As expected, Argo claimed the Best Picture award, riding an unstoppable wave of support after Ben Affleck was denied a directing nomination. Did voters cast their ballots last night, and throughout all the pre-Oscar guild awards, because they felt bad for the actor/filmmaker? That’s absurd. The Academy Awards may make pitiful choices sometimes, but they are not a pity party.
In a year full of powerhouse contenders, Argo simply benefited from the snub because it made voters reconsider a film that debuted very early in the season. Academy members flipped for the thriller at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, but then went on a serial infatuation bender with almost every other eventual Best Picture player.
Les Miserables, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, and Silver Linings Playbook all had their moment as “front-runner” with voters, but the inexplicable Affleck dismissal by the Academy’s directing branch simply galvanized goodwill that was lying dormant. The tastes of the directing branch skews indie, arty, and avant-garde, but from talking to voters, it seems as though the Affleck snub came about simply because a majority of nominators were so sure Affleck was in that they spent their votes on longshots, such as Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Benh Zeitlin and Amour’s Michael Haneke.
Affleck would very likely have won Best Director had he been nominated, but would that have changed Argo’s prospects for Best Picture? Maybe. In a year this rich, the Academy chose to spread out its honors instead of rewarding one single film with a near sweep. Life of Pi or Lincoln could easily have claimed the top prize if the dynamic had shifted just a little bit. But if things were different, they wouldn’t be the same.
Voting closed on Tuesday, and Wednesday we posted EW’s final predictions for the awards, correctly guessing 21 of the 24 categories. (Yay.) Lest you think this is boasting, I was prepared to face the music in this analysis even if I was off-the-charts wrong – which seemed like it might happen at the start of the show.
The one I’m most proud of was choosing Lincoln as the production design winner, even though Anna Karenina (and to a lesser degree Les Miserables) were the pundit favorites. That was a risk, and I expected to be wrong. But the voters who told me they were impressed by its fidelity to period detail turned out to vote, and so that risk paid off.
My heart sank with the first handful of awards, since I missed Animated Feature winner Brave and Christoph Waltz’s supporting actor victory for Django Unchained. My guesses were Wreck-It Ralph and Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook, although luckily I underscored how tight the races were and had the actual winners as my No. 2 picks. (I should have listened to my 3-year-old daughter, who doesn’t know much about the Oscars, but had Brave as her favorite of the year.)
The other one I was wrong about: live-action short. The prize went to Curfew, the only contender in English, but I thought the supernatural Death of a Shadow would take the prize. Again in this case (phew!) I also had Curfew as my No. 2 guess, so at least Prize Fighter didn’t steer you too far off track in your Oscar pool.
It’s interesting to me how much the voters change their minds throughout the season, right up to the last minute.
When I wrote predictions the week before for the print edition of EW, I had Tony Kushner’s Lincoln script as Best Adapted Screenplay and Haneke’s Amour as Best Original Screenplay. But voting had just opened at the time I was picking up those choices from Academy members. As time went on, I heard Chris Terrio’s Argo and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained again, and again, and again – leading to a reluctant prediction switch. (I’m not sure how anyone overlooks the gorgeous language in Lincoln, but hey – the Academy votes how it votes.)
I also underestimated Waltz in print, expecting him to get only 10% of the vote, while Tommy Lee Jones (30%) and De Niro (31%) duked it out in a near tie for the lead. Sampling voters isn’t scientific, and sometimes you coincidentally hit a vein of support that doesn’t accurately reflect the feelings of the larger group.
Waltz’s BAFTA win a week before the Oscars closed voting made me realize he had a much great chance than I was gathering, so I bumped him to my runner-up guess. But the British awards are not always a safe indicator, and I’m glad I wasn’t swayed by them in another acting category.
Amour actress Emmanuelle Riva’s BAFTA victory also had some pundits shifting their guesses to her, since that British filmmaking body and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have some crossover.
But so many voters admitted to me that they never actually finished (or started watching) Amour, a painful study of an elderly couple at the end of life, that I stayed put on Silver Linings Playbook’s Jennifer Lawrence for the Best Actress win.
I also switched to Life of Pi’s Ang Lee as Best Director, although in the print edition a week earlier I had Lincoln’s Steven Spielberg 2 percentage points ahead. Spielberg was a reflection of the voting intel I had at the time, but many voters waited until the last minute to cast ballots this year, and the late-comers overwhelmingly said they were going with Lee. So … until voting closes, this is an example of how it’s still anyone’s game.
There’s no glory in calling Daniel Day-Lewis or Anne Hathaway. Those victories were sealed early, and the only surprise would have been if either of them had lost. Same goes for Argo. Once an overwhelming consensus forms, there’s no denying it. It’s those tricky, ultra-close races that bedevil the lives of Oscar-watchers.
All right, so long until next year! (Or next week, when people will undoubtedly begin forecasting the next Oscars.)
Meanwhile, if you really want to know what it takes to predict the awards, I think The Dude from The Big Lebowski explains the process most succinctly:
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