberg and company won’t be able to complain too much.
So, yeah: Argo. Really strong chance of walking away with Best Picture. Yes, I am surprised. But it’s been a strange Oscar year in any event. I’m gonna go ahead and get out there on a limb and say it’s my top pick over Lincoln going into Oscar weekend. It’s a very slim top pick — Lincoln is still the safest pick by all reasonable Oscar math and I would be utterly unsurprised if it eventually prevails. But I think maybe the Academy is ready to make a little history this year. We’ll see.